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Cleaning kitchen sponges

Nina Spitzer is a SheKnows.com columnist and a freelance writer living in sunny Cave Creek, Arizona.

Killing those germs

What's the Number One source of germs in most households? If you said, "The kitchen sponge," you're correct! Kitchen sponges are happy germ hotels teeming with E. coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus and other bacteria. Take a moment to learn more about the importance of cleaning kitchen sponges.

SpongeWhy do we want to learn about cleaning kitchen sponges?

Let's say you're a single Salmonella bacteria that just jumped off a piece of raw chicken a human was preparing on her kitchen counter. She's pretty good about cleaning up after herself, so she grabs a yellow, sponge "hotel" and wipes it across the counter. The next thing you know, you find yourself with tens of thousands of other diverse microorganisms all ready to party-hearty in this wonderful, first class germ hotel. All those nice little cubby-hole room accommodations and the oh, so warm, moist tropical atmosphere are really getting you in "the mood." She wipes another side of the counter for some gourmet food treats! She wipes again, this time over a margarita spill. Let the party begin! Before you know it, the entire guest population at the sponge "germ hotel" is reproducing like mad. What a party! This is the vacation resort of your dreams.

Now, let's get serious!

Kitchen sponges provide the perfect environment for food borne pathogens, yeasts and molds to multiply. They can easily cling to the small, moist little holes and crevices in the sponge. There's a constant, available source of miniscule food particles and a temperature that is just right for reproduction. Washing sponges with soap and water is not effective at killing bacteria. It's no wonder the kitchen sponge is the number one source of household germs, even more so than the bathroom. A sponge that appears to be clean can still contain thousands of bacteria per square inch. (Not surprisingly, dishcloths are just as bad!) For this reason, cleaning kitchen sponges properly and frequently is essential to your family's health.

Live like a slob?

Charles Gerba, an environmental microbiology professor at the University of Arizona, said his own findings suggest that living like a slob is better than meticulously cleaning the kitchen with a dirty sponge. One of his most astounding findings was that bachelors had the cleanest kitchens. They just threw their dishes into the kitchen sink and didn't spread bacteria by wiping surfaces.

So, what to do about it!

According to data from a 2007 U.S. Department of Agriculture study, these are the two best ways of cleaning kitchen sponges:

 

1. Microwaving - kills 99.99999 percent of bacteria
(Microwave only sponges that do not contain steel or other metals.)
Rinse the sponge with clean water. Soak and then microwave the wet sponge at the highest setting for two minutes. Keep watch and be careful to not let the sponge dry out, since a dry sponge can catch fire. Remove the hot sponge from the microwave carefully with tongs. Let it cool off before using.

 

2. Dishwashing - kills 99.9998 percent of bacteria
Put your sponge through a complete dishwasher cycle. Secure it in a large lidded utensil holder with enough space for good water circulation. A sponge left loose on one of the racks may end up on the bottom of the dishwasher in the leftover puddle of dirty water.

 

Other helpful hints

  • Clean sponges according to how often they're used, with every other day being a good rule of thumb.
  • Use a two-sponge rotation system. Have one sponge clean, dry and ready for use while the other is going through its microwave or dishwashing cycle.
  • Always remove remaining food particles from the sponge.
  • Keep the sponge dry when not in use, since dryness is the key to sponge safety.
  • Clean up drippings from poultry or meats with a disposable paper towel rather than your sponge.

The benefit of cleaning kitchen sponges

Proper cleaning of your kitchen sponges will put the germ hotel out of business! You'll be using a cleaning tool that is safer for you and your family.

Don't let down your guard!

Be aware that the security of a clean sponge is only temporary. In less than twenty-four hours of use, your sponge "germ hotel" will be right back in business again. Cleaning kitchen sponges needs to be frequent and consistent in order to keep down the pathogen population. Sorry to say, but killing germs is a forever job!

More cleaning tips:

5 Time-saving cleaning rules to live by
Cleaning kitchen sponges
How to make your kitchen smell better 

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