When I was a kid, I used to love getting those wafer-thin sponges that would puff up when they got wet. Heck, even today as an adult I get all giddy when I come across one.
I don’t know about you, but for some reason, I find an odd fascination with having a single drop of water land in the middle of the sponge. I love to watch that small sphere start to grow larger and larger until it explodes like a zit on your face.
Growing up we always had sponges. My mom used them for everything. I remember as a young girl I would always see the green sponge perched on the edge of the sink, standing at attention like a warrior, waiting to be sent into battle.
He was never dry and brittle for long. Such a marvelous warrior he was. Always moist and ready for action.
He leaps from the kitchen sink to the oven to wipe up a nasty spill. Then onward he goes to wipe up the sticky gooey mess on the floor I made from spilling grape Koolaid. Then off to the kitchen table to wipe up the footprints the cat left behind.
Finally, his battle was over. He took a quick rinse and began to rest until he was called upon again.
The sponge warrior played such an important role in my young life. It was the one constant in the kitchen I could always rely on to get the job done right.
As I grew into adulthood, I always thought sponges were one of those kitchen necessities every good homemaker needed. You know, one of those things you can’t like without; sort of like the crockpot.
As time progresses, so does our mode of thinking. It’s possible we love and can’t live without an item, only to realize a few hours or even a couple of days from now, we’ll hear something and our perspective will change. We’ll no longer think, “however did I live without that”, to “however did I live with it”.
When it comes to the household kitchen sponge, there are always two teams.
Team 1: The team that couldn’t imagine life without using their sponge.
Team 2: Those who will only use them for specific tasks like cleaning the toilet rim.
I belong to team number 2. Which team are you?
Sponges are like annoying house-guests. You know, the ones who suddenly show up on at your door with the intention of staying just a week. 6 months later, they’re still perched on your couch with no plans to get a job or leave.
Why kitchen sponges should be considered taboo
If you think your cell phone is dirtier than your toilet, the kitchen sponge has that one beat. The truth of the matter is, that pretty yellow, blue or pink sponge is holding approximately 45 billion bacteria per cubic centimeter.
I even read one article that shows it as holding 200,000 times more germs than your entire house. And yes, that includes the bathroom.
I’m not a math whiz, and sure I could attempt to do a little math on my phone’s calculator, but I wouldn’t even know where to find that little conversion do-hickey thing, so I’m not even going there.
If you want to learn more about that, you can read more about the hidden places bacteria like to hang out at my earlier post How to Destroy Kitchen Germs & Bacteria.
Disclaimer: Although I feel very strongly that sponges should have been burned with bras and whatever else feminists decide to burn, I can’t tell you that you shouldn’t use a sponge (which you shouldn’t). Anyway, if you’re going to use one regardless of everything I say, then please make sure you sanitize the bee-geebies out of that cesspool you have perched on your kitchen counter.
If using a sponge will make your heart sing
If using a kitchen sponge is going to make you happy, then, by all means, use it; however, if you’re planning on using the sponge to clean your dishes, please make sure you disinfect them properly and don’t use the same sponge to clean your kitchen counter or sink.
In order to prevent cross-contamination, each sponge should have its own specific job and you shouldn’t intermingle them with other duties.
Let’s say you have a sponge you use for cleaning off the counter; you wouldn’t want to use that same sponge to clean the sidewalls of your refrigerator. If you use a sponge to clean the kitchen dishes, you wouldn’t want to use the same sponge to clean the dog or cat bowl.
If you’re going to use a kitchen sponge, use it specifically for one purpose only.
The not so secret things people do with their kitchen sponges and things you SHOULD NEVER do
Wiping meat juice off a plate, then using that same sponge to clean dishes. Just because you’re using soap, it doesn’t mean your sponge won’t be harboring any harmful bacteria. If you’re going to do this, use a paper towel. The same thing goes for cutting boards.
Scrubbing fruit and vegetable skin. Please don’t use a sponge for this; go out and buy a vegetable scrubber. The dollar stores sell them, so you have no excuse not to buy one.
Don’t clean your kitchen counters with them. All you’re doing is releasing the bacteria and sending them on vacation from the comforts of their spongy home to your countertop. It’s sort of like ClubMed for bacteria.
Wiping your hands on a dishtowel after using a kitchen sponge. Do you honestly think the fibers of the dishtowel are going to repeal the bacteria? Nope, heck I’m sure a few of the bacteria spores are using the fibers of the dishtowel as a hammock. “Oh Charles, can you please bring me another PinaColada”?
Cleaning up dog barf or cat hairballs with your sponge
Now, I know you’d never use your kitchen sponge to clean up dog barf or cat hairballs, but how do you know someone else in your household isn’t? People have been known to do that. I’ve seen a few people in my day wipe up the floor from barf or hairballs using a kitchen sponge.
If that wasn’t gross enough, I saw one of my friends wash the sponge off with some antibacterial soap, rinse it, then use it to clean her pots and pans.
Needless to say, every time I was invited to her house for dinner, I’d come up with a good excuse not to go. By the way, she thought I was nuts for pointing that little fact out to her.
We’re no longer friends. Hey, the truth hurts sometimes.
Kitchen sponge maintenance and care
How to store your used sponge
I want you to stop reading this right now and march into your kitchen. Go look where your sponge is. Is it sitting on the back edge of the sink? How about in an old margarine tube under the sink? Is it just laying in the sink?
If you answered yes to any of the above, STOP DOING THAT IMMEDIATELY.
If you truly need to use your sponge, after you use it, please do the following:
- Rinse it thoroughly after each use; with or without soap, because honestly, it’s not gonna matter.
- Ring it out as best as you can to remove all of the excess water. The drier it is the better.
- Store it on a sponge drying rack or someplace where the air can flow freely and circulate around the sponge.
Replace your kitchen sponge frequently
The good thing about sponges is, they’re pretty darn cheap, so it shouldn’t hurt your wallet to throw them out on a bi-weekly to monthly basis. If you can’t part with throwing them out that frequently, then you’re going to have to disinfect your sponge.
Ask yourself this question. How often are you replacing your sponge? If you don’t know the answer, it’s probably never, and you need to do it now.
The key is, if you use your kitchen sponge a lot, let’s say you just use it to clean your pots and pans, then you should change it out every week or so. Even if you’re not using it that often you still need to replace it at a minimum of once a month. Sure, that may seem like you’re throwing money down the drain, but the truth of the matter is, it’s still breeding bacteria.
Congratulations on your new bouncing baby bacteria spores.
How do you know when it’s time to throw it out?
When your sponge starts to smell like rotten blue cheese mixed with curdled milk, it’s time to go. There may be a chance your sponge won’t smell like that. For all you know, it could smell like your Uncle Fred’s feet after he spent the day cleaning portable bathrooms over at the monster truck rally.
If it stinks, throw it out!
If you still want to keep it, then put it in rotation to clean the inside of your toilet bowl, or to clean the insides of the trash can or recycle buckets.
If this sounds like something you may want to do, put the sponges in the washing machine with lots of hot water and bleach. Make sure you use the highest heat setting.
Now to be sure you don’t get your toilet cleaning sponges confused with your kitchen sponges (that’s been known to happen a lot), cut off a corner of the sponge you use to clean, this way you shouldn’t be confused again.
Family members with health conditions
If you or your family member either has an immunosuppressed illness or cancer, you should never allow a sponge into your home.
Due to the number of bacteria the sponge harbors, and regardless if you disinfect the sponge, you may not have disinfected it thoroughly enough.
You touch the sponge and now the bacteria is on your hand. You care for your sick loved one…need I say more?
Now is that sponge really worth keeping?
The proper ways to disinfect a kitchen sponge
I know, you’re stubborn and that’s really okay. If you want to continue using your sponges then that’s fine; knock yourself out. Enjoy each and every moment of it. But I do beg you. Please disinfect it properly. Not just semi-disinfect; disinfect it like you would if you suddenly found yourself in the midst of a nuclear fall-out.
According to the USDA, microwaving sponges kill 99.9999% of bacteria, while dishwashing kills 99.99998%.
Hey, that’s great but what about that other teeny-tiny percentage it doesn’t kill?
I read a 2017 published article in Scientific Reports (yes, I’m a total geek) that explains your sponge contains its own little ecosystem. Sort of like my fancy goldfish tank. They state every home harbors different bacteria – which is understandable – but they did find a great deal of salmonella and staphylococcus in a kitchen sponge.
Layman’s terms for both salmonella and staphylococcus. They’re both bad and you don’t want them.
Salmonella = food poisoning.
Staphylococcus = really bad news. Have you ever heard of a staph infection? Well, if you get a staph infection you can die if it finds its way into your bloodstream. Sorry, I’m not going to make it all fluffy. Get staph and you can die. End of story.
So what I’m trying to say is, although the microwave will kill most of the bacteria, once it’s done with its tanning session, it’s ready to party like a rock star and start reproducing again.
Due to the different materials that make up each type of sponge. Some sponges are made up of a synthetic metallic property that can catch on fire in the microwave. Also, if your sponge isn’t totally wet, it can cause a fire as well, regardless if it has synthetic metallic properties in it.
Before using your microwave to disinfect a kitchen sponge, it’s imperative to make sure your sponge is wet enough to cause enough steam to penetrate all of the sponge fibers. In order to disinfect the sponge, it must remain in the microwave for no less than 2 minutes; however, due to the variance in wattage of microwaves, 2 minutes may not be long enough.
After you use your microwave to disinfect the sponge, make sure you disinfect the microwave immediately after.
Why do you ask? Well, how about this. You just put a gross stinky bacteria-laden sponge that’s probably filled with fecal bacteria, parasites and other types of bacteria in the same place you’re planning on heating your Hot Pocket.
While you’re at it, don’t forget the dish you had the sponge sitting on. If you put the sponge on a paper plate, kudos to you!
Seriously, wouldn’t it just be easier to either throw the sponge out or just use a paper towel?
So, you’re planning on using the dishwasher disinfection technique. Seeing how there is so much grunge and dried-on food particles in the dirty dishwasher already, you won’t have to worry about segregating the sponge from all the other dishes, pans, glasses and utensils.
What you are going to want to do is the following:
- Use the hottest and longest setting on your dishwasher. I typically would use my pots and pan setting and use “high temp wash” as I’ve found that combination really cleans the spit out of my dishes. They come out even cleaner than if I used the regular cycle. If you have those settings, use them.
- Make sure you use the heat setting when drying and most of all, let it finish completely drying.
Aside from you, bleach is my BFF. I kid you not, I adore bleach and use it on just about everything. This is the third and final way I’m gonna share with you on how to disinfect your kitchen sponge.
Make a bleach bath
- Use 1/2 teaspoon of bleach to a quart of warm water.
- Let the sponge sit for one minute.
Studies have reported you should use a minimum of 8.25% sodium hypochlorite. The only issue with this is, most household bleach ranges anywhere between 5.25% to 6.0% sodium hypochlorite.
I have both Great Value and Dollar General bleach in my home. Great Value is listed as 6.0% sodium hypochlorite and 94% other. I’d really love to know what the other 94% is. Now, on the other hand, my Dollar General bleach doesn’t list the active ingredients on the packaging at all. So, I basically don’t have a clue as to the effectiveness of it.
FYI, I wasn’t the one who bought that one. Just sayin’
Does that mean you can’t use it? Of course not. Use the bleach you have on hand, but let the sponge soak a little longer. I’d say 3 minutes.
So there you have it. Maybe this article has prompted you to have second thoughts about using a kitchen sponge, and then again maybe you’re a rebel and want to prove me wrong and keep using your sponge. Hey, whichever team your on, sponge or paper towel, I know deep in my heart you only have the best interest for your family’s health and well-being.
If you do continue to use a kitchen sponge, please make sure you either throw it away on a frequent basis or use any of the disinfection techniques I shared with you today.
What are your feelings on kitchen sponges? Share in a comment below!
Until we meet again,
Scientific Reference: Microbiome Analysis and Confocal Microscopy Of Used Kitchen Sponges Reveal Massive Colonization By Acinetobacter , Moraxella and Chryseobacterium Species. Massimiliano Cardinale-Dominik Kaiser-Tillmann Lueders-Sylvia Schnell-Markus Egert – https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-06055-9