What gets dirtier and dirtier the more it cleans? A sponge! The squishy clean-up helpers soak up spills, scrub pots, and scoop up crumbs off of countertops. After multiple uses - and lots of time spent dripping wet - a sponge can become a breeding ground for microscopic and sometimes stinky bacteria. And yet they still get dragged across dishes and dinner tables all the time. Proper care and handling of a kitchen sponge could protect you and your family from foodborne illnesses.

Use sponges wisely - but not all the time
A sponge may be handy when you have your hands full in the kitchen, but they're not the tidiest tool for every job. Raw egg or drippings from meats or fish should be cleaned up with a disposable paper towel.

Clean and dry a sponge after each use
The warm, wet mesh of a sponge is a perfect place for bacteria and odours to lurk. Once you've finished using it, wring all of the soapy water out of a sponge. Rinse it through with hot running water, press out all of the water, and leave the sponge to dry on a rack.

Disinfect sponges often
A post-use cleanse-and-squeeze is good for the short term, but sponges need a thorough sanitizing now and then. A soak in a bleach-and-water mix or a baking soda blend could destroy some of the trapped bacteria, but another method has received a lot of attention... microwaving.

Microwave it? With caution!
Research came out a few years ago touting the disinfecting powers of the microwave oven. And it's true: Two minutes on "high" in the microwave is enough to kill 99% of pathogens in damp sponges. The problem was that people began zapping dirty sponges left and right. Soon reports began pouring in of microwave fires and horrible, lingering smells. The researchers forgot to warn people of a few things:

  • Only microwave a sponge when it is fully soaked with water. A dry sponge is a definite sparking fire hazard.
  • Never microwave sponges that contain metal fibres.
  • Always let a heated sponge cool off before handling.
  • Some sponges contain chemicals or detergents that may emit toxic fumes.

Keep in mind that there are no guidelines to microwaving sponges and there is always the possibility of fire if safety precautions are not followed.

Drop it in the dishwasher
A zip through a dishwasher's high heat cycle can also be effective at killing bacteria in a sponge. To keep sponges from falling into the heating element of dishwashers, place them in the covered section of the dishwasher's utility basket.

Know when to toss it
Sponges have their shelf-life and should be thrown out before becoming too soiled, crumbling, or frayed.

Amy Toffelmire