The One Kitchen Thing That Grosses Microbiologists Out

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Minette Hand)

There’s more than one reason your kitchen is even grosser than your bathroom: You clean it less often; you keep it warm, moist, and full of organic matter; and you drop food stuffs on nearly every surface. As for the worst offender? Well, that just might be the object you use the most: your sponge.

“A sponge is bacteria heaven!” says Dr. Chuck Gerba, a professor of microbiology for University of Arizona. “It’s wet, dark, and constantly sucking up food.” Plus, we use it to wipe up anything from meat juice to milk spills to grease spots, so there’s all sort of food for dangerous organisms like salmonella and E. coli to feed on.

Beyond that, news broke recently that found that microwaving your sponge is not actually a good way to disinfect it. The microbiologists we spoke to for this story said we’d be pretty appalled if we only knew what was happening inside our sponges. But if they’re so gross, why do we keep using them?

“The problem is, there’s no [good] alternative,” says Gerba. Microfiber cloths actually suck up more bacteria because they’re so porous. Bristled brushes tend to harbor less bacteria, but they’re not as effective at getting food off of dishes. You can look for antimicrobial sponges — often they have zinc in them — and that can help, but there’s no perfect solution. So what to do?

Start yourself a frequent sponge-replacing cycle.

“It takes five or six days for bacteria to grow to numbers large enough to cause harm,” says Gerba.

That means, you should ditch your sponge in favor of a new one at least every five to six days. Maybe even four to five days! To make it sure it happens, mark your calendar, start a checkmark system on your meal plan board, or write yourself a note and post it above your sink if you have to.

(Image credit: Amazon)

How to make sure you always have enough sponges? Try signing up for a stream of deliveries through Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program. For example, you can set this six-pack of sponges to get delivered to your house once a month and that should be more than enough. The sponges come to you automatically and, the more you buy, the more you save.

Do you replace your sponges often enough? Will you start?