How many times have you walked past your kitchen sink and caught a whiff of the unmistakable, musty smell of mildew. The culprit is almost always the kitchen wash cloth or sponge.
Guess what the most unsanitary item in your home is. The toilet? No. . . it’s your kitchen sponge or wash cloth. Think about it; all those holes, the moisture, the bits of food. The perfect real estate for microorganisms to thrive. And thrive they do, sometimes within hours.
So there you go spreading mold and bacteria across your dishes, your sink, your counters and stove. Is mold/mildew a dangerous health risk? It certainly can be. But let’s not get freaked out about it, let’s learn how to kill the stuff and prevent it from growing again.
Quick Wash Technique to Kill Mold and Mildew
Try washing them in a solution of dishwashing detergent and hot water. Let them dry between uses to prevent mold and bacteria from growing. You can also sanitize in 1 quart of water mixed with 3 tablespoons of household bleach. Soak for five minutes, squeeze excess water out, and let air-dry. Domestic maven Heloise color-codes: one for dishwashing, another for wiping counters, and a third for heavy-duty cleanups. Throw out sponges after two to eight weeks, depending on use. White vinegar is also good, a 50% water/vinegar combo works, or you can do as I do and just pour it over full strength and rinse it out with a firm squeeze. The acid environment will inhibit mold growth. Diluted hydrogen peroxide also does the trick.
Use the Dishwasher
Place your sponge in the dishwasher and run it with a drying cycle. The multiple rinses and high temperature will take care of any troublesome mildew and bacteria.
Microwave the Suckers!
Microwave your sponge while it is still damp for one minute. Scientists found that microwaving sponges killed 99.99999 percent of bacteria present on them, while dishwashing killed 99.9998 percent of bacteria.
What Works Best?
As for yeasts and molds, the sponges treated in the microwave oven or dishwasher were found to harbor less than 1 percent (0.00001 percent). Between 6.7 and 63 percent of yeasts and molds survived on sponges soaked in bleach, lemon juice, deionized water or left untreated.
Thus microwave heating and dishwashing with a drying cycle proved to be the most effective methods for inactivating bacteria, yeasts and molds on sponges. These simple and convenient treatments can help ensure that contaminated sponges don’t spread foodborne pathogens around household kitchens of today’s busy families.
Preventing Mildew from Growing in Your Kitchen Sponge
- While you can never completely prevent mold from growing in your kitchen sponge, here are a few quick pointers to keep it at bay:
- Before putting it aside, squeeze out all of the soap out of your sponge as the drying process will take longer with a soapy sponge, giving mold extra time to grow.
- Increase the ventilation in your kitchen. This can be as simple as cracking open a window when you finish the dishes.
- Consider purchasing a special sponge holder which will suspend your sponge over the sink, giving every surface of your sponge a chance to get a little air and drying it out quickly and uniformly.
- Get on board with a different kind of “sponge” like the Tuffy Scrubber-type mesh sponge, Handi-wipes or an inexpensive washcloth from the dollar store.
One note about replacing your sponge: while anti-microbial sponges sound like a good idea, they are usually made with rather nasty chemicals that can harm as much as the lack of “microbials” can help. Stick with what works.