What You Need To Know:
- Clean your sponges first, then disinfect
- Proper storage can help keep sponges cleaner
- Replace sponges every two weeks
By Jessica Hamlin
Is the sponge you use to clean your dishes and wipe down your kitchen counters more germ-filled than your toilet seat? At least one microbiologist thinks so. And a survey of U.S. homes by the NSF (formerly the National Sanitation Foundation) found that 77 percent of sponges and dishcloths contained coliform bacteria (often an indicator of disease-causing bacteria), 86 percent had yeast and mold, and 18 percent had Staph bacteria, which can cause symptoms ranging from vomiting to life-threatening septic shock.
“Most grocery store sponges are made of a wood pulp that holds moisture,” green cleaning guru Leslie Reichert tells Clean Plates. “The inside of a sponge is the perfect place for bacteria, mold and mildew to grow. It’s dark and wet and they all love it.”
In short: Yikes.
Luckily, Reichert has some simple tips for keeping sponges, and everything they touch, clean and free of bad germs.
CLEAN, THEN DISINFECT
Some people turn to bleach for disinfecting, but that only gets you so far. “One thing that people don’t realize is that you can’t disinfect something until it’s been cleaned,” says Reichert. “Bleach does not clean.”
In fact, bleach on a sponge could actually contaminate an area if not rinsed correctly, Reichert says. She recommends naturally cleaning a sponge first with something gentle but effective, like castile soap, to remove food and dirt. Then, sanitize the sponge by putting it in the dishwasher when you run a load of dishes. Or, dampen the sponge and put it in the microwave on high power for 30 seconds to two minutes, depending on your microwave’s strength (be sure it’s damp, otherwise there’s a fire risk). Heat and steam from the dishwasher or microwave will help kill bacteria on the sponge. Reichert disinfects her sponge in the microwave every night.
Reichert also advises soaking sponges each night in white distilled vinegar, lemon juice or hydrogen peroxide. Since hydrogen peroxide can be strong, Reichert suggests diluting it by pouring some into a bowl, adding the sponge and then filling the bowl the rest of the way with water. Make sure to thoroughly rinse the sponge after disinfecting. (Also, check out Danny Seo‘s tips for DIY green cleaners.)
KEEP GERMS AT BAY
Since dampness plays a big role in a sponge’s bacteria growth, it’s important to store a sponge properly. Hint: Not at the base of a wet sink. Reichert likes to store her kitchen sponge upright on this Kohler sponge holder on top of the sink, ideally near a window so that air flow and sunlight can help keep it dry.
Even with careful storage, cleaning and disinfecting, replacing your sponge every two weeks is a good rule of thumb.
“I know that seems like a short period of time for a sponge that looks good, but after two weeks it’s starting to accumulate bacteria and it’s not healthy,” says Reichert.
An exception to this two-week rule are sponges made from an alternative material such as a BioBob sponge. Made with organic pigments and “enviro-ester”—an American-made polyester resin free of harmful chlorofluorocarbons and formaldehyde—BioBob sponges don’t promote bacteria growth like ordinary wood pulp sponges.
“I have used one of their sponges for 6 months and … it does seem to get better the older it gets,” says Reichert. “There is no smell and it doesn’t feel slimy or seem to have a film. I clean them in the microwave and the dishwasher and they seem to come out feeling brand new.”
Also in Reichert’s green cleaning arsenal are Skoy Cloths, which she describes as a combination of a sponge and an ultra-absorbent paper towel—up to 15 times its own weight—that dries very quickly. Each biodegradable, compostable cloth is equal to 15 rolls of paper towels in the average home. Plus, they’re made from natural cotton, wood-based cellulose pulp and water-based colors and inks. They’re chlorine-free, unbleached, and non-GMO so they really pack an eco-friendly punch. You can clean and disinfect Skoy Cloths as you would sponges, or run them through the washer and dryer.