Dishcloths vs. Brushes vs. Sponges: Keeping Your Cleaning Tools Bacteria Free

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I don't know how many times I have heard people say they think sponges are disgusting. In fact, I once had a well intentioned friend lecture me about how sponges are worse than petri dishes, and that my kitchen sink was an E. Coli outbreak waiting to happen (he has a tendency to overreact). Yet, for all the arguments circling about what is better— dishcloths, sponges, or brushes—for some time I had no idea how long it was safe to keep any of these cleaning tools in rotation.

Which is why I set out to do some investigative work, and sure enough, my kitchen sink is not only a petri dish of E. Coli and Salmonella, it's patient zero.

But all kidding aside, keeping your dishes clean, and your household healthy is not so difficult. We'll tackle some of those things now.

1. How long can you keep a sponge in rotation?

It depends on how often you do dishes. If you wash dishes daily, then you should replace your sponges at least once a month. To keep your sponge nice and clean in between replacements, toss it in the dishwasher with the rest of your dishes every time you run the cycle. If you do not own a dishwasher, you can wash your sponges in hot water with a little bit of bleach to kill the bacteria. If you are neurotic (like many of us) you can zap the bacteria away by microwaving your sponges on high for two minutes. If you choose to microwave your sponges, do so at your own risk-- keep these suggestions in mind:

  • Make sure that your sponges contain no fragments of metal.
  • Make sure that your sponges are moist prior to microwaving—dry sponges are a fire hazard.
  • Be careful after microwaving your sponges—allow them to cool prior to handling them.

2. What about dishcloths?

The same time frame applies to dishcloths. Dishcloths are not any more hygienic than sponges-- bacteria will grow on anything warm and moist. Because of this, choosing between dishcloths and sponges is really a matter of personal preference-- but I do have to say, there are way cuter dishcloths than there are sponges.

Cleaning your dishcloths is a little different than cleaning sponges, though. Instead of tossing your dishcloth with your dishes, you should toss it with your clothes in the washing machine-- wash it with your whites so that you may run the cycle with bleach and hot water. And again, if you are a neurotic germaphobe you can zap the bacteria with heat, but don't use the microwave in this case-- use the sun. Hang your dishcloths out on a sunny day and let them dry completely.

3. What about brushes?

Brushes are in fact the most hygienic of the three. Brushes are easy to clean and dry quickly, making them the top choice for germaphobes. With that said, even though I love to use brushes, they sometimes are awkward to use (on wineglasses for example), so sometimes you must use something else.

What else do you do? Which of these three dish washing tools do you prefer?

Images: Klippan Dish Cloths at Fjorn Scandinavian, Tampico Dish Brush at Green Feet and Imusa Escobeta Root Scrubber, Williams of Sonoma Pop Up Sponges

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