Keep It Clean: Kitchen Sponges

Sponges are versatile for cleaning throughout the house. One of the most common places to use a sponge is the kitchen. Kitchen sponges may be used to wash dishes and clean counters, but they can also collect bacteria and viruses in the process. (Just think about all of the raw meat, unwashed produce and uncooked eggs that come in contact with your kitchen counters and utensils.)

These popular cleaning tools can harbor many harmful bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella, which can cause food-borne illnesses. Sponges can also house molds and yeasts. Luckily, you can help prevent sickness by cleaning sponges with these simple tips.

How to Clean a Kitchen Sponge

While you may use a bacteria-fighting soaking solution to clean your kitchen sponge, a more effective way to do the job is to use two other common kitchen appliances—the dishwasher or microwave.

  • Soak a sponge in a 10 percent chlorine bleach solution, lemon juice, or deionized water. This cleaning method only kills between 37 to 87 percent of bacteria, which means what’s left can still cause illness. Keep in mind, however, that this cleaning is better than none at all.
  • Place your sponge in a dishwasher (with a drying cycle). With this method, you can kill about 99.9998 percent of bacteria. Also, sponges cleaned in the dishwasher have been found to harbor less than one percent of molds and yeasts.
  • Microwave a wet sponge for two minutes. This kitchen appliance also leaves sponges with less than one percent of mold and yeasts. It is perhaps the best sponge cleaner, as it kills approximately 99.99999 percent of bacteria. Sponges placed in the microwave should be completely free of metallic content. Make sure to wet the sponge to prevent a fire. Remember that it will be hot when taken out of the microwave!

By keeping your sponges free of bacteria and germs, you can help protect you and your family from food-borne illness.

Adapted and excerpted from:

S. Durham, “Best Ways to Clean Kitchen Sponges“, USDA (04/2007).

A. Hoover, “Researchers: Microwave oven can sterilize sponges, scrub pads,” UF News (01/2007).

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