How many times have you told your kids, spouse or roommate to wash the dishes by hand, only to come home to barely-rinsed plates covered in caked-on filth? If so, your immediate reaction was probably to toss the plate into the dishwasher with a disgusted snort. With a fair amount of sudsy soap and steaming hot water, the plate is sure to be clean by the end of the cycle … right?
Unfortunately, that may not be so. Though your plate may look clean after a run through the dishwasher, there could be harmful fungi lurking in those four walls that you’ve never thought to look for. That’s just as bad as having a nice helping of mold on your bathroom shower wall!
Which Fungi Researchers Found in Dishwashers
Not all fungi affect humans the same. Plenty are harmless, while others can take root in our bodies and reproduce, affecting organ function.
In January 2018, researchers published a study detailing the fungi found in dishwashers in the journal “Applied and Environmental Biology.” It was a relatively small study that analyzed the biofilm found on the seals of 24 dishwashers for bacteria and fungi. Some of the genera of fungi the researchers found could affect someone with a compromised immune system or a preexisting health condition:
- Candida – A white yeast known to cause thrush in the mouth and throat, vaginal yeast infections and invasive candidiasis, a fungal infection of the blood.
- Cryptococcus – A yeast that can cause cryptococcosis in immunocompromised people if inhaled. This infection may impair lung or central nervous system function. Those with HIV/AIDS may be susceptible to cryptococcal meningitis, or inflammation of the brain.
- Rhodotorula – A red yeast that was not previously considered dangerous, but is now known to cause treatable blood infections in those who use central venous catheters (CVCs).
Previous studies have also found the presence of Exophiala, a black yeast that can cause respiratory infections, especially in those with cystic fibrosis or other respiratory system weaknesses. A 2011 study found Exophiala in 56 percent of the 189 dishwashers they sampled worldwide. Researchers in Turkey also found Exophilia to be the most common black fungus in dishwashers in their 2013 study of appliances from 177 homes in Mersin, Turkey.
Should You Be Worried?
The good news is the fungi mostly builds up in the slimy biofilm along your dishwasher’s black rubber seal. That means that unless you’re rubbing your hands or dishes all over the seal, you’re probably safe.
Before you become overly concerned, realize that these fungi will not infect the average person. Rates of fungal infection are likely to be highest in those with compromised immune systems, especially those who have diabetes, since they are more susceptible to skin fungus, and those who have lung problems, since they can inhale the fungi and contract a respiratory infection. Even with these preexisting conditions, the chances of you actually picking up a fungal infection from your dishwasher are incredibly small.
Why Don’t Dishwasher Fungi Die?
Common knowledge is that if you want to kill off the yucky stuff, you should douse it in boiling hot water and dish soap or detergent. While that’s sound advice, it doesn’t pertain to fungi like yeast and mold. Some fungi are quite resilient and thrive in extreme environments inhospitable to other microbes. Thus, the hot water and detergent may actually be fueling the fungi’s growth, not stopping it. You may have noticed this same pattern of growth in other areas of your home that are also warm and damp, like your washing machine, sink or shower.
How to Make Sure Your Dishwasher Is Safe
If you want the fungi out of your kitchen for good, there are a few easy ways to get rid of it with vinegar, baking soda and bleach.
- Remove the rack and check your dishwasher for buildup
- Scrub the rubber seal using a toothbrush and a cleaning solution that’s one part bleach to nine parts water
- Clean the rest of the dishwasher with a solution of bleach and soapy water
- Fill a small cup or bowl with vinegar, place it on the top rack of the dishwasher and run it on a hot cycle
- Sprinkle baking soda across the floor of the dishwasher and run it on a hot cycle
- Optional: run through a cycle once more with regular dishwasher detergent
Get Treatment for Fungal Infections at Complete Care in Texas and Colorado
If left untreated, fungal infections can invade your body and spread, disrupting organ function. However, if your doctor spots a fungal infection in its earlier stages, it can be easily treated with antifungal medications.
The highly qualified medical providers at Complete Care are equipped to deal with any fungal infection you may have, as well as symptoms like rashes and breathing difficulties. Visit one of our urgent care locations, free-standing emergency rooms or hospitals to receive the treatment you need today.