Get Rid of That Yucky Kitchen Sponge!

CC BY 2.0. Your Best Digs

Trust me, you don't want that thing lingering on the sink any longer.

You know what I’m talking about – a grayish, sad-looking thing that inhabits the edge of the sink. It’s always wet, a bit slimy, and leaves a nasty smell on your hands that takes a few scrubbings to get rid of. This is the notorious kitchen sponge, which many of us have been brought up to believe does a good job at cleaning. The fact is, it appears to clean well because it instantly absorbs messes; but, in reality, it’s sucking up all that nastiness and holding it inside.

A German study published this summer found an appalling number of bacteria dwelling in kitchen sponges – an estimated 82 billion per cubic inch of space. If that’s not disgusting enough, let’s put that quantity into perspective. Study author Markus Egert told the New York Times: “That’s the same density of bacteria you can find in human stool samples. There are probably no other places on earth with such high bacterial densities.”

Even the recommended methods for cleaning sponges, such as putting in the dishwasher or microwaving, are not as effective as you may think. Zapping a sponge in the microwave kills off weaker bacteria, but it does nothing to the stronger species, says the German researchers. Oddly enough, it seems that disinfected sponges have the same number of bacteria as non-disinfected ones. The Kitchn quotes the study:

"Presumably, resistant bacteria survive the sanitation process and rapidly re–colonise the released niches until reaching a similar abundance as before the treatment."

Of course, you could always throw away your sponges and get new ones on a weekly basis, which is what many conscientious homeowners do, but that is expensive and wasteful, especially if it's made of non-biodegradable polyurethane. There's a better alternative, one that is embraced by restaurants worldwide:

That is the humble washcloth.

By switching to a washcloth, you can use a cloth made of biodegradable natural fiber. They dry out better between uses than a sponge does, inhibiting bacterial growth, and they're easy to launder and sterilize fully. You can soak it in a vinegar solution to kill the odor or boil in water to sterilize. Washcloths last for years, which cuts down significantly on waste.

It doesn't require a huge shift in dishwashing technique. You can either fill the sink with soapy water or use a smaller container (a dirty pot or bowl) in which to swish around the cloth and clean utensils, dishes, and countertops.

The fewer disposable items in our kitchens and lives, the better off we'll all be.