By: Caitlin Boyle
“I’ll wash the dishes!” my best friend kindly offered, rolling up her sleeves as she approached the mountain of dishes from my surprise birthday party dinner. “Where’s your brush?”
I handed her my dish sponge, and -- I swear -- a look of pure horror crossed her face.
“You use a dish sponge?!” she asked, holding the dingy thing with two fingers. “You know this thing is a breeding ground for germs, right?”
Pulling open the microwave, she tossed the sponge inside. Zapping a dirty sponge kills all that nasty bacteria, she explained.
Ever since, I’ve been wondering if dish sponges really are that bad. Turns out -- they are.
“Bacteria thrive and multiply in moist conditions, meaning sponges are the ideal place for germs to grow,” says Jen Matz, a former health communications specialist at the division of enteric diseases at the Center for Disease Control. “If you use a sponge to wipe up raw meat -- and say that meat is contaminated with food-borne bacteria, like E. Coli or salmonella -- and then you wipe your dishes and counter tops, you're transferring this harmful bacteria throughout your kitchen, and you could get sick.”
To stop the spread of germs, the CDC recommends using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. “A good and possibly more environmentally friendly alternative is dish rags,” says Matz. “After using a dish rag, toss it in the laundry. Wash it with hot water and bleach, and the bacteria will be killed.”
Use a dish brush to wash dishes in the sink because it’s more likely to completely dry out in between washes, thus making it less likely to harbor bacteria.
If you are going to use a dish sponge, replace it every two weeks. If it’s smelly, it’s time to toss it. To clean your sponge, the CDC recommends thoroughly squeezing the excess water from the sponge after each use. To sanitize the sponge, microwave it each evening for thirty seconds or put it in the dishwasher.
But be careful! Matz warns that not all microwaves and dishwashers are created equal, and your appliances may not reach temperatures high enough – 150 degrees -- to kill all the bacteria. “Instead of being killed, the germs could spread through the dishwasher and contaminate all of your dishware,” she says. You can reach that temperature by putting the sponge in the dishwasher on the sanitize setting, or by putting the sponge in a bowl of water and microwaving the whole dish on high for four minutes.
My best friend, Matz and the CDC have certainly made their point. Dish sponges aren’t the best choice for cleaning up kitchen messes, and they certainly aren’t the most hygienic way to wash dishes. The question really isn’t when to replace your dish sponge -- but whether you should be using one at all.On that note -- I’m off to buy a dish brush.
is a professional blogger, motivational speaker, and author of the book Healthy Tipping Point: A Powerful Program for a Stronger, Happier You. She helps her husband run a holistic health clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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