Kitchen sponges are up there in the list of the most bacteria-ridden things in your home. And to think we use them to clean the family’s plates and eating utensils! To prevent this, we've been told to disinfect sponges by popping them in the microwave for a few minutes to kill the germs.
However, recent research has shown that this technique may destroy only the weaker microbes but not the stronger ones, leaving them to populate your sponge more, reported The New York Times. Yikes.
Published in the Scientific Reports, the study analyzed samples from 14 used sponges and found over 360 different types of bacteria living within them. And that’s not all -- researchers also found that just a cubic inch of sponge space already housed 82 million bacteria. “That’s the same density of bacteria you can find in human stool samples,” said Markus Egert, co-author and a microbiologist at the University of Furtwangen in Germany. “There are probably no other places on earth with such high bacterial densities.”
Damp, 'nutrient'-rich and with a lot of nooks and crannies, the kitchen sponge is just what microbes need to live and thrive. Though it’s not certain just what risks these organisms have to the households that use them, the researchers say that disinfecting sponges may only do more harm than good.
“When people at home try to clean their sponges, they make it worse,” said Dr. Egert. Weaker bacteria do die but stronger microbes like Moraxella osloensis, which is the primary cause of your sponge's funky smell, live on to multiply more. So in theory, by trying to disinfect your sponge in the microwave, you’re really just making it smellier and nastier than before.
This is why it may be best to replace a sponge once it starts to smell or after a week or so, advised Dr. Egert. Yes, it can be wasteful and costly. Dr. Egert also suggested repurposing a sponge whenever you can. Use it instead for the bathroom or somewhere else far from food.
Still nanghihinayang about getting a new sponge every week? Here are a few more tips to extend the life of your kitchen sponge:
1. Cut it in half Simple, right? Now, one full-sized sponge can last you twice as long. You may have to work with a smaller sponge but it will still be able to tackle all the washing. Plus, it will be easier to clean tight spots too. 2. Air dry after use Try not to leave your sponge in a closed container after doing the dishes. This will make it easier for bacteria to multiply faster and the sponge to stink up quicker. Instead, store it in a dry location. You can also find sponge holders in stores that keep sponges standing upright. 3. Don’t use it to wipe up meat juices “Cleaning up spills from ground beef or poultry with a sponge can increase your chances of spreading harmful foodborne pathogens,” said the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). For potentially harmful bacteria-carrying messes like this, it’s better to use paper towels or disposable wipes, they advised. 4. Wash dishcloths as well It’s not just the sponge you have to watch out for. Dishcloths, which you use to wipe down the dinner table, can also harbor harmful bacteria, according to the AND. Make sure to launder them regularly and to designate different dishcloths for different tasks.