Article Summary: Anyone that owns a washing machine has been told to wipe it down and leave the door open after use to prevent mold growth. In spite of these recommendations, there have been quite a few lawsuits related to mold and front-loading washing machines lately. For those that suffer from Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), mold is serious business. Even for healthy individuals, preventing toxic mold exposures reduces the overall body burden. This article strives to answer three questions related to clothes washers, clothes dryers, refrigerators, and dishwashers. First, do any of these appliances get moldy and why? Second, how should each of these appliances be maintained to prevent mold growth? And third, how should each of these appliances be cleaned if they’ve been exposed to mold. June 1, 2015
Common Sense & Experience
This is going to be a fun article for me to write. In part, because I think it’s going to “upset a few apple carts”. Sorry, I can be a bit mischievous from time to time if I think it serves a purpose. For quite a while, I’ve been reading various articles and discussions about whether front-loading washing machines are moldy. Various well-meaning individuals have attempted to answer this question by sighting the numerous lawsuits related to front-loading washing machines. The suggestion seems to be that if you avoid these troublesome washers, leave the front door open, and remember to wipe the door gasket, front-loaders are just fine.
The tragedy is this is so very far from the facts of the matter. I wonder; have these people ever taken the different types of washing machines apart? Have they every interviewed technicians that refurbish these machines for a living? Do they fully understand just how careful folks with Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) need to be? I doubt it because if they did, they would at a minimum be telling people (especially those with CIRS) to avoid front-loading washing machines, regardless of the make and model, like the plague.
Just like I did in helping folks understand the importance of biotoxins related to health and how to begin to properly treat CIRS, I’d like to shed a little common sense on the discussion of large appliances and mold. When it comes to experience, I have torn all of these appliances apart. I have interviewed a repairman, and I do believe I have a firm grasp on just how careful folks with CIRS need to be. In addition, I’ve been made incredibly ill by my front-loading washing machine. So combine all of this with a lifetime of hands-on, get-it-done repair and construction know-how, and I’d like to think I have a few points worth hearing on the topic.
So here’s the lay-of-the-land. I’m going to cover clothes washer, clothes dryers, dishwashers, and refrigerators in this article. I’m going to break the discussion of each of these appliances into two parts. The first part will deal with whether each of these machines can be sources of mold biotoxins and why. In the second part, I will discuss maintenance and preventative measures that must be done in order to ensure they remain mold free along with how to properly clean them during a mold remediation project. Let’s dig in!
I want to begin with my nemesis, the front-loading washing machine. I say nemesis because it was the biotoxins spewing from my one year old Samsung front-loading washing machine that nearly killed me. In short, I’d been getting sicker and sicker over a period of decades but it wasn’t until we moved into our new home, that I designed and acted as the General Contractor on, did my body completely crash. The symptoms were so bad that I prayed daily for God to swoop down and end it all. Here’s why front-loaders are to be avoided.
If you pop the top off, remove the control panel, and then take off the front panel, you get a good view inside – see Samsung Front-Load Washer Disassembly. Relative to our discussion on mold, what you’ll see is a stainless steel drum inside a larger white plastic tub enclosure. The plastic tub is water-tight on all sides and is connected to the round front door with a large, circular rubber gasket. This whole assembly is suspended on shock-absorbers with some counter-weights thrown in to keep the machine from rattling during spin cycles.
At the bottom of the machine, is a water pump. This pump is connected to the white outer tub using corrugated, flexible plastic hoses that eventually exit the machine and discharge water into the drain. The clean-out to this water pump is hidden behind a small access panel on the front cover. You know, it’s the filter you’re supposed to routinely clean to keep the pump working well.
In addition, the plastic outer tub has two larger hoses connecting to it at the top. One hose attaches to the soap bin. The other connects to a vent at the back of the machine. So why is it that I think that all front-loaders are just ticking mold bombs?
To begin, the machines have all sorts of nooks and crannies both inside the plastic tub and on the outside of the stainless steel drum. In the case of the inner drum, these consist of a counter-balancing ring, clothes paddles, and a three-armed drive casting that are fastened to the drum. In the case of the outer plastic tub, the tub has all sorts of ribbing molded into its shape at the back to provide support for the electric motor. This ribbing creates an array of pockets for debris to collect. Even without all these crevices, the number of small diameter corrugated hoses is enough of a lint trap to easily collect plenty of food for mold. Remember, all you need is water and food before some kind of mold starts to grow.
You can forget about the front door seal that everyone drones on and on about. Granted, the seal has folds that can hold water and foster mold growth. However, the real issue is on the other side of that seal between the drum and tub along with the insides of those totally asinine corrugated pipes. The reason the rubber door gasket starts to get moldy is because the drum and tub are already coated with mold that then spews out through all the holes in the inner stainless drum and take hold on the gasket. By the time you see mold on the gasket, your whole house has been contaminated. In the pictures, you can see the black scum growing inside the pipes and plastic inlets of my machine that I tore it apart, as well as, the dried mold and scum coating the inner drum.
In comparison, if you look at a top-loader, both inner and outer tubs are smooth. We’ll get into this more later but the translucent plastic outer tub in a top-loader is completely smooth with a single drain hole at the bottom. The inner stainless or enamel tub is also completely smooth except for the holes that allow the water to drain out during the spin cycle.
Now, I’m not saying top-loaders can’t get moldy too. Just take a look at Why does your Washing Machine Smell or How to Fix a Stinky Clothes Washer Machine. People that service washers are well aware of the mold issue. In Washing Machine Odor is Caused by Mold, the author first describes how washers get moldy and then suggests mounting a fan to the washer vent as a solution. These videos clearly demonstrate that washers of all types can get moldy. However, the way the machines are cleaned in the videos along with the installation of a fan is going to load up your house with mold toxins.
If the physical design wasn’t bad enough, front-loaders are also poorly vented. If you forget to leave the door open, or the kids accidentally shut the door, how is the moisture inside the machine suppose to escape? Oh yeah, it’s supposed to snake along that pipe at the top of the outer tub and exit out the back. Don’t you believe it!
What really happens is that the water that is always sitting in the pump and lines below alone is enough to drive the humidity levels above 60% inside those machines whenever the door is closed. Forget about the water on the drum and tub. You can leave the door open for two days, but the moment it’s closed, humidity levels will rise due to the pump water soon followed by the growth of toxic mold. If you own one of these slow-death traps, stick your nose next to the vent on the back and take a whiff. I think you’ll be in for a nasty surprise.
The coup-de-gras comes from the introduction of high-efficiency standards. New machines use a lot less water and consequently, energy. That’s great. In fact, I was really impressed when we ran our first batch of clothes in our stackable front-loading washing machine. We’d always owned older machines. This new Samsung slowly spun the clothes back a forth a bit before letting any water in. I thought, what the heck, is it broken? Oh no, it actually has sensors that allow it to weigh the load in order to determine the minimum amount of water to use. Less water means lower energy consumption. Cool, or so I thought.
As an aside, I idiotically took my moldy front-loader apart in the kitchen and cleaned it inside the upstairs shower. I did this because it was in the dead of winter with snow outside. If you know anything about CIRS, you can imagine how messed up I got. Don’t try to clean a moldy washer in the house! If you discover your machine is moldy, wrap it in plastic and gingerly carry it out the nearest door.
Later on after I’d torn that Samsung front-loader apart and found it dripping in mold, it got me thinking. As it turns out, washing machines stopped working nearly as well with the implementation of efficiency standards and this includes top-loaders. Why? It’s because there simply isn’t enough water sloshing around in the machine to inhibit mold growth. Not only that, but they have sensors that limit the maximum water temperature.
Hot is no longer hot. It’s temped at best. When you set the machine on hot, it always dilutes the hot water with some cold water. Now maybe you’re thinking you can be clever and close the cold water supply valve on the wall so the machine ends up putting in more hot water thereby raising the temperature. Nope; I tried it. The damn machine actually has variable water valves so it just throttled back the hot too. This brought the overall flow down to a trickle and it was still lukewarm at best. Grrr.
Front loaders are even worse than top-loaders when it comes to how little water they use. The fact that the drum isn’t submerged in water all the time like a top-loader means the drum in a front-loader is more prone to buildup and mold. In the end, what you have is a machine that uses very little water, the water never gets hot, the drum and tub have lots of recesses internally, and the machine is poorly vented. Are you getting this? Do not use a front-loading washing machine!
OK, so maybe you’re a knucklehead like me and are thinking you can invent a better mouse trap. After all, I took three years of mechanical and electrical engineering courses in college before switching to mathematics because I thought I could help out more by educating kids. Well, that’s another story. So I got to work. After completely cleaning my front-loader, I fitted a hose bib onto the side using the drain tube for the pump. I then cut down a 5-gallon bucket to fit under this drain. After washing clothes, my wife and I would religiously drain all the water out of the machine, wipe the door gasket, remove the pump filter cover, and leave both the soap tray and main door open. That ought to fix it.
Guess what? After a couple of months, the machine started to smell again. I was livid. After that, I dragged that piece of crap out to the barn and tore the motor off the back so I could get at least a little money for salvaging the copper and then happily toss the rest of it into the metal dumpster at our local dump. Good bye and good riddance! &%$#! front-loading washing machines!
New Top-Loading Washers
So now let’s look at the newer top-loaders. Having seen how moldy washers can get, I bought an expensive Sears Elite with a steam option and a “clean washer” cycle. The machine has a heating element to get the water hot. I figured these features ought to keep mold at bay.
Unfortunately, just like the front-loader, hot was really temped. I actually have an infrared gun to measure temperatures of anything you point it at including the water in my washer. It was below specifications. It felt warm at best. I had a Sears repairman come out twice to try and get the temperatures higher. He admitted the temperature was low but couldn’t do anything to increase it. With minimal water use and cooler temperatures, I didn’t wait to see if this machine was going to get moldy. It now sits in the barn with a piece of plastic over the top.
Now I’m not saying that top loaders are completely no good. You just have to know what you’re dealing with. Later, when I get into maintenance, you’ll be able to see for yourself if your machine is problematic. It’s just that I’d been through hell with that front-loader. I couldn’t bear the thought of having issues with this new top-loader. After I saw that the machine wasn’t working right and couldn’t be repaired, I lost faith in the machine.
By the way, have you ever stopped to wonder why new machines have these special “clean washer” cycles? Some of them even have silver strips inside. We all know how great of an antimicrobial silver is so this makes sense. However, I’m not sure it really solves the problem.
The reason they have these special cycles is because the machines are prone to molding. When you dribble a little lukewarm water in a machine over and over again, the space between the tubs never really gets scrubbed like in older models. On older models, you could regularly set the load size to “super”, set it on hot, and toss in some washing soda to cut any soap scum, or add in some Smelly Washer granules to knock out any mold trying to get a foothold higher up on the drums.
Besides the maintenance I recommend for my older top-loading washer below, I guess if I had a newer top-loader I’d seriously consider weekly filling it to the brim with hot water using a separate hose and adding in washing soda or Smelly Washer granules on an alternating basis.
Compared to front-loaders, new top-loaders are at least vented well and don’t have recesses to collect debris. Regularly cleaning and maintaining them should work. You just have to be more vigilant with newer top-loaders, keep up with maintenance, and use the right soap – more below.
Older Top-Loading Washing Machines
My washer of choice is an older top-loader that is pre-digital. I like Whirlpool and KitchenAid machines. My KitchenAid has the older style dials and timers. If you set it on hot, you get full hot water. If you’re like me and set your water temperature to just below scalding (we don’t have kids), it’s very hot.
You can also set the water fill height to whatever you like regardless of the load size. In addition, I like that fact that you can open the lid without stopping the machine – except on the spin cycle. If you want to use a wooden stick to prod that rug deeper into the tub, you can do it while the machine is still running. It’s back from the day when if you were dumb enough to stick body parts into a running machine and then got hurt, well that was just your own damn fault.
I bought my machine from a local appliance center that specializes in refurbishing older machines. I like local shops. For the most part, the staff is quite friendly. I spoke at length with a guy that rehabs these machines. We talked all about mold. Without any prompting, the first thing that fell out of his mouth was to not buy a front-loader. We then went on to talk about how even the older top-loaders can get moldy if you don’t maintain them.
One word of caution, this store was incredibly moldy. They’re tearing machines apart that have been sitting sometimes for years. I got so sick from being in that building. I knew what I was getting into. However, I wanted to hear about mold first hand from a mechanic to confirm that what I’d concluded on my own about these machines. We talked all about the large appliances.
Be advised that if you do decide to get one of these older machines, that you’re going to have to clean it. This is especially true if it comes from a shop like this. Don’t bring it into your house or garage until it’s thoroughly cleaned! I paid to have the machine I purchased specially cleaned. They cleaned out the hoses and tubs with vinegar. Even then, I took the cabinet off, removed the inner tub, and wiped it all down with quaternary ammonia.
Now you may be thinking it’s hard to take a washer apart. However, when it comes to removing the metal outer cabinet, it’s a simple matter. There are usually two screws under the end-caps or on the back side of the control panel. When these screws are removed, the entire control panel flips back out of the way on plastic straps at act as hinges. This exposes two spring clips that are released using a screw driver. Once the clips are off, the entire outer cabinet lifts off in one piece. It takes all of 5 minutes to disassemble the machine to the point shown. YouTube is a great place to find directions on how to remove your particular cabinet.
With the cabinet off, a few details that help limit mold growth become apparent. First, the tubs are smooth and the counter-balance ring sits on top of the inner tub out of the water where it would otherwise collect debris an encourage mold. Second, the outer tub is translucent so you can easily see if anything is starting to collect higher up above the waterline. Third, you can readily push down on the “tub ring” to release the snaps. Once removed, you can peer down between the tubs for a better view. If you do, it’s recommended that you clean the tubs near the top along with the underside of the tub ring where mold tries to get started.
As you can see, the design is such that the space between the tubs remains open. The tub ring does not seal to the inner tub. Even if you accidentally close the lid when the machine isn’t in use, moisture can still readily vent from between the tubs and out from underneath the washer.
If you’re more mechanically inclined and you’re seeing buildup lower down, the agitator and inner tub can be completely removed. On my machine, the top of the agitator and a dust cap pop off to expose a ½” bolt that when unscrewed allows the entire agitator to lift right out.
With the agitator out of the way, you’ll need a “spanner wrench” to remove the notched nut that holds the inner drum in place. The nut on my old machine was so tight I had to use a torch on it to heat it up enough to break it loose. I ended up cooking the seal between the drive and brake shafts that’s right there by the nut. In addition, the drive block that makes the connection between the inner tub and brake shaft was rusted on the tub so I had to wrestle a bit with the inner tub to get the block to release. It wasn’t anything major but be prepared to have to fuss some in taking apart these older machines beyond removing the cabinet.
Once apart I noticed a soap scum build up on the top 6” of the inner drum. A scrub brush readily removed this. Otherwise, the tubs were mold free. In addition, I removed the two corrugated lines from the pump below. The pump was perfectly clean inside with only a little debris in the pipes. Smelly Washer cleaner really works.
Clothes Washer Maintenance
- On a monthly basis, fill the machine to the brim with hot water. Add Smelly Washer granules and let the machine run to the point where a small amount of water is discharged. You want to get the Smelly Washer into the pump and lines below. Immediately turn off the machine, and let it sit about 6 hours. Finish the cycles and run an extra rinse. For soap scum, use washing soda following the same process. Do put clothes in the washer when cleaning.
- After you treat with Smelly Washer or washing soda, spray the underside of the tub ring and the upper portions of both tubs by feeding a sprayer tip over the top lip of the inner drum. You can rinse it off with water later or I just let it dry. To do this, get a small, quart-sized hand-pump sprayer and fill it with vinegar. I’ve drilled the tip of my sprayer to receive a flexible line with a brass tip that sprays the solution in multiple directions – see Clean Driving Machine. I use a Transtar 36″ Flexible Undercoating Wand.
- It’s important to avoid detergents and liquid clothes soap. Detergents (not to be confused with soaps) were developed during WWII and are made of petroleum. They are not environmentally friendly. On the other hand, soap is made from animal and vegetable fats and is biodegradable. The downside is that soaps react with the minerals in water to create soap-scum that can turn clothes a dull gray. The solution is to make your own clothes powder by mixing ground up bar soap, washing soda, and Borax. MomsAware has a nice recipe and this DIY Powder Laundry Detergent video shows how to quickly make the powder using a dedicated food processor. It doesn’t take much powder, so a single batch goes a long way. Since washing soda tends to tie up minerals, buildup of soap-scum is minimized.
- After the fiasco with my front-loader, I moved my washer and dryer into the garage where the concrete floor slopes out the door. Conveniently, there was a plumbing waste stack in the corner of the garage that I could tie into. It was still a project snaking gas line up from the basement but it was well worth it for me. Furthermore, I use braided stainless steel water supply lines with safety shutoffs built into the lines. If your machine is indoors, I strongly recommend a washer pan with an electronic leak alarm placed in the pan.
- I replaced the cheap, corrugated discharge hose with a braided, clear vinyl line. In this way, I can see if any problems are developing. When I clean the washer yearly, I snake an electrician’s fish tape down the vinyl line, attach a rag wetted in quat, and pull it back through to clean out any buildup.
- Every 6 months to a year, take off the outer metal cabinet and top ring. Clean up any buildup of soap scum or debris. Don’t stick your head in the sand. Make the effort to know that your washer is safe.
- When it comes to cleaning a washer that’s been in a moldy house, you must flip back the control panel and remove the outer metal cabinet. Begin by using compressed air and a duster to blow out the control panel along with the entire machine. Of course, whoever does this work should be wearing a mask, goggles, ear plugs, and a full, hooded suit. The metal cabinet can be hosed off with water. Next, wiped down the entire machine with quaternary ammonia. In general, buy inexpensive shop towels. Wet and wringe out a towel in a clean solution of quat and water. Wipe an area, fold over the rag, and wipe another area. Discard towels often. Never rinse a towel in your solution of quat as it will contaminate the water. You can wash the towels and reuse them later.
- In case you’re wondering, that clear plastic canister mounted on the wall behind the washer is a lint trap. Inside is a fine-mesh sock made of nylon. Lint in water discharged by the washer is trapped when it passes through the sock. For septic systems, this is important as many man-made fabrics are not biodegradable. Over time, a mat of these fabrics coats the drain field choking off its ability to drain waste water.
Clothes Soap Recipe
- 4 ounces of shredded Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps Pure-Castile Soap
- 1 cup 20 Mule Team Borax
- 1 cup Washing Soda (use 2 cups for hard water and to help cut grease)
- Use 1 to 2 tablespoons per load
There are two main concerns with refrigerators. The first is the water that comes from defrosting and condensation. The second is dust buildup on the condenser coils. Although dust buildup can become a source of concentrated toxins, in general, refrigerators tend to be mold-free. Let’s look closer.
In general, refrigerators are insulated boxes with cooling (evaporator) coils inside the freezer compartment that keep the freezer at around 0°F. To cool the refrigerator compartment, an internal fan blows the cold air from the freezer compartment into the refrigerator compartment. The evaporator coils are cooled via a compressor and condenser coils located on the bottom of the machine around the back.
When Freon gas passes through the compressor motor, it’s pressure is increased. This creates heat. This heat is removed by passing the hot and high pressure Freon through a coil on the back of the fridge called the condenser. When the cooling cycle is running, a fan on the back of the fridge blows air across the condenser coils to cool the Freon passing through inside. This heat is then vented out the bottom front of the machine through the front grill.
After the Freon has been compressed and cooled from hot to warm, it passes through a device called an “expansion valve” just as it’s entering the cooling coils (evaporator) inside the freezer. Due to Boyle’s law, when the Freon is allowed to expand and the pressure drops, it absorbs lots of heat – becomes very cold. Stated more simply, the coils in the freezer get really cold soaking up heat inside the freezer that is then blown out from underneath the machine by a fan blowing over the condenser coils on the back.
In modern “frost-free” refrigerators, the cooling coils inside the freezer are regularly defrosted. A timer routinely shuts off the cooling cycle. At the same time, a small heating element quickly melts any frost that has built up on the cooling coils. This water drains out of the freezer compartment via a drip tube and dumps into a drip pan. In most new machines, this pan is internal to the refrigerator and is placed near the warm condenser coils. In older machines, the pan could be slid out and cleaned by removing the grill at the bottom front face of the fridge.
In all my years tinkering with refrigerators, I’ve never seen any mold in the pans or cooling coil compartments. The serviceman I spoke with said the same. Since it takes 24 hours before mold starts growing, this is plenty of time for any defrost water that has collected in the drip pan to be evaporated off by the heat of the compressor and condenser coils. I’m not saying that it can’t happen, just that it’s very rare.
On the other hand, if you loose power to a refrigerator and it sits with the doors closed, it will get moldy. With the circulating fan inside the machine off and temperatures rising, condensation will form on the inside. With the doors closed, the humidity levels will rise. The serviceman showed me behind the plastic panels of machines that had sat for a time. There was a lot of mold. I’d think twice about buying a used machine. If it wasn’t dried out properly, there could be all sorts of badness hidden within. Having said this, so long as your refrigerator runs along without interruption, mold from defrost water is not an issue.
Now let’s switch our attention to the warm condenser coils at the back of the fridge. At the back of the machine is a “back panel” made out of heavy cardboard. This panel is important because the slots in the panel direct air flow over the condenser coils. By removing a handful of screws, the panel comes right off.
Inside, you’ll see the condenser coils. On our newer machine, the coils are configured in the shape of an 8” diameter tube. The blower fan is mounted on one end of this condenser tube and blows air through it. From an engineering standpoint, it’s a clever design. From a cleaning standpoint, it’s a nightmare.
It’s important to keep the coils clean not only because the fridge won’t have to work as hard but also because the dust buildup can get to be substantial. Even if your home is mold-free, some mold does enter from outdoors. The condenser and fan concentrate this dust as it gets packed onto the fins of the condenser. When we had a mold-dog go through our house, the dog “alerted” on the refrigerator. The handler commented that this was quite common for the reason just sited.
For mild buildup, I use my HEPA vacuum and a bottle brush that I bend to fit around the condenser. It works reasonable well. I also take off the front grill and use extension tubes to reach the little bit of condenser visible to the front. In the picture, you can see about 2” of the coil as seen peering through the front grill to the back of the machine. It’s hard to clean the coil. You can see that even with the bottle brush that I’m unable to get to the deeper recesses of the multi-layer coil fins.
- From time to time, it never hurts to take your refrigerator’s temperature. Place a thermometer on a middle self in the fridge and another one in-between packages of food that have been in the freezer at least 24 hours. Leave the doors closed at least three minutes. The fridge should be around 35°F and the freezer around 0°F.
- Clean the back of the machine including the condenser coil regularly. If the fridge was in a moldy house and you’re remediating it, take it outside. Using compressed air and a duster, blow off what you can. Whoever does this work should be wearing a mask, goggles, ear plugs, and a full, hooded suit. Rinse off the condenser coils with pressurized water from somethings like a pump-up lawn sprayer. Cover electrical parts like the fan in plastic to keep them dry. Besides wiping down the insides with quaternary ammonia diluted in water, you’ll want to remove the freezer panel to get at the internal fan and passageways too. Note: Although there will no doubt be some moldy dust behind the entire plastic liner, the air movement is so minimal that I do not think you need to completely disassemble a refrigerator during remediation.
If you don’t leave wet clothes sitting inside your dryer, mold isn’t an issue. On the other hand, dryers get loaded up with dust. Along with the clothes washer, we moved our dryer into the garage. We did this to keep the house cleaner and also because a small portion of the mycotoxins not removed during washing are put back into the air by the dryer. Dryers are not air-tight machines. I’m sure this is a relatively small burden. If you regularly clean your dryer exhaust duct, don’t worry if your dryer is in the house even if you have CIRS. I’ve never heard of dryers being an issue.
On the other hand, if a dryer has been inside a moldy house, it has to be thoroughly cleaned. Take the machine outside. Just like with washing machines, it takes 5 minutes to remove the top cover, control panel, and front panel. Using compressed air and a duster, blow off what you can. Whoever does this work should be wearing a mask, goggles, ear plugs, and a full, hooded suit. Next, wipe down what you can with quaternary ammonia diluted in water. I was amazed at how long it took to blast out all the “dust bunnies” using compressed air. Folks that don’t proper clean their dryers during a mold remediation project are going to load up the air with biotoxins the moment the dryer turns on.
To be clear, you need to thoroughly clean underneath the large metal cover and within the ductwork. In conversation with Ken from Mr. Power Clean as he cleaned our ductwork, he mentioned that the ductwork within the dryer itself was commonly packed with lint. As part of his service, he uses his truck mounted vacuum and compressed air to clean out this internal dryer ducting. (I’m not talking about the flexible ducting from the dryer to the outside dryer vent.) He mentioned that the only dryers that don’t suffer from internal lint buildup are dryers with the really long lint traps that you pull out from the top of the machine. Personally, I use a shop vac fitted with a smaller flexible hose that I snake down into this ductwork via the lint trap on a regular basis.
You’d think that with all the water that runs through dishwashers that they’d be sources of mold. Fortunately, this is not the case. Even with all those flexible, corrugated water lines, mold typically doesn’t get a foothold. I suspect a large part of this has to do with the temperature of the water and differences in detergent.
Dishwashers have internal heating elements that bring the water temperature up to around 140°F. That’s hot enough to cause a burn within 6 seconds. Given that this water flushes through the lines at a pretty good clip with every wash, I just haven’t ever seen any sort of buildup in the corrugated lines. The serviceman I spoke with confirmed this.
Having said this, we did start to get a very light reddish coating on the inside of our dishwasher after a couple of years. I thought it was hard water deposits. However, when I tried to use Calcium, Lime, and Rust Remover (CLR), the discoloration remained. Surprisingly, running Smelly Washer through it, removed the stain. Maybe it was relatively benign aureobasidin pullins mold?
What’s much more common regarding mold relates to the food trap located in the floor of the machine. This needs to be regularly taken apart and cleaned. If you don’t, foul odors when you open the door is your sign that food and grease is beginning to rot. Rot means mold and bacteria are going to work emitting noxious smelling VOCs. Don’t wait for this to happen.
On my machine, taking out the single star-headed screw allows a small plastic shroud to be removed exposing the water pump gear in the food trap sump. Whenever I clean out the food trap, I remove this cover to get full access to the entire sump area. When it comes to cleaning the food trap parts, check to see if your filter comes apart. If it does, make sure to disassemble it and use a grease cutting detergent to thoroughly clean it.
- Besides regularly cleaning the food trap, use Smelly Washer to ensure your dishwasher remains mold free.
- Twice a year, I remove the two screws that can be seen when the door is open at the top outside edge of the machine. Once removed, the dishwasher slides right out. Make sure to unplug the power cord. Also, check that the water and drain lines under the sink don’t get hung up as the washer is slid out. On mine, the lines are long enough that I can remove the entire machine far enough to make sure everything looks OK. I’ve also replaced the corrugated discharge line with a braided, clear vinyl line so I can see if a problem is developing in the lines. It hasn’t happened yet.
- We have concrete floors in our kitchen. As such, I simply ran a big bead of silicone caulk between the floor, the back wall, and the cabinet sides forming a sort of drip pan. If there ever is a substantive leak, water will be directed out the front where it will be apparent there is a problem. For everyone else, I highly recommend using a dishwasher pan that serves the same purpose. Place an electronic leak alarm in the pan.
- When it comes to cleaning a dishwasher that’s been inside a moldy home, the main concern is the insulation. On our machine, a ½” blanket of dense cotton denim insulation covers all four sides of the washer. As I’m sure you’ve read, fabrics like this can not be cleaned. Furthermore, there is additional insulation inside the door and underneath the machine. On our machine, I replaced the outer blanket of insulation and the piece below but left the insulation inside the door as is. There is very little chance for air flow through the door. As it turns out, the insulation was quite expensive from the dealer. I found a recycled denim insulation blanket for a fraction of the cost. Using the old insulation as a template, we traced and then cut the new insulation with tin snips.
- In addition to replacing the insulation on dishwashers that are being remediated, take the unit outside. Using compressed air and a duster, blow off what you can. Whoever does this work should be wearing a mask, goggles, ear plugs, and a full, hooded suit. Finish by wiping down what you can with quaternary ammonia diluted in water. In general, buy inexpensive shop towels. Wet and wringe out a towel in a clean solution of quat and water. Wipe an area, fold over the rag, and wipe another area. Discard towels often. Never rinse a towel in your solution of quat as it will contaminate the water. You can wash the towels and reuse them later.
Dishwasher Soap Recipe
- 1-2 cups of washing soda – more for hard water (Sodium carbonate)
- 1 cup of borax (sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate, is a naturally occurring mineral composed of sodium, boron, oxygen, and water)
- Use vinegar in the rinse compartment as a rinse agent to help prevent residue
- Use tablespoons per load
- 16 Homemade Dishwasher Detergent Recipes
So I’m guessing you’ve learned a thing or two in reading this article when it comes to mold and large household appliances. Once you get your drip pans and alarms in place, using a little Smelly Washer every now and again is simple enough. Every so often, you’ll need to budget a little more time to thoroughly clean your machines. It takes me a Saturday morning to go through ours. On the bright side, it sure beats going down to the river to wash the clothes on a rock!