What is the best way to deal with dishwashing sponges?
February 1, 2004 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Home economics 101...What is the best way to deal with dishwashing sponges? They get moldy so quickly, and I never know where to keep them: hanging out in the sink (stays too damp)? On the chrome beside the sink (can create a mess)? In a little bowl beside the chrome (still too damp)? I have been told to microwave them upon every use, or to put them in the dishwasher (although I have also been warned against this), and to boil them/bleach them to keep them clean. Also: should I use the rough green pads for everything? Should I get a sponge on a stick?

Any insights or stories of sponge strategies are appreciated. Thanks.
posted by macinchik to Home & Garden (20 answers total)
We got a little chrome wire basket with suction cups at Target that attaches to the wall above the sink.
posted by machaus at 10:01 AM on February 1, 2004

I saw a thing on the discovery channel a while back showing just how much mold and bacteria is inside those sponges that I think I'm going to stick with using cloths. I find they work better anyway, sponges are too soft.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:10 AM on February 1, 2004

My mom is a microbiologist and there were multiple times as a child that she let me wipe the kitchen sponge on a petri dish and then incubated it for a couple days to see what thoroughly disgusting thing would grow off of it.

sponges = super gross

If you do use sponges, soak them in bleach regularly, wring them out when you're done using them so they stay as dry as possible and throw them out when they get too funky.

Space Coyote is right about using dish cloths. You can toss them in the washer when they're dirty and just grab another one.

Either way, use lots of soap. Even with a nasty old sponge, dish soap (even if it doesn't say antibacterial) will kill most all of the germs.
posted by katieinshoes at 10:37 AM on February 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

the new york times ran an article recently on this very subject. support the microwave method for cutting boards as well as sponges.
posted by clockwork at 12:03 PM on February 1, 2004

I buy those green scrubbies in bulk and toss 'em as they get gross. I use them on everything.
posted by mischief at 12:05 PM on February 1, 2004

Something or other I read the other day mentioned that kitchen sinks typically have a higher fecal coliform count than toilets!
posted by five fresh fish at 12:11 PM on February 1, 2004

I used the same dish sponge for years before buying new. It was a small sponge wrapped in a cloth netting. I never got sick or anything and my dishes always seemed pretty clean. Usually before wash i soap up the sponge and give it a good washing and rinsing out.
I dont recommend using the same sponge for years and i dont do that now that i know a little better but it is possible. I change them every three to six months unless they are really bad before that or maybe longer if i am on the last one in a pack.
posted by Recockulous at 2:06 PM on February 1, 2004

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this sponge-fear a little overdone, at least so far as washing dishes? The drill, as I understand it, is to loosen the food and grease that might harbor germs and such, and flush it all down the drain.

So it seems to me that if you take that nasty sponge, squeeze and flush it a few times, use it to wash the pots and dishes and whatnot, and rinse them carefully, you should survive the experience of eating off them the next time.

Now for wiping off counters, then I'd use a fresh clothe or paper towel...
posted by mojohand at 2:14 PM on February 1, 2004

I know it has fallen into disfavor, but antibacterial dish soap will help too, and some recent research (which I am too lazy to go find) suggests that you won't create a new race of bacterial overlords by doing so.
posted by mecran01 at 3:01 PM on February 1, 2004

Cooks Illustrated had an article on this sometime in the last year, but damn me if I can find it. Anyway, they did culture tests for several sterilization methods, including bleach, soap and the microwave. Their conclusion was to nuke the wet sponge for two minutes on high after use. Surprisingly high bacterial counts were found on the unsterilized sponges.

I've been doing this for the past few months and have noticed the the sponge is distinctly less manky. So much so, in fact, that I noticed the other day that I haven't replaced the sponge since I've started doing this and it still feels new(ish)!
posted by bonehead at 3:02 PM on February 1, 2004

An old saying was 'you eat a peck of dirt before you die'.

Reasonably clean kitchens will expose you to a few bacteria that will keep your immune system perky, and lets face it, you're more likely to get sick from the defrosted prawns at the takeaway than from home cooked food.

Keep your sponge dry, use bleach/anti-bacterial spray on surfaces... rinse/repeat.

posted by dash_slot- at 3:11 PM on February 1, 2004

dash_slot - thanks for that tip.

Why not wring out the sponges and then put them in the freezer? Most bacteria don't do so well below 32 degrees fahrenheit.

Or just buy some cheap rotgut vodka and use a dilute solution of it - I'd think 1: 4 would work fine - to soak the sponges in. Keep this vodka-sponge brew in a sealed tupperware so the alcohol doesn't evaporate.

Or : Just ignore it, on the the basis that constant exposure to weird sponge bacteria might keep the human immune system tuned up.
posted by troutfishing at 8:22 PM on February 1, 2004

Cleanliness in the kitchen is important because much of what we think of as flu is really food poisoning. Have you ever had a "one-day flu"? The trots? That was probably food poisoning.

It's usually cause by three things: dirty hands, improperly washed food or dirty cutting boards/sinks/dishcloths. Avoiding cross-contamination is the reason for worrying about clean dish sponges.
posted by bonehead at 8:33 PM on February 1, 2004

I pet topic of mine! I have found the best thing is to avoid cellulose sponges. Instead only use synthetic (foam) sponges. These seldom get nasty as they themselves don't support much bacteria. Also helps to avoid getting much food in the sponge. Brushing excess particles off the dishes with a brush does this.

It is not always easy to find synthetic sponges. The cellulose variety rots and has to be replaced frequently, so they sell better. The fact they rot also makes them environmentally more friendly. But the foam sponge lasts longer than the scrubby material on one side.

The sponge-in-a-net that Recockulous uses is a foam sponge. I use a sponge with a scrubby side, and seldom use the non-scrubby side.
posted by Goofyy at 11:23 PM on February 1, 2004

Every time you run the dishwasher, throw in the sponge. Dishwasher detergent has lots of germ-killing bleach. I recently saw some cellulose sponges that were very thin and about 5" x 5", sort of a dishcloth - sponge hybrid. Looks easier to get clean. The microwave method sounds pretty good. I put the sponges in the washer with the dishtowels, which get changed out and washed frequently.

Bonehead's right about mild food poisoning. An old roomie who never put food in the fridge promptly used to get 'the flu' a lot. Keep the cutting board clean, since you eat food prepared on it. You don't eat off the counters (do you?) so keep them reasonably clean. Wash your hands a lot. I now officially sound like my mother.
posted by theora55 at 6:42 AM on February 2, 2004

troutfishing: the aforementioned Cook's Illustrated article found that freezing the sponge didn't quite cut it as far as bacteria killing. Microwaving was the way to go.

While the scrubby parts of sponges are handy, I've found I get better results with a stuff dish brush. It cleans just as well, doesn't harbor as much bacteria, doesn't get that nasty smell after a week or so, and since the last one I bought lasted a year, doesn't generate as much trash.
posted by jennyb at 1:16 PM on February 2, 2004

I throw mine in the washing machine when I'm washing a load with a bit of bleach and hot water. I also make sure I put them somewhere to dry that allows the most amount of circulation.
posted by Lynsey at 3:41 PM on February 2, 2004

To clean cutting boards and the kitchen, I always use a good amount of Comet (which is bleach-based) and hot water with a sponge. For sponges, buy the pop-up ones that come in packs of a dozen in the little mesh bags. If one gets too nasty, just throw it away and pop up a new one. In-between, I find putting some hot water and bleach in the sink and squeezing / soaking the sponge in it for a few minutes works well.
posted by sixdifferentways at 2:23 PM on February 3, 2004

Response by poster: Excellent suggestions everyone, thanks!
posted by macinchik at 7:50 AM on February 4, 2004

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