Cleaning your dirty kitchen sponge may actually make things worse — here's why

Kitchen sponge

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Kitchen sponge

Kitchen sponges are pretty gross, since they do the hard work of getting all the icky food gunk off your plates before they make their way into the dishwasher.

You’ve probably heard the common trick of microwaving your sponge to sanitize it and kill off any and all nasty bacteria, however, new research shows that not only is that method ineffective, but microwaving your sponge could actually make it dirtier. 

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A study published in’s scientific reports found that sponges that were sanitized regularly (either by microwaving or boiling) actually had a higher percentage of pathogen-related bacteria.

“Sanitation by boiling or microwave treatment has been shown to significantly reduce the bacterial load of kitchen sponges and can therefore be regarded as a reasonable hygiene measure,” the study authors said. “However, our data showed that regularly sanitized sponges did not contain less bacteria than uncleaned ones. Moreover, special cleaning even increased the relative abundance of [dangerous bacteria]. Presumably, resistant bacteria survive the sanitation process and rapidly re–colonize the released niches until reaching a similar abundance as before the treatment.”

In other words, the more you try to sanitize your sponge, the savvier the remaining bacteria get, so that they will re-colonize faster.

Scientists found that the average kitchen sponge actually has more than 5×10^10 bacteria in one single cubic centimeter. Those numbers are only seen in feces samples.

What’s the best solution?

When in doubt, throw it out. Replace your sponge once every two weeks and forego the microwave sanitation. 

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