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January 28, 2007

Helpful Hints from joeeze: How to clean your kitchen sponge


Sure, you could wait until it gets totally nasty and then replace it, but in the meantime you and your posse have to eat off your plates.

Why not refresh your soggy sponge — using your microwave?

Rob Stein, in a January 24, 2007 item that appeared, oddly enough, on page two of the main news section instead of that day's Food section, tells you how; the piece follows.

    Microwave Zaps Germs Lurking On Sponges

    Here's some good news for everyone who worries about germs: Zapping that soggy kitchen sponge in the microwave for a couple of minutes can pretty much sterilize it.

    "Microwave irradiation is a cost-effective, practical, fast, easy, and safe method of disinfecting household... items," according to a study published recently in the Journal of Environmental Health.

    For the study, Gabriel Bitton of the University of Florida and his colleagues contaminated kitchen sponges and scrubbing pads with a variety of bugs including E. coli, viruses, protozoan parasites and bacterial spores. The researchers then zapped the objects in a standard household microwave oven for various times and tested them to see how long it took to kill different organisms.

    While it took four to 10 minutes of microwaving to kill everything, most of the organisms were dead after just two, the researchers reported.

    As many as 80 million Americans contract food-borne illnesses each year, and about 9,000 of them die. Kitchen contamination is common. Microbes on raw meat, poultry, fruits and vegetables can easily transfer to sinks, countertops, cutting boards and other objects. And wet sponges can be particularly prone to picking up pathogens.

    The study shows that the microwave can be a simple, inexpensive and effective solution, the researchers said.

    "Consumers... can use microwave ovens to significantly reduce microbial pathogens in the home environment," they wrote.


One wonders if those ridiculously expensive toothbrush sanitizers you see advertised in catalogs might be rendered superfluous by this simple, cost-free alternative.

Here's a link to a news release from Bitton and the University of Florida.

Here's a link to a video in which Bitton demonstrates how to do it.

Here's a link to a BBC story which offers a cautionary word or three regarding the technique.


On Friday (January 26, 2007) Rob Stein's follow-up story on the subject appeared in the Washington Post.

In it he noted that in the two days since the publication of his earlier piece on January 24, 2007, "several unhappy readers have called to report that when they tried this at home something startling happened: Their sponges ignited."

Here's the latest.

    Microwaves Can Ignite, as Well as Sterilize, Sponges

    Kitchen sponge users, beware. Microwaving sponges can sterilize them but can also apparently have a downside: Some sponges may burst into flames.

    The Washington Post reported Wednesday that new research showed microwaving a kitchen sponge for two minutes can kill most germs. Since then, several unhappy readers have called to report that when they tried this at home something startling happened: Their sponges ignited.

    In response, The Post contacted Gabriel Bitton of the University of Florida, who did the research, for advice.

    "I have been microwaving sponges for the past two days and nothing bad happened in my home nor in my lab," Bitton responded yesterday in an e-mail.

    Bitton noted, however, that he had tested only cellulose sponges, using a microwave with a maximum of 1,100 watts of power, never exceeding 90 percent of its power.

    "We have no data from synthetic sponges or loofah sponges," Bitton said. "If the customer has a microwave with a higher power, he/she should experiment a little bit by increasing the exposure time gradually."

    Bitton added this advice:

    • Sponges should be fully soaked with water.

    • Metallic scrubbing pads should never be put in a microwave.

    • Soapy sponges can be microwaved, but not those containing detergents and other chemicals.

    Finally, Bitton cautioned: "Beware of hot sponges after exposure."

January 28, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink


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Don't know about the US, but here kitchen sponges usually have an abrasive pad on one side. This side drains very freely, so wash the sponge and rinse after use, and stand it with the pad downmost. That way it dries all the way though quite soon and doesn't get stenchy. The other way up and it can still be soggy the next day.

Posted by: Skipweasel | Jan 28, 2007 4:18:34 PM

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