If you’re like most people, you use a kitchen sponge every day to clean your dishes. But is the sponge itself clean?
The answer is probably no.
“That thing is very dirty,” Philip Tierno, a microbiologist and pathologist at the New York University School of Medicine, told Tech Insider. “Mainly because you’re cleaning up vegetables, carcasses of meat, and all sorts of food stuff that can potentially contain pathogenic [disease-causing] bacteria that will grow in numbers over time.”
Sponges are ideal breeding grounds for microbes because they supply them with a nourishing, warm, moist environment, and tons of food.
Because of this, kitchen sponges have been known to harbor all kinds of nasty bacteria, including campylobacter, salmonella, staphylococcus, E. coli, and listeria — all of which can cause mild to severe gut and skin infections.
“Even if you rinse it and use some soap, it’s not sufficient to eradicate the germs,” Tierno said.
So how can you ensure that your sponge doesn’t bring on a bout of food poisoning?
It’s actually super simple and doesn’t involve a microwave or dishwasher. The best way to disinfect a sponge is to throw it into a simple — and I really mean simple — bleach solution, Tierno said.
To do this, fill a large container with one part water and nine parts standard household bleach (the kind you find in pretty much any store or supermarket that sells laundry products).
If you’re using a gallon jug — say an empty, clean milk jug — you would add about 14 ounces of bleach to about 14 cups of water.
Swirl it together and then pour some of the solution into a bowl — enough to completely cover your sponge. Store the jug under your sink for another use.
After washing your dishes, soak your sponge in the bowl for about 10 to 30 seconds, making sure it’s completely submerged in the solution.
Almost instantly, the bleach solution will kill any and all germs on contact.
“It’s very potent,” Tierno said. “It can kill anthrax spores.”
Then rinse it in water and wring it out to get rid of any excess bleach.
Do this after every time you wash your dishes — especially after you’ve cleaned up raw meat. Also do this before and after you use the same sponge to wipe your counters to reduce the risk of cross contamination.
Use a fresh bowl of bleach solution for each session.
Once you’re done with your disinfection, make sure to wring out the sponge and let it air dry. This will eliminate any potential for errant bacteria to cling onto a moist pocket.
This method is better than simply throwing your sponge into the microwave — a common sponge-cleaning method — because the disinfecting solution completely permeates all of the sponge’s nooks and crannies, while a microwave’s uneven heating pattern on a semi-damp sponge might not.
If a microwave is the only tool in your arsenal, however, make sure to place the sponge into a vessel of water before you put it in the cooker. Then heat it for long enough so that the water boils — two minutes should be plenty.
Now go forth and disinfect your dirty, dirty sponge. Your stomach will thank you.
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