By Lisa Freedman
Sponges can be great, effective cleaning tools. They get super sudsy, can hit the corners of pots, and they’re pretty inexpensive. You probably know all that already, though. But, here are five pointers that you may not know about using your kitchen sponge. Be sure to read to the end before you even think about washing one more plate.
1. Do not microwave your sponge.
At some point, a lot of people started recommending that home cooks zap their sponges in the microwave for a minute or so. The idea was that it would kill the bacteria inside and therefore sanitize the sponge. This is problematic for two reasons. For starters, if the sponge is too dry, it could easily catch fire. And, if your sponge doesn’t catch on fire, it won’t necessarily come out sanitized.
It turns out that the microwave can nuke the weak bacteria but the stronger bacteria may survive—and then reproduce and take up the space that was once occupied by the less harmful bacteria. In other words? You could end up making things worse instead of better.
2. Replace your sponge more often than you think.
By some estimates, sponges are dirtier than toilet seats. The best way to avoid this? Get in the habit of replacing your sponge every week or so. Depending on how many dishes you wash and the state of them, your sponge may start to get gnarly even faster. Rather than try to clean it (and potentially be unsuccessful), you’re better off just tossing the sponge and grabbing a new one.
A telltale sign it’s time to swap out your sponge: if it starts to smell or turn gray in color.
3. Cut every new sponge in half.
If you were reading the item above and worrying about being too wasteful, know this: the standard sponge is still big enough even once it’s been cut in half. Our advice is to use scissors to cut every sponge in half before you use it for the first time and then you get double the time out of each pack. And you cut your waste in half.
4. Never use a sponge to wipe up meat juice.
Use a sponge to wipe up chicken juice that’s leaked onto the counter, and you risk transferring that bacteria onto your plates and glasses later during a dishwashing session. Instead, use paper towels (which you should throw out right away) or a rag (that you can put in the wash) and a disinfectant cleaner.
If you want to use a sponge to wipe down the counter or sink at the end of the night, consider using a two-sponge system with different colored sponges of different colors. Use one color for surfaces and another for dishes. This way, you’ll be sure to keep things separate.
5. Make sure your sponge dries between uses.
Wet environments are breeding grounds for bacteria, so if you want to get the most life out of a single sponge, it’s key to make sure your sponge dries between uses. A sponge holder can help with that—we’re fond of this one that holds three sponges—as it allows air to circulate around your sponges. But you can even use something as simple as a binder clip: Just put your wet sponge in the clip and stand it up.