University of Florida

Keep It Clean: Kitchen Sponges

Sponges can be a great way to clean multiple rooms in your home—from bathrooms to bedrooms. While sponges are versatile for cleaning throughout the house, one of the most common places to use a sponge is the kitchen. Kitchen sponges can 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. But that’s not it—sponges can also house molds and yeasts. Luckily, you can help prevent sickness by cleaning sponges, and it isn’t hard to do!
There’s more than one way to clean a sponge. Soaking one in a 10 percent chlorine bleach solution, lemon juice, or deionized water can kill between 37 to 87 percent of bacteria. This may sound like a good amount, but what’s left can still cause illness.

A more effective way to clean a sponge is to use two other common kitchen appliances—the dishwasher or microwave. By placing your sponge in a dishwasher (with a drying cycle), 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.

The microwave 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. It’s also an easy process—just put a wet sponge in the microwave for two minutes. Make sure you wet the sponge to prevent fire. Furthermore, sponges placed in the microwave should be completely free of metallic content. Remember that a sponge will be hot when you take it out of the microwave!

Protect Yourself

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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