How to Clean a Moldy Dishwasher and Prevent Mold from Coming Back

Updated: Dec. 13, 2023

Having a moldy dishwasher is a common problem. Here's how to clean a moldy dishwasher and keep it from returning.

Thank goodness for the invention of the dishwasher! As an avid cook and baker, I love spending time in the kitchen—except for the cleaning-up part. It’s easy to take the dishwasher for granted, but dishwashers need care and attention, too. While you might know how to clean your dishwasher already on a regular basis, there are some things you need to keep an eye out for—like mold.

Your dishwasher is often warm and full of wet dishes or dampness lingering from a past cycle: a breeding ground for bacteria, mold, mildew and other unpleasant issues. Here’s how to tell whether you have mold, and how to clean a moldy dishwasher if you do.

How to Tell If There’s Mold in Your Dishwasher

There’s almost certainly some mold in your dishwasher. According to a Medical Mycology study, 62% of dishwashers across six continents had some fungal growth; some types were harmful, while others included household mold and mildew and yeasts.

Signs that your dishwasher needs imminent cleaning include a strong, often musty odor, and visible signs of mold.

Where Does the Mold Come From?

The dishwasher is a dark, hot, damp environment that’s pretty much tailor-made for fungal growth. Plus, many kinds of fungus can survive going through the wash cycle, even on high heat. Mold growth is especially likely around areas that remain wet, like crevices, and rubber parts, including the seals around the door, gaskets and drain covers.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on these other hot spots for household mold.

How to Clean a Moldy Dishwasher

The secret to cleaning up mold? A simple scrub-down with soapy water. Here’s what to do:

  1. Remove the racks, rotor and drain strainer (if they come out) and clean them in the sink.
  2. Deep-clean the dishwasher with a bottle brush or a toothbrush, paying special attention to rubber and plastic parts.
  3. Scrub the drain opening, and scrub the seal around the door, making sure to fold it back to clean the underside.
  4. Last, run a sponge up and down the sides to clear up any problems there.

After clearing away mold, disinfect the dishwasher. While bleach is a potent disinfectant, its abrasiveness isn’t ideal for the dishwasher. Instead, reach for vinegar, which will kill the majority of bacteria and mold strains. Put a cup of distilled white vinegar on the top rack and run the dishwasher on the hottest program.

There are so many ways you can use vinegar to clean!

How to Prevent Mold in Your Dishwasher

To discourage mold growth, it may help to keep your dishwasher door open a crack; when my dishwasher had a continually funky aroma, keeping it open rather than snapped closed completely eliminated the smell.

If your dishwasher drawer falls open if not latched shut, leaving it cracked open might be a dangerous practice around children or pets. In that case, it’s helpful to leave the dishwasher completely open for an hour or so after unloading a clean cycle of dishes. This allows the dishwasher to dry completely, making it more difficult for mold to take hold.

These are the little things you forget to clean around the house—any you’ve been neglecting?