How To Clean a Kitchen Sponge

Keeping your kitchen sponge clean prevents spreading dangerous bacteria to kitchen surfaces, controls odors, and gets your dishes sparkling clean.

Overhead view of a blue kitchen sponge

Your Kitchen Sponge Needs Attention

Doing dishes is an annoying chore, but it shouldn’t be a dangerous one, too. Unfortunately, the danger is real if you’re using a kitchen sponge that hasn’t been cleaned and disinfected properly. Yep, even though that sponge gets soaked in hot, soapy water regularly, it can still contain all sorts of germs that could make your family very sick.

Kitchen Sponges Breed Bacteria

Like a smelly kitchen rag, dirty sponges are ideal breeding grounds for yeast, mold, and bacteria. Surprisingly, they also collect fecal contaminants, including e. Coli. One study found that a dirty kitchen sponge contained 362 different types of bacteria with a density reaching 45 billion per square centimeter.

And if you don’t clean your kitchen sponge the right way and disinfect it often enough, that contamination will spread to your countertops, appliances, and food preparation surfaces. From there, they make their way to your food.

Some Methods Don’t Work

So, you may have tried a few things to keep your sponge clean in the past. There are many suggestions online, like spraying it with hydrogen peroxide, soaking it in water with essential oils, or dousing it with lemon juice. Unfortunately, those methods to clean kitchen sponges don’t work, according to the Agricultural Research Service’s Food Technology and Safety Laboratory (ARS). Their tests revealed between 30 and 87 percent of bacteria alive and well in the sponge. That’s enough to cause serious food-borne illness.

How To Clean A Kitchen Sponge Effectively

So, what does work? Either of the methods below will get your kitchen sponge clean and disinfected sufficiently to prevent cross-contamination of kitchen surfaces with dangerous pathogens.

Method One

Microwaving a sponge kills 99.99999 percent of bacteria present if you do it correctly. Rinse your sponge and squeeze it out a few times, then get it soaking wet again. Put the wet sponge in your microwave for 2 minutes, then let it sit in there until it’s cool enough to handle. Squeeze any remaining water out and let it air-dry.

Method Two

Add 3 cups water and 1 cup plain white vinegar to a large saucepan. Bring this to a boil and add your kitchen sponge. Let it boil for 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the solution cool to where you can safely handle the sponge. Squeeze it out and let it air dry.

Method Three

Cleaning your sponge in the dishwasher removes 99.9998 percent of bacteria, making this method a very effective and easy one. Be sure to rinse and squeeze your sponge several times to remove food particles, then put it on the top rack of your machine for a full wash and dry. With this method, the drying cycle’s heat is part of the cleaning and disinfection measures. (And here are 53 more things you can clean in the dishwasher if you want to make it a full load.)

Method Four

You can also clean and disinfect your kitchen sponge using a bleach and water solution. First, rinse your sponge several times to remove food particles, then wring it out well. Then combine 1 quart of cool water with 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach in a bowl and let your sponge soak in this mixture for at least 5 minutes to kill 99.9% of food-borne bacteria. After it’s soaked, rinse your sponge again and let it air dry.

How Often Should You Clean Your Sponge?

Ideally, you’d clean your kitchen sponge every day, which is why microwaving it is part of the daily cleaning routine. At least do it every few days to keep the bacteria level and odors under control. In between cleanings, make sure to rinse your kitchen sponge several times after each use and wring it out. A wet kitchen sponge harbors much more bacteria than a dry one.

When to Replace Kitchen Sponges?

A good rule of thumb is replacing your kitchen sponge if one of the cleaning methods doesn’t get rid of stains or if it starts to smell even though you’ve recently cleaned it. But even with daily cleaning, you should replace your sponge with a new one every few weeks. By “a few weeks,” that means at least monthly, though if you use it often, you should replace it often, too. But don’t just throw the old one into the trash — repurpose it with one of the creative re-uses below.

What To Do With Old Kitchen Sponges

1. Make an ice pack: Soak the sponge in a 50-50 mixture of rubbing alcohol and water, slip it into a resealable plastic bag. Pop the whole thing into the freezer to use as an ice pack for bumps and bruises. Since the alcohol solution won’t completely freeze, the sponge will feel comfortable and cool against your owie.

2. Keep outdoor container plants watered: Put old kitchen sponges in the bottom of flower pots before adding soil and planting. The sponge will retain moisture when you water your plants and release it to their roots as needed.

3. Polish your shoes: Dip a corner of the sponge in shoe polish and buff away.

4. Keep your umbrella stand dry: Place an old sponge or two in the bottom of your umbrella stand to absorb raindrops from brollies on rainy days.

5. Repel mosquitoes: Soak a sponge in some homemade mosquito spray until it’s wet. Wipe your patio furniture and then leave the sponge nearby to continue discouraging mosquitoes.

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4 Comments

  1. Suzan Oxenreider says:

    I started to microwave my sponge and dishcloth every night after I finished cleaning up the kitchen about 13 years ago. I NEVER have a smelly dishcloth or sponge. It is the best kitchen “trick” I ever learned!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It’s wonderful when such a simple trick works, isn’t it?

  2. Leetah Guilford says:

    I don’t have a microwave but I do have a toaster oven, is there any way I could clean my sponge in the toaster oven or will I have to use the dishwasher?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You’d want to use the dishwasher for that one, Leetah. Alternatively, you could boil it on the stove in 3 cups water and 1 cup white vinegar for 10 minutes… but that’ll make your whole house smell like vinegar for a while.

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