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Richard Kilgore

Kitchen Cleanup: sponges and alternatives

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Someone recently recommended keeping kitchen sponges continuously doused with Dawn anti-bacterial soap. I usually either boil or microwave mine, but am open to better methods.

Does anyone have any data on the best way to keep the bacterial count down on sponges, or have alternative products to suggest.

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jgm   

Antibacterial soaps will kill only bacteria, of course. And I'm sure you've read all about how eventually, they will stop working because the bacteria will develop a resistance to them.

I raise the first point because at least theoretically, any antibacterial soap will not kill salmonella and other viruses that are also kitchen issues.

I think boiling or microwaving (providing the sponge is extremely wet) are probably very good ways to sanitize a sponge. Another possibility might be a quick dip in a sink full of water to which bleach has been added, but I suspect the bleach won't do good things for the sponge.

An alternative product would depend on what you're using it for. Plain old dishrags, of course, work well, especially the microfiber kind. I'm particularly fond of the dishrags I buy at the grocery store, which have a netting-type stuff sewn onto one side of the cloth, thereby producing a somewhat scratchy surface that can be helpful.

I'm of the opinion that when it comes to wiping down counters and appliances, nothing works as well as a sponge. We've had discussions of this nature on eG before, and there is a "school" of members who are of the opinion that sponges just are not necessary, and they always use cloth, which can be washed and dried. The debate, actually has been fairly lively, and you may want to search it out.

But again, be aware that antibacterial soaps won't kill all of the bugs you need to watch out for in the kitchen. I'm no microbiologist, but it's my understanding that only heat and bleach will do that.

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s0rce   

I find I just wash the sponge with hot water and it is okay.

I also wanted to add that salmonella is a bacteria and not a virus.


Professional Scientist (in training)

Amateur Cook

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jgm   
I find I just wash the sponge with hot water and it is okay.

I also wanted to add that salmonella is a bacteria and not a virus.

Yes, you're right. My mistake. But there are still viruses in the kitchen that need to be dealt with effectively, and antibacterial soaps won't necessarily do it.

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I just toss mine in the microwave for 2 min. every couple of days and after washing the raw chicken off the cutting board. I can't imagine keeping it steeped in detergent.

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Someone recently recommended keeping kitchen sponges continuously doused with Dawn anti-bacterial soap. I usually either boil or microwave mine, but am open to better methods.

Does anyone have any data on the best way to keep the bacterial count down on sponges, or have alternative products to suggest.

(unscented) bleach water or an Iodophor solution work wonders on sponges IMHO. I'm generally a towel kind of person though.


Edited by 6ppc (log)

Jon

--formerly known as 6ppc--

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There was a study which determined the microwave method was the best for disenfecting sponges. Second was soaking in bleach water, and third was boiling.

Not from that study, but some useful information from WebMD

The results showed that two minutes in the microwave at full power killed or inactivated more than 99% of all the living germs and the bacterial spores in the sponges and pads, including E. coli.

After an additional two minutes -- a total of four -- none of the bacterial spores survived.

Before you zap your sponges in the microwave, researchers offer the following advice:

Microwave only sponges or plastic scrubbers that do not contain steel or other metals.

Make sure the sponge or scrubber is wet, not dry.

Two minutes should be enough to kill most disease-causing germs.

Be careful in removing the sponge from the microwave because it will be hot and should not be handled immediately after zapping.

Bitton recommends that people microwave their sponges according to how often they cook, with every other day being a good rule of thumb.

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Can one assume that the microwave effects on a sponge would basically be replicated with a dishrag? I have switched over entirely to inexpensive washcloths sold at Target for a song (particularly in late summer when the college crowd needs 'em), and it'd be swell to use this method instead of having to bleach them in the clothes washer as often as I do.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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The trouble with chlorine bleach is that it pretty quickly disintegrates sponges. Are you guys using peroxide or something similar?

And what's the best way to microwave sponges without filling the air with cooked nasty sponge aroma?

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pax   

Leave the dishsoap in when you microwave the sponge and you'll get the smell of the dishsoap.

I put mine in the dishwasher every night, because I almost always run in on the anti-bacterial cycle.


“Don't kid yourself, Jimmy. If a cow ever got the chance, he'd eat you and everyone you care about!”

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Can one assume that the microwave effects on a sponge would basically be replicated with a dishrag?

a couple of minutes on high should heat up a wet rag to a high enough temp for a long enough time to kill a lot of germs.

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Thanks for the comments everyone. I think I'll continue to zap my sponges in the microwave. I try to do it daily, sometimes more often.

I would suggest not zapping the sponges with the scrubby surface on one side. I melted one a few months ago and it was not a pretty sight...or smell.

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The trouble with chlorine bleach is that it pretty quickly disintegrates sponges. Are you guys using peroxide or something similar?

Are you using pure bleach? It's best to use a bleach solution--about 10% bleach is good.

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miles717   

I always put my sponges and scrubbing brushes in the dishwasher everytime I run it. It seems to extend their life quite a bit and minimizes that awful wet sponge/wet dog aroma that develops if a sponge has been wet too long.


-Mike-

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I second the dishwasher, unless I use the sponge for something really nasty. Then it's bleach or the bin.

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There was a study which determined the microwave method was the best for disenfecting sponges.  Second was soaking in bleach water, and third was boiling. 

Not from that study, but some useful information from WebMD

The results showed that two minutes in the microwave at full power killed or inactivated more than 99% of all the living germs and the bacterial spores in the sponges and pads, including E. coli.

After an additional two minutes -- a total of four -- none of the bacterial spores survived.

Before you zap your sponges in the microwave, researchers offer the following advice:

Microwave only sponges or plastic scrubbers that do not contain steel or other metals.

Make sure the sponge or scrubber is wet, not dry.

Two minutes should be enough to kill most disease-causing germs.

Be careful in removing the sponge from the microwave because it will be hot and should not be handled immediately after zapping.

Bitton recommends that people microwave their sponges according to how often they cook, with every other day being a good rule of thumb.

I seem to recall that Cooks Illustrated (or America's Test Kitchen) did an experiment that had similar results. They said microwaving a sponge for a minute killed more bacteria than the other methods they tried. They did caution, however, that some sponges don't stand up well to the treatment.

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The article is Park, Dong-Kyoo, Gabriel Bitton, and Richard Melker. 2006. Microbial inactivation by microwave radiation in the home environment. J. Environ. Health. You can view a video report at the University of Florida's website.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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PBHokie   

I might lose some frugality points for this but how expensive are sponges? Just throw them away. I think the ones I buy are under a dollar for four. If I can use a 25 cent sponge for a week it's definitely earned it's keep. Most last longer than that before being demoted to the garage or bathroom. Just a thought.


I thoroughly disapprove of duels...If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet retired spot...and kill him. ~Mark Twain

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Chris - thanks for the link to the video report. Two minutes in the microwave is what I have been doing. Nice to get confirmation that this works in killing off the microbes including ecolli.

I might lose some frugality points for this but how expensive are sponges?  Just throw them away.  I think the ones I buy are under a dollar for four.  If I can use a 25 cent sponge for a week it's definitely earned it's keep.  Most last longer than that before being demoted to the garage or bathroom.  Just a thought.

I agree that sponges are inexpensive and easily replaced. Twenty-five cents a week or so is cheap. But the issue here is avoiding smearing our dishes with bacteria on the sponges during the period we use them.

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Toliver   

I thought I would revive this old discussion with a new article that says sanitizing your sponges is basically a waste of time.

"Kitchen sponges are festering germ dens—and sanitizing them doesn’t help"

Quote

“Presumably, resistant bacteria survive the sanitation process and rapidly re–colonize the released niches until reaching a similar abundance as before the treatment,” the authors concluded.

Their solution? Throw the sponge away after using it a week and then start using a new sponge, then throw that away after a week, and so on. 

Imagine all those tossed sponges (natural sponges or otherwise) in our landfills.

Damned if you do and damned if you don't. ¬¬

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Host's note: this was originally posted as a separate topic titled "Microbiome analysis and confocal microscopy of used kitchen sponges reveal massive colonization by Acinetobacter, Moraxella and Chryseobacterium species". The post immediately following refers to that title.

 

Interesting paper on household sponges and various bacteria, particularly the parts about regularly sanitized sponges.

 

IMO, looks like bar towels, fresh daily (machine washed in hot water with bleach and machine dried) and used with a sanitizing solution, is the way to go.


Edited by Smithy Added host's note (log)
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nickrey   

Congratulations on the most dense topic name ever! 

 

The article recommends replacement after a week rather than sanitizing the sponges, although they give no rationale for this timeframe.

 

To me it supports the use of disposable towels bought as rolls that can be used and thrown out.

 

They also function as a great substitute for expensive cheesecloth when filtering liquids in the kitchen.

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Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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Personally I use cloths, and sanitize 'em in bleach. I wouldn't feel comfortable using a week-old sponge, but that's just me. A European former co-worker persuaded me of the virtues of a brush for hand dish-washing, so I use one of those as well and also sanitize it in the bleach solution. 

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