Overhead view of cleaning sponges arranged around a bowl of soapy water

Which Cleaning Sponge Should You Use?

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Sponges get a bad rap on the internet these days. But they’re convenient cleaning tools and can be safe as you know which one to use and how to keep it clean.

Many people avoid cleaning with sponges because they believe they’re full of bacteria. The key is using the correct one for the task and cleaning your sponge after each use.

Melamine Sponges

Melamine foam sponges are water-activated, which means you don’t use them with cleaning products, not even soap. Also known as “magic erasers,” they’re made from melamine resin that is heat compressed to create an open-cell foam.

This produces a texture like sandpaper, making them excellent scrubbers for durable hard surfaces but too abrasive for softer surfaces. Because of their texture, wear gloves while using melamine sponges. Do not allow children to use magic erasers.

Best uses: Hard surfaces like glass, tile, grout, rubber, and hard non-glossy plastics; upholstery and sturdy fabrics.

Be careful with: Painted surfaces, stone, and melamine furniture. Spot test before use, and do not press hard while using.

Do not use on: High-gloss paint, varnish, or acrylic; polished granite or quartz; soft natural stone like marble; stainless steel; car exteriors; or soft natural surfaces like wood, leather, suede, and skin.

How to clean after use: Rinse under warm water and air dry. Do not boil, bleach, or clean in your dishwasher.

When to discard: Melamine sponges disintegrate with use and last from 1 to 10 uses. There is no way to disinfect or sanitize magic erasers, so you should discard them after use on a heavily soiled or germy surface.

Cellulose or Natural Sponges

Cellulose sponges are made from wood pulp. Natural sponges are the skeletons of sea sponges. Both are eco-friendly cleaning tools full of small holes which absorb water and provide a scrubby texture.

Best uses: Smooth surfaces including high-gloss paint, varnish, acrylic, natural stone, stainless steel, car exteriors, dishes, and skin.

Be careful with: Rough textures like cement or grout which may snag and tear the cellulose or natural sponge.

Do not use on: There are no restrictions.

How to clean after use: Rinse the sponge well then squeeze soapy water through it and rinse again. Squeeze out excess moisture and allow the sponge to air dry. Boil or microwave wet sponges for 2 minutes at least every other day, or add them to the top rack of your dishwasher.

When to discard: Replace cellulose and natural sponges every two weeks, even with proper cleaning and disinfecting.

Dry Cleaning Sponges

Dry cleaning sponges are also known as rubber sponges, because they’re made from vulcanized rubber, which gives them a squishy texture that makes them especially good at removing fine particles of soot or dust and pet hair. Do not use them with other cleaning products, even water.

Best uses: Remove soot or smoky marks that other methods do not clean. Cleaning stains or scuffs on non-washable fabrics, lampshades, leather, suede, and wallpaper, and to brush pet hair off of fabrics and upholstery.

Be careful with: When using a dry cleaning sponge to remove soot, press down gently and lift. Do not stroke the spot or you may spread the mess.

Do not use on: Washable surfaces.

How to clean after use: Wipe with a damp, soapy rag and blot with a fresh, dry towel. Wait until it is completely dry to put it away.

When to discard: Replace when wiping with a cloth does not remove surface soil, or any time it develops an odor.

Microfiber Sponges

A microfiber sponge features a thin layer of foam sandwiched between two layers of microfiber cloth, or cloth on one side and an abrasive nylon pad on the other.

Best uses: This type of sponge is very versatile and suitable for use on any washable surface.

Be careful with: Avoid using the abrasive side on delicate surfaces.

Do not use on: There are no restrictions.

How to clean after use: Boil or microwave a wet sponge for 2 minutes, clean it in the top rack of your dishwasher, or insert it into a mesh laundry bag and add it to the washer with your towels. Line, air, or tumble dry after cleaning.

When to discard: Microfiber sponges can last for months with proper care. Clean well after each use. Allow them to fully dry after cleaning and before storage. Discard if they become permanently stained, begin falling apart, or develop odors.

Polymer Foam Sponges

The Scrub Daddy brand is behind the popular smiling round cleaning sponge that’s all over Instagram and TikTok. Made from polymer foam, this scrubber softens in hot water and hardens in cold water.

Because of this changing density, it’s a very versatile cleaning sponge and dries out quickly so it does not develop odors, mold, or mildew. Use only with soap and water.

Best uses: Scrubbing almost anything. Dampen in hot water to soften before use on plastics, natural stone, nonstick cookware, stainless steel, wood, and acrylics. Run it under cold water to harden it for more abrasive scrubbing of glass, tile, porcelain, dishes, rubber, and other hard surfaces.

Do not use on: High-gloss painted surfaces, leather, suede, or skin.

How to clean after use: Use a soft brush to dislodge food particles or other grime, then wash it in soapy water after use and allow it to air dry. You can also clean it in your dishwasher on the top rack during a normal wash cycle. To sanitize a polymer foam sponge, get it wet then microwave it on high for only 60 seconds.

When to discard: Replace polymer foam sponges every 2 weeks, or any time they develop an odor.

Tips to Keep Sponges Safe for Use

  • Avoid using sponges to clean up raw meat.
  • Work soapy water through your sponge after each use, rinse it well, and squeeze out excess moisture.
  • Use a sponge holder that allows air circulation while it dries.
  • Disinfect cellulose and microfiber sponges daily by boiling or microwaving them wet for 2 minutes. (1 minute for polymer foam sponges).

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2 Comments

  1. Very interestingly. Sponges I’ve never met! But first I detest vinegar and we don’t even eat it except one tsp goes in home made mayo. Balsamic rates so different it doesn’t count. My grandmother made a lot of German stuff. I don’t remember sauerbraten specifically but I do recall a tongue cooked in vinegar that scared the living daylights out of me and it was so traumatic that I’ve avoided vinegar ever since.

    I’ve been reading and following you for ages and I am about as germophobic as you are. I just don’t like spreading communicable diseases. I don’t think being anti germs is bad, not at all. Now about kitchen cleaning etc. I don’t combine cleaning the kitchen with doing dishes. I keep a little scrub brush in a little ceramic pot on the counter. There’s dish soap in it. I think it’s full circle. I rinse dishes under a stream of water to get off the big chunks, then put in dishwasher. Anything that need scrubbing like a cookie sheet gets the scrubby brush. Anything made of stainless gets polished with a dobie and barkeepers friend. That’s after washing it. My instant pot for example looks bad after the dishwasher so it gets that treatment. I never use a sponge for cleaning, if I rarely get a raw meat juice run off the cutting board I wipe it with a paper towel and then a Lysol wipe. I never put raw meat and raw veg in the same area. I have wood cutting boards for veg and bread and nylon ones for meat. They can go in the dishwasher as well but the wood gets just wipe with you guessed it, a clean microfiber towel. Then kitchen surfaces, handles, knobs, appliances all get cleaned of cooked food spatter with branch basics and microfiber towels. I grew up with what my mom called dish rags I suppose to keep them separate from dish clothes which were for drying. I have some white bar mops I use on particularly icky places but that’s rare because I’m a tidy cook. My husband was shocked I don’t use sponges. I do have a huge one for the bathtub but it never leaves the bathroom.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I get it. I feel about bleach the way you feel about vinegar! And thank you for the Instant Pot remark, because I thought it was just mine. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one with that problem. 🙂

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