The One Thing in Your Kitchen You Should Actually Never Try to Clean. Ever.
Sponges are dirty. Not just gross and smelly, but actually full of bacteria that could make you sick. (Some estimate the average household sponge is dirtier than a toilet seat.) So it makes sense that, like any other germ-covered item or surface in your home, you would try to clean your sponge. Better safe than sorry, right? You’d think so, but no.
We’ll explain why, but just a general reminder upfront that you should probably just replace your gross sponge. Don’t try to clean it. Just toss it and grab a new one. Please.
One of the most commonly recommended tricks for staving off germs is tossing your sponge in the microwave. In theory, it’s a good idea: Microwaving produces heat, which can kill some of the bacteria in your sponge. But as convenient as nuking is, it’s not an effective way to take care of the germs.
First of all, it’s a major fire hazard: Microwaving your sponge can quickly produce sparks that will ruin your sponge and potentially damage your microwave. So unless the sponge is sopping wet and you know exactly how long to microwave it, you’re posing a major safety risk. Plus, keep in mind many sponges contain metal for scouring, and as you probably know, putting metal in the microwave is a major no-no whether or not the sponge is soaking wet.
Fire risk aside, research shows microwaving your sponge just isn’t an effective method to ensure it won’t spread germs on surfaces in your home. Experts say while a spin through the microwave will likely kill some of the pathogens lingering on a sponge, it could actually increase the number of bacteria, increasing your risk of contracting bacteria-borne diseases like E. coli.
“Presumably, resistant bacteria survive the sanitation process and rapidly re–colonise the released niches until reaching a similar abundance as before the treatment,” reads a 2017 study on microwaving germ-ridden sponges.
What about bleach? Or a stint through the dishwasher? While lots of sources will report that those options are around 99.9 percent effective, a New York Times article reported that efforts to disinfect a sponge don’t necessarily work. “You can microwave a sponge, throw it in the laundry or dishwasher, douse it in vinegar or other cleansing solutions or even cook it in a pot. But the researchers discovered more of the potentially pathogenic bacteria, like Moraxella osloensis, on the sponges collected from people who said they routinely disinfected them.”
Your best bet? Honestly, don’t try to clean your sponge at all. Instead, just grab a new one — researchers recommend replacing your sponge once a week. Sure, attempting to sanitize your sponge at home might be more cost-effective and environmentally friendly. But no kitchen hack is worth the potential risk to your health and safety.