Knowing how to clean a kitchen sponge can eliminate nasty kitchen odors and protect your family’s health.
KITCHEN SPONGES BREED BACTERIA
Like a smelly kitchen rag, dirty sponges are ideal breeding grounds for certain organisms including yeast, mold, and bacteria. Surprisingly, they also tend to acquire fecal contaminants, including e. Coli, probably from peoples’ hands.
If not properly cleaned, a kitchen sponge can transfer these contaminants to your countertops, appliances, and food preparation surfaces. From there, they make their way to your food.
WHAT DOES NOT WORK
There are a number of “household hacks” suggesting ways to clean a kitchen sponge: spray it with hydrogen peroxide, soak it in bleach water, douse it with lemon juice. Unfortunately, they don’t work.
According to the Agricultural Research Service’s Food Technology and Safety Laboratory (ARS), these methods still left 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
So, what does work?
Use Heat to Clean It
1. Microwave your sponge: According to the ARS, microwaving a sponge kills 99.99999 percent of bacteria present. Microwaving or otherwise heating your sponge to a very high temperature (like boiling it in water), causes the food born pathogens to “literally pop,” thus killing them.
How to do it: Rinse your sponge well then put the wet sponge in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes on HIGH. Allow the sponge to remain in the microwave until it’s cool enough to handle, then squeeze any remaining water out and let it air-dry. Once you’ve done that is the perfect time to clean your microwave.
2. Run your sponge through your dishwasher: The ARS says this removes 99.9998 percent of bacteria.
How to do it: Remove food particles, rinse and squeeze your sponge dry, then place it in the top rack of your machine. Run the dishwasher through a full wash AND dry cycle. (Air-drying will not kill enough bacteria for the sponge to be considered safe.) Do this each time you wash dishes, or at least once a day.
Microwaving or a dishwasher cycle also kill more yeasts and molds in sponges than soaking in bleach water, lemon juice, or just leaving them untreated, so make this part of your daily cleaning routine.
Replace your sponges regularly
Even with daily cleaning, you should replace your sponge with a new one every two weeks. That doesn’t mean you need to throw the old one into the trash: give it a good cleaning, let it thoroughly dry and then try one of the creative reuses below.
What to do with old sponges?
1. Make an ice pack: Soak the sponge in a 50-50 mixture of rubbing alcohol and water then 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 plants moist: 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. Pad your umbrella stand: Place an old sponge or two in the bottom of your umbrella stand to absorb raindrops from recently-used umbrellas.
6. Repel mosquitoes: Soak a sponge in some homemade mosquito spray and wipe your patio furniture, then leave the sponge nearby to continue discouraging mosquitoes while you enjoy the great outdoors.