Dishwashers: There's a fungus among us

The dirtiest place in your kitchen isn't the garbage can. In fact, it just might be the very appliance you rely on to keep things clean: Your dishwasher.

Dishwashers are dark, damp, warm and wet -- the perfect environment for a fungal growth.

And in a recent series of tests on machines in kitchens around the world, more than 60 percent were found to have different types of fungal growth -- including funguses that could make you and your family sick.

One species known as Exophiala (black yeasts) is found in more than half of all dishwashers, including both Exophiala dermatitidis and Exophiala phaeomuriformis.

Other common dishwasher funguses include both Rhodotorula (red yeasts) and Candida parapsilosis (white yeasts).

The problem with the kind of fungal growth is that you won't see a forest of mushrooms sprouting up in your dishwasher. They are much smaller -- microscopic, in fact.

And that means your machine could appear perfectly clean to the eye but still contain an entire fungal forest waiting to make you sick. In some cases, quite sick -- because funguses can cause or contribute to asthma, sinus infections, rheumatoid arthritis, fatigue, irritable bowels, prostate infections and more.

Surprised? You're not alone -- even many doctors don't realize that funguses are a common source of infection. As a result, many fungal infections go untreated, and some turn into chronic illness.

And it could all start with a dirty dishwasher.

Luckily, it's easy enough to make sure your own machine stays clean.

Once every month or so, get out a small brush -- like a toothbrush (just don't use it for teeth after this, of course) -- and scrub around the gasket with a mixture of vinegar and hot water.

Don't skip this step; according to the new study, the gasket is prime real estate for fungal growth.

Next, put a dishwasher-safe bowl of white vinegar on the top rack and run a hot-water cycle (no soap, and no dishes -- just the bowl of vinegar).

And finally, sprinkle the inside with baking soda and run another hot water cycle -- no dishes, no vinegar -- and the inside should be clean, fresh, fungus-free and ready for use.