It sits on the edge of your kitchen sink, washes your dishes, cleans your kitchen, and remains a steadfast companion in times of mess. But is it time to say goodbye to your kitchen companion – the sponge?

A New York Times article scared people away from their kitchen sponges, citing them as a hotbed for bacteria and saying there is no reliable way to clean them. However, upon further investigation, their description of the original study was misleading, and the study itself very limited.
That said, there are definitely some things you can do to make sure your sponges are as happy and healthy as possible!

1. Keep your sponges separate

Keeping your sponges separate in both what you’re cleaning and where you’re cleaning will help in keeping any potentially harmful bacteria away from where they can do harm. For example, don’t use the same sponges in the kitchen as in the bathroom, and don’t use the sponges from the bathroom to clean your windowsills.
This also means within the kitchen itself not using the same sponges to wipe down the counters as to clean the dishes. The issue here is potentially getting juices from your meats and dirt from produce from the counter (where you prepare your food) to the dishes you are trying to clean. Also, make sure you wash your hands properly before cleaning the dishes or food preparation areas.

2. Don’t let wet sponges sit

Not letting a wet sponge stay wet is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to ensure your sponge has as long of a life as safely possible. This means not leaving them in the sink or on the edge of the sink, where they remain damp permanently and potentially sitting between dirty dishes for an extended period of time.
Make sure you wring out your sponge well after use to get as much of the water out of it as possible, and use a drying rack or store your sponge in a separate dry area. Bacteria simply don’t thrive in dry environments, so keeping that sponge as dry as possible is key.

3. Do conventional sponge-cleaning methods work?

Conventional wisdom says to toss your old sponge in the microwave or a hot dishwasher. But does it actually help, or is it an old wives’ tale?
Manan Sharma, a microbiologist studying food borne pathogens for the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) conducted a study in 2008 that tested these home sponge-cleaning methods. Both microwaving on high for a whole minute and putting the sponges through the full wash and dry cycles significantly lowered the bacterial counts in the sponges more than any chemical treatment they tried. 
So yes, these methods are effective, but there is a limit. If you’re microwave or dishwasher doesn’t generate enough heat to kill off the bacteria, you could end up just creating the ideal warm, moist environment for bacteria to multiply.

4. So how long can you use a sponge for?

Every two weeks or so (depending on how often you wash your dishes at home) seems to be a healthy medium for a dish sponge’s life. Make sure you are microwaving it for a minute on high or putting it through a wash and dry cycle every few days though!

If waste is your concern, that doesn’t mean the end of the sponge.
Put the sponge through a sanitary cycle in the laundry machine (or just the hottest setting) with detergent and bleach and continue using the sponge in other rooms in the house like the bathroom. Or clean baseboards and windowsills with it – wherever it doesn’t come into contact with food.

Thank you for visiting Bates Cleaning, an Austin cleaning service. If you need help cleaning your commercial property, contact our office today!