You probably do the dishes often—even more so if you lack the luxury of a dishwasher—but how often do you clean or replace your kitchen sponge? (Or any sponges in your home, for that matter?).
The dirt on sponges (pun intended) is that they can get really gross, really quickly—more gross than you might realize. According to Huffington Post, it's the dirtiest thing in your home, even worse than toilet seats and garbage cans. Wet sponges grow new bacteria every 20 minutes, and rinsing them off in hot water isn't enough to ward it off, because they're full of holes and gaps that hold on to bacteria.
If you don't disinfect your sponges and replace them often enough, every time you wash a dish, you're basically just spreading bacteria around and not actually getting anything clean.
So, How Often Should You Replace Sponges?
Bad news: If you're keeping sponges you use frequently (like your kitchen sponge for dishes) for several weeks or months on end, you're definitely not replacing it enough. According to Today.com, you should be replacing your kitchen sponge once a week. If that seems like too often, you don't have to actually follow that to the letter—a few weeks is OK, so long as you're taking care of it and disinfecting it. If you're worried about the status of your sponge, whether it's discolored or smells funky, just toss it and replace it.
If you don't trust yourself to stay on schedule with new sponges, try setting up an automatic subscription with Amazon, or try a sponge subscription service like Sponge Club.
How to Clean and Disinfect Your Sponges
First thing's first—after you use a sponge, make sure you rinse it off thoroughly (it should look clean and not have food stuck to it) and wring it out so it dries quickly. More water means more bacteria, so don't skip this step. (Note: You should also be cleaning your dish brush, if you use one too—here's how.)
As far as disinfecting goes—which you should do at least weekly—you have several options. Good Housekeeping tested six popular methods, including separate bleach, vinegar and ammonia soaks, and using the microwave, washing machine or dishwasher. Soaking sponges in a solution of 3/4 cup bleach and 1 gallon of water was most effective, followed by the microwave method (soak it in water and heat it on high for 1-2 minutes depending on what kind of sponge you have) and dishwasher method (put the sponge in the dishwasher with a regular load under the "heated dry" setting).
Soaking in full vinegar or ammonia also worked well, and using a washing machine came in last—although the washing machine still killed 93 percent of bacteria, so overall, still not bad. What's most important is that you do it, whatever way is most convenient for you.
Other Need-To-Know Tips
- If you use the microwave method, make sure the sponge is fully saturated or it could start a fire.
- You should designate certain sponges for certain areas of your home (you don't want to cross-contaminate!).
- Use disposable materials—like paper towels or wipes—to clean things that have touched raw meat to avoid spreading salmonella or E.coli.
- Know your materials: cellulose (made from wood fibers) is the best option, but you can also use foam sponges or sponges with nylon pads for scrubbing.
- Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after you disinfect your sponge to get rid of any bacteria you've touched.