How often do you replace kitchen sponges?
July 6, 2014 1:47 PM   Subscribe

How often do you replace kitchen sponges?

I have a dishwasher but some of my plates and pans won't fit and must be washed by hand. I'm wondering how often I should be replacing these sponges. Currently I'm using the "throw it away when it starts to smell bad" method but I'm wondering if this is unsanitary.

How often do you throw away sponges in your household?

As a secondary question, do you have separate sponges for cleaning things that are more likely to harbor disease, like cutting boards and knives used to prepare raw meat?
posted by JDHarper to Home & Garden (43 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You can microwave a damp sponge to kill the nasties that cause the smell.
posted by w0mbat at 1:49 PM on July 6, 2014 [8 favorites]

I keep sponges until they start falling apart. But I periodically cook them in the microwave on high for 5 minutes. That kills everything. And there is a noticeable lack of smell after I nuke them.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 1:50 PM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I throw mine in the dishwasher, and they smell better and work just fine after that for quite some time. When they get that "slippery" feeling, I throw them away, usually.
posted by xingcat at 1:58 PM on July 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

I use one of those wands with replaceable sponge heads (which are great) and I replace them when I start to feel like I'm washing a dish by rubbing it with the dirt of the previous dishes. This is about every 10 days.
posted by bleep at 2:00 PM on July 6, 2014

I buy those big thin dark green sponges. Then I cut it into two inch squares. Not only do they dry much quicker without the yellow part, but I also throw them away more often.
posted by Neekee at 2:01 PM on July 6, 2014

I run my kitchen sponges in the dishwasher pretty often, and also my dish brushes. And when a sponge looks pretty gross, it gets relegated to bathroom or other cleaning.

That said, I never use sponges on my dishes/pots/pans, I always use a dish brush because they don't hold as much bacteria. Sponges are for surfaces (counters, sink, etc).
posted by radioamy at 2:11 PM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wash all my dishes by hand and I generally switch out the sponge every week, or sooner if it's gotten something gross on it. (I know about the microwaving thing but I don't know if the scrubby kind can be put in the microwave. The package says no.)
posted by desjardins at 2:13 PM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

If I had to guess, it's once every month or two, definitely based on the sponge beginning to disintegrate and the scrubby bit seems like it's kind of pilling. We wring it dry and microwave it (one minute) after every round of dishes, and it literally never smells. We've never it a sponge melt or do anything weird in the microwave. One sponge for everything.
posted by obfuscation at 2:18 PM on July 6, 2014

I stick them in the dishwasher every week or two. Seems to help.
posted by dfriedman at 2:24 PM on July 6, 2014

Dish brush for washing dishes. Washcloths for washing counters and everything else. We have a pile of a couple dozen washcloths, so we dump each one in the laundry after each use and take a clean one for the next use.

Reusing a sponge that may possibly have gotten contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria from a package of raw meat from the grocery store that dripped on the counter? Never.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 2:30 PM on July 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

Microwave 1-2x/day for 1.5-2 mins (until it's steaming), then I let it dry completely. I keep them until they get dingy.
posted by ravioli at 2:30 PM on July 6, 2014

Yes, you're actually supposed to have separate cutting boards and sponges for raw meat. I also have a separate one for pet bowls. And usually pour boiling water over a dry sponge to kill off any bacteria. Then after use, I wring the sponge out and let it dry out again (constant moisture is what bacteria like). Hard to tell how often I switch them out, maybe once a month? And I use the smallest ones - they come in a pack of 24 and in fun colors.
posted by travelwithcats at 2:33 PM on July 6, 2014

I find sponges revolting because they're big wet balls of food residue and germs. I'm of the camp that uses dish clothes and tosses them in the laundry after each use.

My husband prefers sponges to wash the dishes and since dishes are his chore we buy sponges. To preserve kitchen peace, I toss the sponges in the dishwasher with every load. (And toss them in the trash after about a week.)
posted by 26.2 at 2:43 PM on July 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

Not only can you put sponges in the dishwasher, you can run them through the washing machine with your towels and whatnot. It helps a lot to cut down on bacterial growth and such.
posted by fancyoats at 2:44 PM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I hand wash all the dishes. Probably change the sponge once a month or something, when it begins to fall apart. I don't put sponges in the microwave or anything. Dishes are clean and I feel good.
posted by cincinnatus c at 3:01 PM on July 6, 2014 [8 favorites]

I get microfiber covered sponges and throw them in the washer with a load of towels almost daily. They last about a year. You find them many places online and they look like this.
posted by katinka-katinka at 3:02 PM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I microwave them occasionally (basically when I think of it) and downgrade dish sponges to counter sponges when they start to look kind of beat up.

I don't currently have a dishwasher, but when I did, I'd toss the sponge and dish brush in every week or so.
posted by ktkt at 3:23 PM on July 6, 2014

I don't use sponges. I only use copper scrubbers. Copper is anti-microbial and will not grow anything. (Of course, it cannot be used on some kinds of cookware. But I have a compromised immune system, so I kind of do not care.)
posted by Michele in California at 3:27 PM on July 6, 2014

Sponges are an ideal growth medium for bacteria.

On the other hand, that's why we have immune systems.

I keep sponges full of detergent and rinse plates, forks, etc. thoroughly before putting them in the drying rack.

When a sponge starts to smell off, squeeze it dry, put it in the sink and fill it with as much white vinegar as it will hold. The next morning, it will be fine.
posted by KRS at 3:31 PM on July 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

The best dish cloths have an open weave (like this) so that they can be hung up to dry very quickly, you may be using them several times a day and really they should be bone dry without having to resort to the microwave.
posted by Lanark at 3:36 PM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I use dish cloths and every few days throw them in the laundry basket. When I'm getting low, I throw them in the washing machine with the tea towels and some bleach, let the machine fill up with water and pause it to soak for about 5 minutes then let the wash cycle run.
posted by Snazzy67 at 3:47 PM on July 6, 2014

If you microwave a sponge, make sure to follow these precautions.
posted by John Cohen at 3:55 PM on July 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

My family washes all dishes by hand with sponges and uses them until they start to fall apart. I have never once microwaved or otherwise treated one, and none of us has ever had an illness related to it, at least as far as we know!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 4:44 PM on July 6, 2014 [9 favorites]

I have an electric tea kettle and I pour my leftover boiling water on my kitchen sponge each time I make a cup of tea (often). I just throw it away whenever it starts to look grimy.
posted by mermily at 6:07 PM on July 6, 2014

I use handmade dish rags (thanks, Mom!), and I wash after every use. Wash some pots? Wash the rag. Wipe all the counters? Wash the rag.

There are just too many germs lurking in sponges for my liking.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:14 PM on July 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Microwave for 3 minutes or into the dishwasher. I toss if the sponge starts fraying.
posted by jadepearl at 6:54 PM on July 6, 2014

I've never made special efforts to clean my sponges, and I'm beginning to wonder if that makes this some sort of shameful confession. On the other hand, I've not died of anything horrible and I'm not laid up with a stomach bug every three weeks or anything. ('Sponges are an ideal growth medium for bacteria' may well be true and tested, but it's a long way from there to 'unsanitary sponges cause 30,000 deaths every year'.)

It gets thrown any time it picks up more gunk than will easily wash out and it would also get thrown if it ever smelled funky (which hasn't happened, from memory). I do rinse it out when I'm done with it and it usually dries out completely between uses.

I'll be using the dishwasher trick in the future, because that's just too easy.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 7:25 PM on July 6, 2014 [8 favorites]

If I use a sponge to wash dishes, it gets thrown in the washing machine with the dishtowels between uses. I've seen people use the same soggy, nasty sponge to wash all their dishes for weeks, only rinsing it a bit in between. This is gross and dangerous. Don't do it.

I keep one by the sink on top of a can of comit just for scrubbing out the sink. It dries completely between uses and I replace it every 8 weeks.

I keep a separate one in the bathroom for the bathroom sink. If it has to touch the toilet or tub, it gets replaced.
posted by myselfasme at 7:27 PM on July 6, 2014

My family washes all dishes by hand with sponges and uses them until they start to fall apart. I have never once microwaved or otherwise treated one, and none of us has ever had an illness related to it, at least as far as we know!

This is also me. Part of the year i live someplace where it is more humid and even the most wrong-out sponges get smelling sort of funky/mildewy after a while and I'll replace them. I also use a different one for food dishes and for the bathroom. In fact, I usually take the fried old kitchen sponges and keep them doing bathroom duty for a few more months.
posted by jessamyn at 7:51 PM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

OP, as you can see the answer varies depending on people's access to dishwashers, microwave ovens, and laundry facilities. I don't have a dishwasher or in-unit washer and dryer so I'm in the microwave frequently camp, but it isn't something I did until I learned about that trick in the last few years. Since you have a dishwasher I see no reason why you shouldn't just throw them in when you do a new load.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:52 PM on July 6, 2014

People use dish cloths for the washing, not just the drying? I've been in a lot of houses in a lot of countries and have never seen that, so thanks yet again metafilter -- this is the standing to wipe of the dish world for me. Who knew?

I buy the ScotchBrite scrub sponges in bulk packs and swap the dish one to counter or bathroom cleaning duty (which is once and done, then the sponge is tossed) once it starts looking not so fresh. I've tried the dishwasher and microwaving, but they are so cheap and I always need a scrubby for cleaning the bathroom, so I am ruthless.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:36 PM on July 6, 2014

Dip Flash, my husband was the first person I ever saw use a sponge to wash dishes. When he put them on the shopping list I was puzzled. Years of family, roommates, partners, housekeepers and nary a sponge user in the bunch. Perhaps sponge people and dish cloth people are somehow finding one another in this crazy world of ours.

Whenever I'm at Sears (every other year or so) I pick up some of these open weave wash cloths.
posted by 26.2 at 8:52 PM on July 6, 2014

I used to use sponges but replaced them with dishrags, which I only use for one dishwashing session before putting them in the laundry with the towels (which I was with bleach). I think that's probably more sanitary.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:21 PM on July 6, 2014

I think it depends on how often the sponge is getting used. When it's in use frequently, paradoxically it's getting soaped and rinsed more often so it lasts longer. When I lived with others, the sponge was often lost or torn up before it went bad. Now that I live alone and have a dishwasher, it gets kind of nasty within a couple weeks. I cut my sponges in half to stretch the supply.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:40 PM on July 6, 2014

I replace them when they start to look dingy.

I always make sure to rinse and squeeze out my sponges really well, and they always dry completely between uses. When I do this I tend not to have a problem with the sponges starting to smell. I also stick to using only plain cellulose sponges (no scrubby side), and will supplement with Dobie scrubbers if I need to scrub something more stuck-on. Sponges with the scrubbing side don't seem to dry as well.
posted by that girl at 10:06 PM on July 6, 2014

I use a special dishcloth. It is microfiber on one side and a scratchy velcro-hook like surface on the other. It absorbs like a sponge, scrubs like a scrubber, washes like a thin cloth and wears like iron. I've got the same one, holding up great, for over 3 years now. I wash it out well at the end of the day and it dries overnight. Just on principle, I think I should get a new one, but I've looked everywhere and can't find another. The closest I've found is Envisions Dual Surface Dish Cloths
posted by SLC Mom at 10:25 PM on July 6, 2014

I get some sort of hippy sponge at Whole Foods. I wash all my dishes by hand. I've never had one of those sponges go stinky on me -- I keep one for months and months until I get tired of looking at it. No bleach, no microwave, no washing machine. No issues here with any sort of illness, going on years and years.

I welcome my germ overlords.
posted by nacho fries at 10:29 PM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I use these 3-in-1 scrubby sponges. I do not own a dishwasher and wash all my dishes by hand, so it's in pretty constant use. I also put washing-up liquid directly on the spongey side every time I do dishes and wring it out well when I'm done, leaving it moist side up so it dries out. It rarely smells like anything other than washing-up liquid. Sometimes faintly of garlic I suppose. I usually chuck it out after I have washed something really dodgy (like the kitchen bin) or when the green scrubby part gets thoroughly manky. Maybe once a month or so? I don't seem to suffer any ill-effects from this.

On the other hand, I don't cook raw meat very often so am not really using it for wiping up raw meat juice. I would probably use a separate sponge for that, the way I have a separate chopping board for meat.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:19 PM on July 6, 2014

Probably a month. I then downgrade it to a kitchen surfaces sponge and then to a bathroom sponge. I don't have a dishwasher or a washing machine in the house, so I definitely don't wash it every time I wash dishes.
posted by geegollygosh at 5:49 AM on July 7, 2014

I don't use sponges in the kitchen because I worry I can't get them clean enough. After they're used they get tossed in the washing machine, or depending on the job, in the garbage.

I use dishcloths for everything and they're replaced every few days. I try to be mindful of where its being used eg: on a cutting board that had poultry on it and then wipe down another surface? Not going to happen.

but it's a long way from there to 'unsanitary sponges cause 30,000 deaths every year'

I'm not sure the convincing argument should be about numbers, but the health of the individual and reducing the potential for spreading disease.
posted by redindiaink at 6:45 AM on July 7, 2014

My sponges last highly variable amounts of time, determined much more by how messy the stuff I'm cleaning is than anything else. I've never noticed them get mildewy or off smelling, although they do have a rack to dry in.

My real sponge fact worth posting is one for keeping track of sponge demotions. Brand new spomnges are used for normal dishes and other fairly clean sterilization jobs. When it gets a little grungy, biut still good, one corner is cut off, and it gets demothed to wiping down counters or really messy pots and pans. It still counts as food safe and lives in the sink, but takes the first pass at big messes, so the good sponge lasts longer. When it gets past the food safe point, another corner gets cut, and it's demoted to general cleaning in floors and bathrooms and the like.

The corner system makes it really easy to keep track, and gives me peace of mind that roommates won't use a grimy gross sponge for dishes anymore without pitching it.
posted by lorimt at 9:51 AM on July 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

Sponge protocol - sponges go in the dishwasher when it's run. Moisture makes cleaning the microwave easier, so wet sponges get nuked to create steam. Sponges go in the laundry with dishtowels. When a sponge gets really grubby, it gets cut in half, and becomes a bathroom sponge, which will go in the laundry after use. When it gets chewed up, it goes in the trash.

Sponges or dishcloths remove food and grease, but the running water makes things clean. Drying kills anything left; bacteria need moisture. Cleaning the counter removes stuff that attracts ants or other critters; the counter doesn't have to be sterile. Cutting boards have to be clean, and there's a different one for raw meat; it gets extra carefully cleaned and dried. Unless someone in the house is immune-compromised, things should be clean, but you don't have to go nuts about germs on the counter or dishcloth.
posted by theora55 at 12:22 PM on July 7, 2014

This question has made me realize that I've had the same sponge for over a year. I use this guy and only now after 13 months of constant use (don't own a dishwasher) is the scrubby side starting to break down. I dont do anything fancy to sanitize it, though I do make sure it gets thoroughly rinsed and squeezed out after each use. It's almost always dry by the next time it's needed.

In addition, I only use paper towels and/or clorox wipes to clean counter surface and sink messes and usually only wash things that have raw meat juice with just my hands and a copious amount of soap.

Add me to the list of folks who has seen no ill effect from my year-old sponge. I suppose I like to live dangerously.
posted by Gonestarfishing at 8:53 PM on July 7, 2014

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