Sanitation Standards: What Households Should Know About Kitchen Sponges
There is a logical process to cleaning the kitchen that sometimes misses a step. What happens when the cleaning implements themselves carry bacteria and dirt? Many homeowners avoid the discussion entirely by using disposable materials, such as paper towels. People who want something reusable, like a kitchen sponge, need to be able to use it properly and keep it clean. Without a few reasonable habits in place, homeowners may discover that this simple and inexpensive tool makes the kitchen dirtier instead of sanitary. Here are some things everyone needs to know.
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Why Sponges Get Dirty
It is not difficult to imagine how a sponge becomes dirty. Understanding why it tends to stay that way is a different matter. Scrubbing food particles off dishes or the sink can leave debris on the sponge. A soaking wet sponge, especially those made of a soft cellulose material, absorb liquids deep inside that can be difficult to rinse off. Given enough time and a wet environment, the sponge will start to breed bacteria like salmonella or E. coli. Bacteria usually needs a slightly humid, temperate climate to grow, which is common for an indoor kitchen. In order to prevent bacterial growth or contamination of the surfaces cleaned by the sponge, homeowners need to employ proper cleaning techniques.
Proper Sponge Use
There are many ways to use a sponge, but homeowners should keep a few rules in mind. These include:
- Buy a sponge for each kitchen cleaning activity
- Keep sponges separate, clearly defining where they should be used
- Rinse and let sponges dry after each use
- Clean sponges regularly
- Throw out a sponge if it starts to smell
These tips help to minimize the spread of bacteria, and also keep the sponge in good condition longer.
How Long Sponges Last
Homeowners might be surprised to learn how quickly sponges can break down. Longevity depends on the type of sponge, but most products should be thrown away every week or at least every few weeks. Hard, compact sponges tend to hold up longer than soft, cellulose sponges. This is not just because soft tools break apart more quickly. Thick sponges also carry more bacteria and take longer to dry out.
Over time, homeowners often realize that the sponge becomes more difficult to clean. People usually need to replace one long before it shows tears or starts to change color. This is a matter of health as much as cleanliness. A bacterial growth that is running unchecked will increase the likelihood of contact. If people continue to use a sponge that is long past its prime, they are more likely to get sick as a result.
Common Sponge Problems
Sponges can create problems when used inappropriately. Homeowners should avoid using sponges to clean:
- fruits or vegetables
- countertops or food preparation tools used to prepare meat
- porous surfaces that easily absorb water
- multiple surfaces with the same tool
Sponges with a rough side can scratch certain types of countertops, and this affects the cleanliness of the surface. Most countertops with a porous surface, like granite or wood, have some kind of seal on the top to reduce water absorption and scratches. Once that layer has been removed by a rough sponge, it is easier for water and bacteria to penetrate the surface. This makes it more difficult to clean completely. Homeowners should only use the proper cleaning tools for these types of countertops or cutting boards.
Some people like to use one sponge for multiple surfaces in the kitchen, but this also can be problematic. Using the same cleaning tool to clean the countertop as the one used to wash dishes can increase the variety of bacteria and dirt inside the sponge. As such, many homeowners have several sponges for each cleaning activity they do. For particularly difficult or seasonal cleaning projects, like scrubbing cabinets, people may want to use the sponge just once before throwing it away.
How to Store Sponges
Storing sponges properly helps to avoid bacteria growth and premature breakdown of the material. A dry sponge is less likely to breed bacteria. Many homeowners may prefer to let the sponge sit in the sink or on the countertop, but this often makes the problem worse. Wringing out the sponge cuts down on the liquid that has to evaporate. Placing the sponge on a raised container or rack minimizes contact with a flat surface, which will promote drying more quickly.
It is best to clean a sponge shortly after use, so that it is ready for scrubbing next time. Leaving a dirty sponge allows bacteria to breed, making cleaning efforts less effective. Homeowners who want to store the sponge in a container with a lid should confirm that it is completely dry before closing it. This can take hours or more than a day unless people are putting the sponge on a dry cycle in the dishwasher.
Keeping Sponges Clean
Assuming that homeowners are using the sponge as directed, they should still plan to clean the sponge on a regular basis. Sponges only need to be used once to accumulate water, debris, and bacteria. At least once a day or every other day, people should clean the sponge using a small amount of bleach in water. Soaking the sponge in the solution for several minutes and rinsing should eliminate most bacteria.
Although bleach tends to be the product of choice for sanitizing kitchen tools, there are a few other ways homeowners can clean a sponge. These include:
- soaking the sponge in white vinegar, then rinsing
- washing the sponge in the dishwasher with a full heated dry cycle
- microwaving a wet sponge for a minute
Experts say that bleach is best, but the ideal method is generally one that residents can follow consistently. If homeowners are unsure about the cleanliness of the sponge, it is likely time to replace it with a new one.
Check out this blog on how to clean a sponge for more detailed information.
Cleaning the kitchen is an important part of keeping everyone in the household safe and healthy. The right tools for the job may include a sponge, as long as it is used correctly. By following these tips and keeping sponges clean, homeowners can enjoy a healthy space that is safe for food preparation, cooking, and eating.