Sponges are convenient, versatile, cheap to replace and also one of the germiest items in your household. In fact, your kitchen sponge may pose a risk to the health of your family.
A 2017 study published by Scientific Reports found that sponges can act as a microbial incubator – a breeding ground for some of the nastiest pathogenic bacteria around.
Why are sponges so unhealthy?
It’s probably their versatility that’s their undoing.
Sponges are often used to clean surfaces and appliances, in addition to cleaning dishes, so they’re likely to come into contact with a range of harmful bacteria such as Campylobacter, E. coli, Salmonella and Staphylococcus.
People often assume that a quick rinse or a soak in soapy water is all it takes to get a sponge clean, but while you may be able to remove visible food debris, it could still be harbouring literally trillions of microscopic bugs harmful to human health.
Once you’re done rinsing your sponge it will remain wet or damp until you use it next, so it never really dries out, offering the perfect environment for bacteria to proliferate.
A better way to wash your dishes
A dishwasher is the obvious answer, but not all households own one and not all items can be safely dishwashed.
Using a plastic or silicon scrub brush is a safer alternative because they’re easier to clean and less likely to harbour bits of food waste and bacteria. They’ll also dry out more quickly between uses.
If you use your sponge to clean surfaces and contact points, there are alternatives that are safer – for example, microfibre and lint-free washcloths. These can be safely disinfected on a hot cycle in the washing machine or in diluted bleach, which will kill up to 99.9% of bacteria.
If you insist on using a sponge…
A sponge can have a place in the kitchen, it’s just important that you know how to use it.
- Don’t use it for mixed tasks – have different coloured sponges for different uses. A sponge used to clean spills from a floor surface should never be used to clean dishes, for example.
- Don’t use it to soak up meat juice – sponges are constructed from porous material and the juice may not fully wash out, with harmful bacteria eventually colonising the sponge. Use disinfectant spray and paper towels instead.
- Replace your sponge regularly – if it smells funky that’ll be the bacteria. Don’t use any sponge for longer than a week. Of course this isn’t environmentally friendly, which is just another compelling argument against the use of sponges.
- Don’t try to disinfect your sponge – it may make the problem worse. The study mentioned earlier concluded that attempts to disinfect sponges in the microwave or with disinfectant solution may kill weaker strains but actually encourage the proliferation of more harmful bacteria. If in doubt, chuck it out.
There’s no need to live in constant fear of bacteria but there are things you can do to lessen the risk and put your mind at rest. Reexamining your use of sponges is just one of those things and it will undoubtedly make your kitchen environment safer.
Sponges and the Coronavirus, what’s the risk?
If it’s near impossible to remove bacteria from your sponge. You’ll have much the same issue getting rid of a virus, whether it’s the flu or common cold virus. With the novel coronavirus sweeping the world and causing untold misery. You may wonder whether using a sponge is exposing your family to unnecessary risk.
This current coronavirus has only just emerged and there’s still much to learn. So there’s not much data out there to make a judgement. Therefore, the best approach is the safest. In this scenario it’s to use the kitchen tool that’s easiest to clean.
While we know sponges are difficult to clean. Detergent such as soap and washing up liquid is very effective at inactivating the virus and preventing infection. To help keep your family safe from the Coronavirus you should make sure you’re regularly cleaning high traffic areas and shared surfaces. Including door handles, light switches and even the TV remote.
Ellie Rush is Outreach Executive at The Cleaning Collective and is a Friends superfan, sharing her passion for household cleanliness with Monica Geller. She loves to offer housekeeping hints and tips to her Cleaning Collective friends and is always looking for new ways to clean that do the least harm to the environment.