Picks

What to Do If You’re Scared of Your Dirty Kitchen Sponge

Some tips to mitigate the bacteria in your kitchen.

assorted kitchen items
The Strategist

The sponge sitting right by your kitchen sink is its very own ecosystem filled with bacteria, some good and some less-good, especially for people with weaker immune systems. And a study that went viral after being published earlier this month says there’s pretty much nothing you can do about it. The “old stick your sponge in the microwave” trick doesn’t work. Cleaning it in bleach and soap has to happen every three (!) days to be beneficial. At the end of it all, the study’s writers recommended the not-quite-helpful tip to just cut your losses and throw out your sponges once a week. But there must be some better long-lasting alternatives, we thought. So we reached out to Solveig Langsrud, a senior scientist at Nofima in Norway who studies microbial communities in food production and preparation to improve food quality and safety. She’s also coordinating a project called SafeConsume with partners from 14 countries across Europe, with the goal of helping consumers prepare food safer. Below, Langsrud’s tips on the tools to use and practices to follow to mitigate the bacteria in your kitchen.

Brushes

Before giving the full breakdown on brushes, Langsrud makes sure to mention that no one has actually compared brushes to sponges in a peer-reviewed scientific study, so it’s hard to give science-backed advice here. But, “we have only to use common sense,” she says. “The advantage with brushes is that you don’t need to have your hands in warm water, so we can use higher temperatures than we can with sponges. You don’t get bacteria from the brush onto your hands. It’s also easier to clean afterward. You can just throw it into the dishwashing machine.” She adds that the disadvantage is that the food debris can be harder to remove from bristles, which is necessary before you put it in the dishwasher, and they’re also a bit more expensive. Still, everyone in Norway uses them, whereas sponges are much less common.

Casabella Loop 3-Piece Dish Brush Set

Here’s a three-piece set for all different kinds of kitchen items and surfaces.

Casabella Loop 3-Piece Dish Brush Set
Casabella

Ikea Plastis Dishwashing Brush

A highly rated Ikea version of a similar three-piece set.

Ikea Plastis Dishwashing Brush
Ikea

OXO Good Grips Soap Dispensing Palm Brush

A small OXO brush with an easy grip.

OXO Good Grips Soap Dispensing Palm Brush
OXO

Caldrea Dishwashing Brush

Or a more handsome wood option (but as you’ll see below, make sure to not dip the wood part into any meat juices).

Caldrea Dishwashing Brush
Caldrea

Dish Towels

“For wiping tables, use a cloth instead of a sponge,” Langsrud recommends. But how to pick a cloth? “You want to chose one that will dry fast, so not a thick cotton one.” As a general note, she adds that it’s always better to choose kitchen products that dry fast because “most bacteria can’t tolerate drying. They die during the drying process, so if you don’t want to use disinfectants, we think that drying can be just as effective. About 99 percent of bacteria can be killed simply by hanging anything out to dry.” To clean these dish rags, Langsrud recommends use a washing machine set at least to 140 degrees with a cleaning agent that contains bleach.

Real Simple Microfiber Kitchen Towels

Thin, microfiber, waffle-weave dishcloths like these dry quickly. This particular style also doesn’t create lint, making it great for wiping down glassware.

Real Simple Microfiber Kitchen Towels
Real Simple

Super Absorbent, Quick-Drying Kitchen Dish Cloths

Another quick-drying, gridded option loved by Amazon reviewers.

Quick-Drying Kitchen Dish Cloths
Fabresh

Bondre Non-Stick Oil Lightweight Bamboo Fiber Wash Towels

Or try bamboo.

Bondre Non-Stick Oil Lightweight Bamboo Fiber Wash Towels
Bondre

Zwipes 735 Microfiber Towel Cleaning Cloths

For countertops, these microfiber towels barely need any water or wetting agent to pick up lots of dust and dirt. Ideal.

Zwipes 735 Microfiber Towel Cleaning Cloths
Zwipes

Disposable Paper Towels and Wipes

Specifically, when it comes to cleaning up fresh meat and poultry juices, dirt from vegetables, pet bowls, and vomit, Langsrud says to use paper or wipes that you’ll throw out right after use (you could, in theory, also use a sponge as long as you throw it out right after, though it’s very wasteful, obviously). She says, “Cloth or sponge and detergent will remove bacteria equally as well as spray and paper or wipes. However, using paper or wipes will not contaminate the surfaces as a cloth or sponge may do, and are safer choices.”

Bounty Select-a-Size Paper Towels, White

A whole bunch of thick, absorbent paper towels.

Bounty Select-a-Size Paper Towels
Bounty

Clorox Disinfecting Wipes Value Pack

Use these disinfecting wipes on countertops and anywhere else meat juices might spill.

Clorox Disinfecting Wipes Value Pack
Clorox

Sponges

If sponges are still your preferred method, there are still ways to make it work. “Sponges are very low-cost,” Langsrud says. “If it’s cheap, you can throw it away and just use another. You wouldn’t do that with brushes.” Another preventative measure is to designate your sponges for different items or purposes, so you’ll have one for meat, one for dishes, and one for countertops. That way, the bacteria isn’t being transferred across every surface the sponge touches. As for cleaning sponges, she recommends removing all visible dirt before either washing them in the dishwasher or soaking them in a bleach solution (a teaspoon of bleach per quart of water should work) and doing this every third day. Otherwise, you can just throw them out and replace them every week.

Mr. Siga Heavy Duty Scrub Sponge

A lot of sponges for just 50 cents each, so you won’t feel bad for throwing them away.

Mr. Siga Heavy Duty Scrub Sponge
Mr. Siga

Scrub Daddy 3-Count Scrub Mommy Sponges

If you’re designating your sponges for different tasks, we recommend the Scrub Mommy, which works for both fragile glass and caked-on grease, thanks to a technology that allows it to get soft in warm water and hard like steel wool in cold water.

Scrub Mommy Sponges
Scrub Daddy

Drying Rack

It is perhaps most important to make sure to dry dishes, towels, and every other thing in your kitchen after using and washing it. As mentioned above, this goes further than just rinsing and wiping away bacteria, to actually killing it, “Someone has studied this, and air-drying on racks will kill more bacteria than using a cloth to wipe away the water,” Langsrud says. She recommends something like a metal drying rack.

Deluxe Chrome-Plated Steel 2-Tier Dish Rack With Drainboard and Cutlery Cup

If you have the counter space, this drying rack carries everything you’ll need in one place.

Deluxe Chrome-Plated Steel 2-Tier Dish Rack With Drainboard and Cutlery Cup
Neat-O

Bonus Tip

“I’ve also read articles where they compared wood chopping boards with plastic or stainless-steel ones, and they had a lot of problems with removing bacteria from wood,” Langsrud says. “Not just for chopping, but kitchen surfaces in general. Steel, plastic, or marble will always be better than wood.”

Bellissima Kitchen 3-Piece Plastic Cutting Board Set

A plastic cutting board.

Bellissima Kitchen 3-Piece Plastic Cutting Board Set
Bellissima

16-Inch x 20-Inch Glass Cutting Board

An easy-to-clean glass board to put over any other harder-to-clean surfaces.

Glass Cutting Board
Bed Bath and Beyond

Marble 16-Inch x 20-Inch Pastry Board

Marble: trendy and functional.

marble pastry board
Bed Bath and Beyond