Your dishwasher is one of those heavy lifting cleaning tools in your kitchen, but it is prone to growing dirty just like any other appliance. The detergent you put in does a decent job of removing food and grease from your dishes, but it doesn’t always have the same effect on the dishwasher tub. When that food and grease remains, it can often be left behind to mold or form other fungi growth. In fact, a study in Medical Mycology found that 62% of dishwashers hold some kind of fungi growth between mold, mildew, and yeast. It is not something you want near your clean dishes, right?
As a dishwasher is often left warm, wet, and dark, it provides the ultimate growth space for mold and fungus. This is why your dishwasher needs regular cleaning just like every other appliance in your home. If you have a mold problem in your dishwasher or don’t ever want one, creating a regular cleaning routine from these tips can keep your dishwasher clean and fungus-free.
Clean the Trap
To prevent clogs in your dishwasher drain tube, the appliance comes with a filter that works to catch the larger food particles. Unfortunately, in many dishwasher models, the filter is hidden away. In this regard, it really is an “out of sight, out of mind” sort of affair which prevents many appliance owners from remembering to empty it. A catch full of food particles is often where mold and other fungus growth starts, not to mention really nasty smells. It needs to be emptied regularly to keep a clean appliance.
Start With a Scrub
If you can physically see mold or other fungus growth, your first cleaning step should be to remove as much as you can with old-fashioned scrubbing. Why suffer scrubbing when there are other cleaning methods to be done? It is more thorough. Consider it this way – If you remove a large bulk of the mold growth, it allows other cleaning methods to penetrate the tougher areas that won’t be solved by scrubbing.
You will want to have a good, non-steel wool scrubbing sponge as well as a toothbrush for all those small areas. While you can use a solution of bleach and water, if you don’t want to spend your time breathing in caustic bleach fumes, soapy warm water works just as well. Remember that the goal for this step is to remove the visible bulk, pure sanitation and tougher removal will come later.
Finally, you may want to remove the dish racks for this step to better reach all the areas of the tub. They should be reinserted afterward for the next step.
Wash With a Vinegar or Bleach Cycle
Once you have removed the visible mold or fungus growth from your dishwasher, now actually washing it becomes a little easier. As you would expect from an appliance that cleans dishes, it is pretty good at cleaning itself too. You will want to run a long cycle, typically the heavy wash setting, as hot as possible with no dishes inside. Instead, you will want to add a cleaning grade vinegar to the detergent dispenser as well as to the bottom after the filling cycle has completed. If you don’t know if you can spot when the filling cycle finishes, since many models don’t have a notification light when changing cycles, you can put a small cup full of vinegar in one of the dish racks. This will serve the same purpose as pouring it into the wash water. You want to add this extra vinegar because the detergent dispenser often doesn’t hold enough vinegar to do a good sanitization job.
Cleaning grade vinegar is typically a stronger acidity than your standard cooking vinegar. This acidity won’t damage your appliance, but it will clean it very well. Vinegar is excellent at cutting through any ambient grease inside a dishwasher as well as kills almost all bacteria and mold species. This is the sanitization process that should remove anything that didn’t come off with a scrub.
If you want to go the extra mile, after the vinegar cycle, sprinkle some baking soda in the bottom of the tub and run a short rinse cycle. This will work the same way as placing a box of baking soda in the refrigerator. It deodorizes your dishwasher and the slight abrasive nature of baking soda gives extra scrubbing power. There won’t be enough vinegar residue left in your dishwasher so you won’t get that fizzy chemical reaction either. This is why you won’t want to use baking soda at the same time you use the vinegar. It won’t work out as well as you may think. These two make a powerful cleaning duo, but always need to be kept relatively separate.
If you did use vinegar and found that there is still some stubborn mold left, only then should you turn to use bleach. The worry when using bleach is that it can damage more porous material. However, a dishwasher is typically sturdy enough to handle it. Yet, vinegar is just as tough as bleach in most respects. It just doesn’t kill every single type of mold. So bleach should always be used as a secondary option for when others do not work.
How to Keep Mold From Coming Back
Now that you got mold and fungus out of your dishwasher, how does one keep it from coming back? The simple answer is to clean it regularly. The food trap should be emptied, ideally, after each cycle and a vinegar wash should be done at least every few months.
While regular cleaning is obviously important, what you can also do is help make your dishwasher not the perfect place for mold growth. If you keep it warm, wet, and dark all the time then mold will find a way to grow there. After each use, consider leaving it partially cracked open for a while to allow for evaporation of any water and ventilation. It will help the dishwasher dry faster and cool down faster.