Kitchen sponge vs. dishcloth
September 19, 2010 1:37 PM   Subscribe

Why do people use kitchen sponges? Are they somehow better than just using a regular dishcloth?

My husband and I are at odds over sponges and dishcloths, and perhaps you can explain this to me. I use just plain dish washcloths to wipe things up around the kitchen, and to do the big pots and pans that don't go into the dishwasher.

Today my husband brought home a big pack of kitchen sponges, the kind without the scrubby side. What is the advantage to using these? I know that I can nuke them in the microwave to get rid of the sponge funk,which is easier than washing them, but other than that I'm not really sure why I'd use one.
posted by Nickel Pickle to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: dishcloths are a lot bigger, get a log more water-logged/heavy, and are a lot harder to wring out. Sponges are more absorbent for their size. A sponge you can leave in the side of the sink without it being in the way, and don't dry all weird and stiff like dishcloths tend to. They are also much more disposable, which is key for me, because I would rather use it until it gets gross and then get rid of it.
posted by brainmouse at 1:40 PM on September 19, 2010 [7 favorites]

If you don't have a dishwasher, there tends to be a lot more excess water around the sink-area when you're done doing the dishes. Sponges soak that up better than a dishcloth. Plus it's easier to dry a sponge when you're done using it than a washcloth, so you don't have gross wet towel cloth hanging around getting all bacteria-y. And when they get too gross to use, sponges are cheaper and easier to replace.

On preview: what brainmouse said.
posted by griphus at 1:44 PM on September 19, 2010

I use both. Sponge for hand-washing pots & pans, cloth for drying dishes and wiping countertops. IMHO, each is well suited to a particular task (or two).
posted by willpie at 1:48 PM on September 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Theories - perhaps:
Sponges can hold a little more liquid if you need to squirt and rub at the same time. The more substantial size/grip of a sponge might be easier for larger hands to hold. The bulkier size of sponges allows for more intense scrubbing than does a dishcloth. Or maybe sponges have a nostalgia factor?

Have you tried these mabu dish cloths? They're amazing and avoid the smelliness and water-logged issues previously mentioned.
posted by analog at 1:51 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The reason I use a sponge is that I grew up using sponges in the kitchen, and dishclothes seem weird and gross (although my boyfriend disagrees). But then I wonder, why did my mom use sponges when she probably grew up using a dishcloth (in the 40s/50s)? The answer I came up with is that sponges were advertised as "better," just like so many other convenience items/foods introduced in the 50s and 60s.
posted by cabingirl at 2:16 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I use a dishcloth when I'm wiping down the counters, cleaning dinnerware, or cleaning spaces a sponge won't reach (tiny openings). But I prefer a sponge for cleaning pots and pans, the sink and the stove. I guess I just find sponges more durable.
posted by patheral at 2:23 PM on September 19, 2010

My mother never has a sponge handy in her kitchen; drives my crazy. Instead, she's always used the afore-mentioned dish-towel, but in her case, make no mistake, it's the dishrag, and I never want to touch the filthy thing. It looks so -- well, medieval compared to my space-age, colorful rectangular slab of a sponge, which soaks up so more liquid anyway, why would anybody use a dishrag?

And thanks for the microwave tip.
posted by Rash at 2:31 PM on September 19, 2010

I find the dishcloths to be heavy, draggy and drippy so I prefer sponges. Additionally sponges have a nice cellulose structure that is much better for dishsoap, I find - you can squeeze the sponge and get a fairly good long run of suds, whereas I find the suds just run out of a dishcloth very quickly. I consider a dishcloth to be less efficient and thuse more wasteful.

For what it's worth you canalso throw sponges in the dishwasher and into the laundry to freshen them and extend their lifespan - just do not put them in the dryer!
posted by DarlingBri at 2:37 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know that I can nuke them in the microwave to get rid of the sponge funk,which is easier than washing them, but other than that I'm not really sure why I'd use one.

posted by ALongDecember at 2:38 PM on September 19, 2010

Sponges hold soap.

I've found that microwaving sponges causes them to crumble prematurely. If I was concerned with the effect of sponges on my health I'd probably just soak one in bleach for three seconds and rinse it out.
posted by rhizome at 2:40 PM on September 19, 2010

I find that dishcloths are way too drippy for my taste. It feels like I get water all over the kitchen when I'm forced to use them. I used sponges with a non-scratch scrubby side for washing up the stuff that doesn't go in the dishwasher and for wiping down the counters. We have two in use at any given moment: one in current rotation and one in the dishwasher (we run a load every day). We microwave them before they go in the dishwasher, too.

I use a kitchen towel (a bar towel, more specifically) to wipe down the counters after I spray them with a biodegradable lemon cleanser.
posted by cooker girl at 2:43 PM on September 19, 2010

I use a dishwashing brush (like this or this one) for the dishes that don't go straight into the dishwasher. It cleans better and it's more hygienic than a sponge or a dishcloth: it's easy to rinse the brush and the nylon brush dries faster than a sponge or a dishcloth. I use a scouring sponge for some pots and pans. Insted of a dishcloth, I use paper towels for cleaning the surfaces around the kitchen.

(Btw, I live in Norway and it seems everybody here switched from dishclothes and sponges to dishwashing brushes sometime in the 1960s. Perhaps this company did a better job at marketing dishwashing brushes than their competitors in other markets.)
posted by iviken at 2:47 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I put the dishsoap on the sponge and lather it up before I start washing dishes. It lathers up better in the sponge than a rag. The scrubbie sides are nice for stubborn stuck-on stuff without damaging pots and pans like an SOS pad might.
posted by NoraCharles at 3:18 PM on September 19, 2010

As far as I can tell it's all down to how you were raised, or formative roommate experiences.

I grew up in a dishrag house and always hated them. Then I went away to college and somehow took up with a bunch of sponge users. It's probably only because I got over my hatred of doing dishes right around the same time, but I became an immediate convert to the sponge*.

Now when I visit my folks I can totally handle the dishrag thing, and I think if I ever get my own place it might become a dishrag sort of home. But I'm outnumbered by sponge users for the time being.

What I don't understand is the brush people. HOW does that get your dishes clean without getting old food crusted up in the brush? It seems like a lose-lose proposition to me, and yet one of my roommates is such a brush addict that she has one next to the sponge in our kitchen, for her own personal use.

*It has to be one with a scrubby side, though, or what's the point?
posted by Sara C. at 3:24 PM on September 19, 2010

Best answer: Are they somehow better than just using a regular dishcloth?

I think they are just the "regular" option for a lot of people. I think of washcloths as for wiping counters or drying things up, but it would not occur to me to use one with soap and water to scrub something. I would just use a regular old sponge for that... I don't think sponges are more expensive or anything.

If I had to explain it, I guess sponges fit in your hand, and hold the water in them unless you squeeze, whereas a cloth would drip and drag if it were wet.
posted by mdn at 3:28 PM on September 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd say the advantage to your partner is they prefer to use sponges over dishcloths. Like they may, say, prefer crunchy peanut butter over smooth, or perhaps prefer to use a feather-duster vs. a wiping cloth. Or maybe they like one brand of toothpaste while you like another.

The easy solution within a relationship for inexpensive items such as these is for you to use the method you prefer and allow your partner to proceed as they prefer. Maybe you'll end up having 2 jars of peanut butter in the cupboard.

What do you achieve by working to change their mind?
posted by Exchequer at 3:55 PM on September 19, 2010

I'm a strong believer in the say weekly-disposable J-Cloth, and have never understood the practise of using sponges either. Sure they can be wrung out dry after use, and they look friendly and colourful, but for washing stuff they're just so... spongy.
I guess I like the J-Cloth because in use it's more tactile: you can really feel what's under your fingers, whether it's smooth and clean yet or whether there's still gunk to be wiped off. Plus it has a bit of texture that helps to abrade and rub off the gunk.
posted by Flashman at 4:00 PM on September 19, 2010

i can't use sponges for dishes at home. they're fairly ubiquitous at work, and people leave their grody old sponges sitting in the sink all the time. grosses me out. i also tend to think, with absolutely no scientific information to back me up whatsoever, that sponges are full of bacteria (because they hold so much water). i will use a sponge to wipe up spills and wipe out the sink. but never to clean a dish. yuck.
posted by msconduct at 4:09 PM on September 19, 2010

What I don't understand is the brush people. HOW does that get your dishes clean without getting old food crusted up in the brush?

Wikipedia says: "the sink is usually first filled with dirty dishes (which may have already been rinsed and scraped to remove most food) and hot, soapy water. The detergent is added while the sink is filling with water, so a layer of suds forms at the top. Then the dishes are washed one by one (...)."

It's better to stack the dirty dishes next to the sink (after scraping off food and if needed rinse the dishes under running water), and then clean the dishes in hot, soapy water one by one; first glassware, then cutlery, plates etc, and finally pots and pans. Rinse everything under running hot water.

I use the brush when the dishes are in the sink, under water, and rinse the brush in the dishwater or under the tap if needed. Clean dishes and no food particles in the brush.
posted by iviken at 4:23 PM on September 19, 2010

Best answer: I use all three (cloths, sponges and brushes), plus those stainless steel scrubby things. Cloths are perfect for drying dishes and doing final mop-up on counters and tables. Sponges work well for washing dishes as they hold suds and are easily maneuvered during dish-washing. Brushes are good for getting loose all the leftover gunk off of dishes prior to the actual washing, and for scrubbing potatoes and other vegetables. Nothing cleans stainless cookware more facilely than the steel scrubbies.

They're all useful tools -- if they weren't, there wouldn't be a market for them. Use 'em all!
posted by trip and a half at 4:24 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Regarding bacteria in dishclothes and sponges, from a 1997 study:
"There has also been discussion about using the microwave to reduce microbial counts in dishcloths and sponges. This is a scientifically validated method, but the item must be covered with a paper towel, or in a plastic bag. Otherwise, the fan that removes the steam during microwaving cools the surface of the cloth or sponge so much that there is not good microbial inactivation."

According to Wikipedia: "In hand-washing, plastic brushes are recommended rather than washclothes or sponges, which can spread microorganisms."
posted by iviken at 4:40 PM on September 19, 2010

In my mind there is a clear distinction between the dishrag (small square for washing) and the tea towel (larger rectangle for drying). I find dishrags personally revolting. They always stink and don't do a good job scrubbing. I use sponges with the scrubby side for washing most things, a nylon brush for pots and pans, and one of those wand thingies with the soap in the handle for Nalgene bottles. I then have a dedicated flour sack cloth for drying dishes, and a regular towel for cleaning the counter and stove.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 5:06 PM on September 19, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the perspectives! Cabingirl is probably correct, I prefer a dishcloth because I grew up in a kitchen with them. I'll try to get past my cheapskate nature and embrace the kitchen sponge instead of getting out a fresh dishcloth every night.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 5:14 PM on September 19, 2010

I'll try to get past my cheapskate nature...

If the cost of sponges bothers you, you could try cutting them in half across their longest dimension and using one semi-sponge at a time. It's a habit I picked up from my parents, and I like it because it lets me more economically (and ecologically) keep using a reasonably fresh sponge, and I feel less bad about tossing sponges once they get stinky and microwaving stops helping.

I'm more sensitive than most people I've shared a kitchen with to the smell of old, dirty sponges/dishcloths, and have had to throw away dishcloths before that had become funky beyond the ability of washing with bleach to correct (A dorm suite kitchen being used by 8+ people meant things never really got to dry out.), which may account for some of my aversion to dishcloths—that's one thing I like to be disposable.
posted by JiBB at 6:00 PM on September 19, 2010

Best answer: As a knitter - often of dishcloths - I can tell you: these are fighting words. There is a notoriously long and fighty thread on Ravelry (a social networking site for knitters) regarding this very topic.

Like Mac vs PC, pro-life vs pro-choice, Ford vs Chevy, or Windows vs Linux, dishcloth vs sponge is an argument that will frequently end in shouting, and will NEVER end in anyone's mind being changed.

You like dishcloths. I prefer them, as well. There are people who prefer sponges. The wise dishwasher leaves it at that.

In "mixed households" such as yours, the only workable solution is to keep one of each at the sink, and try to ignore the presence of your non-favored dishwashing tool.

(Privately, just between you and me: I think a lot of dishcloth haters simply don't have enough dishcloths. I have a huge stack, and get a fresh one every day. The used one never has a chance to get gross at the sink.)
posted by ErikaB at 8:26 PM on September 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

As a knitter - often of dishcloths - I can tell you: these are fighting words. There is a notoriously long and fighty thread on Ravelry (a social networking site for knitters) regarding this very topic.

I think too long spent lurking in that thread is what put the "...but maybe, just maybe, someday I will convert..." notion into my head. Then again, knitting in cotton is my least favorite thing in the world. I'd rather gnaw tin foil. Must've been some damn persuasive knitters in that thread...
posted by Sara C. at 8:29 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I grew up using dishcloths, and prefer sponges, as easier to use, wring out, etc. In either case, it(they) goes in the dishwasher whenever the dishwasher is run. The bleach in dishwasher deterg. kills any nasties.
posted by theora55 at 4:45 AM on September 20, 2010

Note that there are several different forms of sponges. The original sponge is actually the skeletal structure of a sea creature (also known as a sponge) and these are very good, although rarely used in kitchens. Kitchens usually use one of two types of sponge: plastic foam, or cellulose. Only the cellulose version is highly water absorbent. The plastic version is only somewhat water absorbent. When I have a large amount of water to clean up, I absolutely must have a cellulose sponge, there is nothing better. If only a small amount of water is involved, then I can use anything, plastic sponges, washcloths, paper towels. Paper towels, although wasteful from an environmental viewpoint, are very nice in that you can throw them away after a single use, and therefore don't have to clean them.
posted by grizzled at 8:43 AM on September 20, 2010

Sponges mop up water around the sink. I tend to get them really wet, and squeeze the water out over the dirty bench/stove top I'll be cleaning, for the water to loosen the grime up, then either wipe it all up with the sponge, or have an intermediary step where I use a brush, both scrubby AND plastic scraper side down to super-quickly move all mess.

Sponge goes in microwave, or washing machine.

Re: brushes - they are more hygenic and trap less food than sponges or clothes.
And, brushes go in the *dishwasher*.

I mostly just posted really late, to point out brush in dishwasher magic!
It cleans up even really oily brushes (but they are pretty self cleaning - scrubbing gets them dirty AND clean!).

We have brush, sponge, and green scrubby things.

We get dishcloths occasionally, I feel too bad about throwing them out so quickly.
posted by Elysum at 6:35 AM on September 28, 2010

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