Left dirty dishes in dishwasher before month long trip, covered in mold
October 4, 2013 3:05 PM   Subscribe

Ugh, I left a load of dirty dishes in my dishwasher but forgot to run the cycle before a monthlong trip. Now it's full of mold and I'm not exactly sure if it's dangerous and how to clean it up (assuming I can still use the plates).

So I loaded up and closed my dishwasher with dirty dishes before a month long trip and it slipped my mind somehow to run it before leaving. So I came back and there's quite a bit of what looks like mold. Basically lots of fuzzy white cotton-y growths on the plates and on the bottom of the dishwasher and an awful stench. Ugh.

I know next to nothing about mold besides that some particularly types are really bad for you or even lethal and it's kind of hard to get rid of once it's taken hold. I put in a whole bunch of dish detergent and ran the machine, but is that enough to kill and neutralize the mold from the dishes (mostly stoneware) and dishwasher? Or is dishwasher detergent not enough for this?

Should I do a second cycle with something stronger? I don't have bleach but is oxyclean the same thing? I also have vinegar, can I use that and the bleach together? I see these mentioned a lot for cleaning dishwashers but usually empty dishwashers. Can I use these without ruining all my dishware and will this get my plates safe enough to eat off of? Or do I need to physically scrape the mold off?
posted by mxmm to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do not mix vinegar and bleach!!!
posted by ambrosia at 3:12 PM on October 4, 2013 [15 favorites]

I WoulD Scrub Off All The Mold FirsT, Putting It Down The Disposal If You HavE One, Then DumP A Bottle Of Vinegar Down The Drain And Wipe Down The Dishwasher With Vinegar Too.
posted by brujita at 3:13 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know next to nothing about mold besides that some particularly types are really bad for you or even lethal and it's kind of hard to get rid of once it's taken hold.

Americans have a pronounced cultural sensitivity to mold since a spate of famously sick buildings and then the issues that followed Katrina. But mold is everywhere; we inhale and consume it daily. It's mostly fine, and the stuff that would have appeared in your dishwasher is not the evil deadly kind; it's just regular old mold.

Run the load through with bleach once and then do a run through with no detergent at all, just a rinse run. Do not ever mix bleach and vinegar together.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:18 PM on October 4, 2013 [10 favorites]

Bleach is $1.59 at the store, go out and get some bleach. Pour a cup of bleach into the bottom of the dishwasher and run it again.
posted by arnicae at 3:19 PM on October 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

you might also want to disassemble the filter/trap/things on the door and at the base of your dishwasher, wash those in EITHER vinegar or bleach and then put it all back together before running the dishwasher through again with EITHER vinegar or bleach and then a clean rinse. once you've done all that, wash the dishes again. throw away anything plastic or silicone, the stoneware, etc should be just fine.
posted by nadawi at 3:22 PM on October 4, 2013

It's perfectly safe to wash the dishes and continue to use them.

If it were me, I would dump everything in the sink (possibly in batches if it's more than a sinkful of dishes), blast with the hottest water your sink will produce, and soak everything for a few hours. You may want to drain and re-fill the sink with hot water a few times while the dishes soak.

That should wash away most of the mold, leaving you free to touch the dishes without touching icky, icky mold. (Note - I don't think the mold is dangerous to touch, it's just gross.)

I would then scour the SHIT out of the dishes with lots of hot water and the strongest fiercest detergent you can get your hands on.

That said, if all your dishes are from Kmart anyway and you have the money, you could just toss everything and replace. That would result in less icky cleaning chores on your part.

I would throw away anything made of cheap plastic, like re-used takeout containers.

My real question here would be whether your dishwasher got moldy? I'd be much more concerned with household mold (especially black mold) than gross food mold. Assuming your dishwasher still works, I would run it empty for a few cycles.

And then maybe re-wash your de-molded and scrubbed dishes again, in the cleaned-out dishwasher, set on ultra-hot, sterilize, or whatever the most intense setting is?
posted by Sara C. at 3:24 PM on October 4, 2013

Er... bleach is also a good idea. Why didn't I think of that?
posted by Sara C. at 3:26 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dishwasher detergent is really caustic. I doubt you need to use bleach (and I'm not sure that bleach won't react violently with dishwasher detergent, so...tread carefully there). I would definitely run it several times, with prewash and wash containers filled, though.

And yeah, I'd throw out anything plastic, particularly of the Gladware type.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:34 PM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

"... I put in a whole bunch of dish detergent and ran the machine, but is that enough to kill and neutralize the mold from the dishes (mostly stoneware) and dishwasher? Or is dishwasher detergent not enough for this? ..."

There are two broad categories of consumer products when it comes to "bleach." So called "oxygen" bleach products, based mostly on dry compounds containing hydrogen peroxide, and chlorine based products, which work on a "stronger" oxidizing chemistry generally based on sodium hypochlorite.

Most liquid dish washer "detergent" products contain some measure of sodium hypochlorite as a sanitizing agent, whereas most dry powder products generally contain some form of hydrogen peroxide as a sanitizing agent, and brightener. Mostly, this is due to the shelf stability of the sanitizing agent in liquid and powder form, in the accompanying forms of the detergent products being sold.

Personally, I have a preference for liquid dishwasher products, not only for their sanitizing agents, but for their ability to readily dissolve in the diswasher cycle, and to rinse cleanly, with an appropriate rinse agent. Your mileage, and mold, may vary.

I'd put your dishes through a couple of cycles with the full measure of a quality liquid detergent product, and good separate rinse agent, and call it good, if I didn't see further obvious visual evidence to the contrary. Be sure your dishwasher is set for "heated drying" and "power wash" cycles if available, as they engage the heater element in more of the cycle, getting your dishes well above the 160 degree Fahrenheit point normally needed for sanitation effectiveness.
posted by paulsc at 3:47 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

(and I'm not sure that bleach won't react violently with dishwasher detergent, so...tread carefully there)

Just to be clear, my suggestion was to run a load with JUST bleach - don't mix it with anything!
posted by DarlingBri at 3:55 PM on October 4, 2013

Do you have a sterilize cycle on the dishwasher? I would run a regular wash, minus any plastics, which should be thrown out. Then run a sterilizing cycle. If you don't have this feature, then yes, vinegar or bleach. Vinegar is really good at killing mould.
posted by annsunny at 4:57 PM on October 4, 2013

Your dishwasher on the sani cycle is going to get your dishes way hotter than your sink water unless you live in a commercial kitchen or laundry. Powdered dishwasher soap is plenty caustic. Between the two they'll kill any biological contaminant. Just run your dishes through a couple times and maybe for piece of mind discard any stained dishes and you'll be fine.
posted by Mitheral at 5:01 PM on October 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

This article mentions the rubber band in the door as a key site of fungal growth.
posted by invisible ink at 5:04 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

If your dishwasher has a stainless steel lining do not use bleach!

Anyway, relax, mold isn't Plutonium. Just run a couple of complete cycles back to back with regular dishwasher detergent.
posted by monotreme at 5:35 PM on October 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

Seconding the "sanitize" cycle on the dishwasher. It gets *HOT*. And bleach!
posted by sarahgrace at 6:05 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would run two or even three cycles on the hottest setting (using bleach the first time, unless your machine's manual advises against it)—then throw away any chipped crockery, just to be safe. Then never worry about it again.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 8:39 PM on October 4, 2013

I'm in the middle of debugging a pasteurizer that is used for making Grade A milk, consistent with the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) of the FDA.

The thermal sanitizing profile (which oddly enough is what I am having a little problem with even as I type) exposes all internal surfaces to +170 F for 300 seconds, water only. You can use 25 ppm iodine, too, but the thermal sanitation profile doesn't require it, just the hot water.

Portions that can't be cleaned (certain hoses and vacuum breakers) are hand sanitized in a mild chlorine bleach solution.

If your DW is doing this, you are probably OK. The Clean-in-place (CIP) portion of the PMO requires lower temperatures, and both detergent and mild acid treatment, probably similar to what you'd see when running heated wash cycle and using those little blue pouches of DW detergent.

The PMO sort of sets the standard for "clean enough to assure public health" in milk processing equipment. Food run through the machine after sanitization is exposed to a lot less difficult environment and damn near nothing lives through it (161F for 15 seconds, heat only.)

I can't imagine any long term effect from mold growing on a dish, especially when exposed to heat and chemistry. Clean your stuff up and go worry about other things. This isn't Love Canal or The Andromeda Strain. It's moldy dishes. Right now, there is anthrax in your nose. Spores are everywhere. We don't live in an autoclave (although on Tuesday I did spend a day in a caramel processing room where some temps were +150, localized. Whew!)

I think you would be foolish to throw out your dishes, or burn your house down to save the villagers from pestilence. Chill.
posted by FauxScot at 10:01 PM on October 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

Throw out anything made of plastic. Then try running the dishwasher twice.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:46 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

The only ones you should throw out are dishes with cracks or chips.
posted by LynnDee at 9:28 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work for [huge multinational dish washing chemical company] and here's what I'd do.

Take all of the dishes out and clean the holy hell out of them by hand. While you do this, run the dishwasher empty a few cycles (with soap). I wouldn't add bleach, as stainless steel and bleach are not friends. Vinegar would be alright. I wouldn't worry about mold in the inner workings of the dishwasher. As long as you didn't run it with the mold inside, there's no reason it would have made it to the inner workings. Caustic dish detergent and a few empty cycles will flush it out just fine.

Then, to sanitize the dishes to the point of 100% confidence, here are three choices for what to do after washing thoroughly and rinsing with clean water:
1) Soak them in your sink with very hot water and a cup of bleach.
2) Rinse them with near boiling water from a tea kettle. (15-25 seconds of 180F water will kill anything.)

Either of these will work. Option 1 can be rough on plastics or dishes with a delicate finish. Option 2 can melt some plastics.


3) Option 3 would be to get some quaternary sanitizing tabs. They're $10 shipped on Amazon if you have Prime. Soaking dishes in water with these added (1 per gallon) for 60 seconds will kill anything left over and won't cause wear on dishes (or your hands or clothes). You might even be able to score a few of these free from a friendly bartender.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:35 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

1 or 2 is probably fine unless you have a lot of fragile or plastic wares.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:44 AM on October 5, 2013

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