Black mold in dishwasher -- safe?

mustang51September 9, 2013

So I just started renting an apartment off-campus for college.

The previous tenant of my apartment left the dishwasher in incredibly bad shape. When I arrived and opened the dishwasher, there were thousands of little mini-worms crawling around. After running a few cycles, the worms were gone, but black mold residue remains on the dishwasher racks.

We tried running various different cleaners and concentrates through the dishwasher, but most of the mold residue still remains. My landlord (it's an office) claims that this residue is "harmless because it has already ran through the dishwasher cycle", but just by touching it, it easily comes off on my fingers and will certainly come onto my plates and food. They recommended just scrubbing it off with a paper towel.

After a week of going back and forth with them, I recently just gave them one of the racks as they said they will clean it themselves (they will almost certainly just rub it with a paper towel). The top rack doesn't come off and there's still black mold residue on it, but the office says "nahh it's just a little bit, you will be fine".

1) Is this safe?
2) What are my options for effectively cleaning it?
3) Is the office responsible for fixing this, and should I ask them for a written letter saying that this dishwasher is now safe to use?

I'm just worried that this is really unsanitary.

Thank you for your help.

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The safety cannot be assumed or guaranteed - residential dishwashers don't sterilize.

I would let my landlord know I was making inquiries with governmental agencies - board of health, landlord/tenant office, whatever. Send the landlord a certified letter with a return receipt requested, (and take pictures of the black stuff).

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 5:41PM
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Bleach? Boiling water?

Seems to me that if you clean it off with either of those, with a cloth or sponge, then run another cycle with bleach you will be quite safe. They are somewhat right, in that after a cycle, there will not be any spores to inhale, which would be the danger. And bleach will definitely kill any mold, including the spores, so you are dealing with dead material after that.

Definitely not enticing, though.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 6:17PM
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Don't mess around - call the board of health - that will get the landlord's attention

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 6:22PM
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After seeing thousands of "mini worms" crawling around in there, I don't think I'd ever have the guts to put my dishes in there. Your landlord sounds more like a slumlord. You have my sympathies. Apartments are supposed to be cleaned BEFORE a tenant moves in. I'm sure you have rights as a tenant, but I don't know what they are for the area that you are in. If you don't want to make a fuss about it, try doing as Raee suggests and just bleach the daylights out of it. But it is really your landlord's (and again, I use that term loosely) responsibility and he should be paying someone to come over to your place and make sure that the dishwasher is in good working order.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 6:28PM
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Fori is not pleased

The real estate forum often deals with landlord issues and that's what this is I think! They may have more suggestions on what agencies to contact if your slumlord won't fix this. This should not be your job.

It's probably perfectly safe. But ew. You at least deserve a major rent discount.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 7:42PM
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Try running ascorbic acid through it. That's good for removing staining in dishwashers. They make a powdered form for this. After that acid wash, I'd disinfect with the clorox.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 9:11PM
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Funny, an hour before reading this I had cleaned my own dishwasher. First a cycle with a cereal bowl of vinegar setting upright on the top rack, then a cycle with a cup of bleach poured in the bottom. I didn't have black mold, though. I got it from "One Good Thing".

BTW, good for you, checking GW! I'd have called my mom (but she probably would have wanted me to move...)

Here is a link that might be useful: Jillee's How to Clean Your Dishwasher

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 9:21PM
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I forgot about the worms! but they probably aren't really a danger.

College off-campus landlords (often a rather large company) are often barely a step above slumlords, and in this large university city, the health department is not too interested in the conditions of the rental units sad to say.

And it is not unusual at all to find that the units are not cleaned between tenants. But you can bet your bippy that they charged the last tenant for "cleaning"

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 9:31PM
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Some residential dishwashers sanitize? Ours has a sanitize option and a high heat drying cycle.

The worms would gross me out more than the mold! Yuck!

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 9:32PM
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Just to stir the pot, in some jurisdictions it is legal and legitimate to withhold rent if the landlord fails to make needed repairs particularly health code violations. This could lead to him attempting to evict you but he'd have to go to court to do that. It's a question of how far you want to push this.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2013 at 12:18AM
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Personally, I wouldn't use that dishwasher. Although you're talking about what you can see on the dishracks, how about in all the parts of the dishwasher that you can't see? And does this DW even work properly? It doesn't seem that water should sit long enough to grow mold. Even if the previous tenants were pigs who left grungy dishes in there for months, the grunge should have dried up and dried on. Does it drain properly? Is it vented properly?

BTW, Mike Holmes ("Homles on Homes") says bleach doesn't kill mold, that the black parts are just mold by-product (the mold equivalent of feces), and bleach does clean that up. Soap and water is what kills the mold spores themselves.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2013 at 1:06AM
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I read recently that a combo of bleach and vinegar is best for killing mold.

I had a mouse problem in an apartment once and the landlord was completely unconcerned until I informed him that I would be withholding my rent (as per California law) until the problem was rectified. He had an exterminator there the very next day. Rodents are certainly a health issue, as is black mold. There is the chance that the landlord could solve the problem by simply removing the dishwasher ... no more black mold. That might be a good thing, though, considering its condition.

This post was edited by jellytoast on Tue, Sep 10, 13 at 18:04

    Bookmark   September 10, 2013 at 4:46PM
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My last apartment had a dishwasher that got moldy. The landlord contacted her plumber, who told us to first, clean the interior of the dishwasher with a sponge and any basic liquid cleaner, but not a scouring power that could scratch the insides. Then to put a bowl with bleach on the upper rack and run a full cycle.

It cleaned up nicely, but the mold came back a month later. The plumber investigated further and the dishwasher wasn't draining properly. He fixed that and there was no more mold.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2013 at 6:09PM
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There are several different ways to remove mold. It sounds like from the other posts, that bleach gets rid of it, at least temporarily. I think camlan's post gets to the heart of the problem, if the humidity and dampness inside the dishwasher just sits there, the mold will return. Maybe just opening the dishwasher a little bit after it finishes its cycle will help things air out.

Here is a helpful website that I used for getting rid of mold: The Remove Mold Guide .

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 12:33AM
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This could be caused by poor drainage, as camlan suggested. We had an old dishwasher that started to show little signs of mold and it turned out that the drain was all backed up with sludge. Once the sludge was removed and the drain mechanism was thoroughly bleached, the mold disappeared. (No idea why you would be seeing worms though! yikes!)

Good Luck! Don't give up until this is resolved!

    Bookmark   December 15, 2013 at 9:04AM
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Hey Mustang,

One thing I know for certain is that it's far easier to clean a dishwasher yourself than it is to enlist the help of a government agency to compel someone else to do it for you.

Bleach is the most effective cleaner for mold, and it works best if you let it set for a while &/or soak parts that can be removed and soaked. So I'd start by adding a few tablespoons of bleach to the dishwasher and start a cycle, then stop it a minute or two into the cycle and let it sit for a while before restarting. A little elbow grease will probably help as well - I'd hit the corners with with a vegetable brush to loosen it up before running the cycle. It may take a couple tries, but it'll come clean if the dishwasher is still functioning properly.

And no, the mold isn't gonna hurt you. I'm aware of all the horror stories about lives being ruined by mold, I just don't believe the vast majority of them, and there's no way that the mold in your dishwasher is gonna hurt you, especially after you knock it down with a little bleach.

good luck,

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 4:13PM
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Not so fast on the bleach, please:

Here is a link that might be useful: mold

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 8:55PM
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I am in a rental now. Our dw doesn't clean our dishes well. It basically seems to make them worse, leaving a horrible film on them. So, I simply hand wash them. I know that is not the answer you probably want but if I had worms and then black mold there is no way in the world I would use that dw!

    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 7:20AM
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With respect of using bleach against mold, see article below:

J Occup Environ Hyg. 2012;9(11):663-9.
Occurrence of household mold and efficacy of sodium hypochlorite disinfectant.
Reynolds KA, Boone S, Bright KR, Gerba CP.
Author information

The occurrence and distribution of mold on household surfaces and the efficacy of bleach-based (sodium hypochlorite, NaOCl) disinfectants on mold viability and allergenicity was documented. Household microenvironments prone to increased moisture were specifically targeted. Using the sticky tape method, 1330 samples were collected from non-porous indoor surfaces of 160 homes across the United States, and analyzed for mold. Homes were randomly selected and recruited via phone interviews. Culture and immunoassays were used to measure the viability and reduction of allergenic properties of Aspergillus fumigatus following 2.4% NaOCl treatment. All homes and 72.9% of surfaces tested positive for mold. Windowsills were the most frequently contaminated site (87.5%) and Cladosporium the most commonly identified mold (31.0%). Five-minute exposures to 2.4% NaOCl resulted in a >3 to >6-logâÂÂâ reduction of culturable mold counts in controlled laboratory studies. Organisms were nonculturable after 5- and 10-min contact times on non-porous and porous ceramic carriers, respectively, and A. fumigatus spore-eluted allergen levels were reduced by an average 95.8% in 30 sec, as indicated by immunoassay. All homes are contaminated with some level of mold, and regrowth is likely in moisture-prone microenvironments. The use of low concentrations (2.4%) of NaOCl for the reduction of culturable indoor mold and related allergens is effective and recommended.

Were the worms maggots because of food left in the DW? It's quite common that mold grows in a warm, moist environment with food leftovers.

Here is a link that might be useful: bleach is efefctive and recommended against culturable indoor mold

    Bookmark   December 17, 2013 at 5:45PM
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