I don’t have a dishwasher. I used to, but I moved to LA where the apartments are old and the rent is high… So I wash my dishes by hand. The one good thing about my old kitchen is that the water can get scalding hot, so at least I can feel like I am putting in a valiant effort at getting my dishes to not only look clean but to also harbor fewer bacteria.
When I began washing more dishes, I also began wondering about just how dirty the kitchen sponge could be. In the past, I would throw it in the dishwasher every couple days, feeling confident that it came out nice and germ-free. But in my no-dishwasher kitchen, I had to find a new way to clean it. Why?
Your kitchen sponge has 200,000 times more bacteria than your toilet seat.
Chopping veggies tonight? If you cleaned your cutting board with that stanky sponge that you washed your dishes with and wiped off your counter tops with, you might as well go in the bathroom and prep your meal on the toilet seat (and that, in fact, would be a cleaner option)!
Sponges are perfect breeding grounds for bacteria. They are moist and warm and have comfy little crevices. They are also great for cleaning because they clean surfaces and clear away gunk quite nicely.
Here are the details:
- Studies show that a normal kitchen sponge has 10 million bacteria per square inch, and a dish rag has 1 million per square inch.
- 1 single bacteria cell can multiply to 8 million in 24 hours
- It can take just 10 bacteria to make a person sick (depending on the bacteria)
- Certain bacteria can cause paralysis (campylobacter) and many other bacteria can cause foodborne illness or just spread around things like cold and flu germs
- You don’t have to ingest the bacteria for it to make you sick, it just has to get on your skin
What else in your kitchen is dirty?
- Dish towels (even clean ones!)
- Counter tops, cutting boards, surfaces
- Inside the fridge
- The outside (and inside) of the trash can
- The floor
- Faucet handles, door/drawer handles, knobs
- The telephone (landline–the cell phone is whole other issue!)
- ….everything else!
What can you do about it?
- Replace old sponges
- Every day or so, get your sponge wet and microwave it for 2 minutes
- Every day or so, run your sponge through the dishwasher
- Every day or so, boil your sponge in a pot of water on the stove for 2-5 minutes
- Use a different sponge for different tasks (i.e. don’t use that sponge you just wiped a spill from the floor with to clean your cutting board)
What I do: I have three sponges in rotation at all times in the kitchen. One is for cleaning things like spills on the floor, the trash can, and the base boards (it lives under the sink and I boil it every week). The other two sponges are for washing dishes and wiping off surfaces. While we clean the kitchen after dinner every night, one sponge goes into boiling water on the stove while the other fresh and clean sponge is being used to clean. After a few minutes of boiling, the clean hot sponge is wrung out and dried on the drying rack to be used the next night after dinner. They switch places daily, so I’m never using a sponge that wasn’t cleaned within the last day.
Maybe that seems extreme, but I teach a nutrition course in which we cover food safety… and although I don’t use scare tactics, I think that by the end of the lecture, everyone is washing their hands after they use the bathroom, no one sets their purse on the kitchen counter, and they’re all running off to boil their sponges! The consequences can be serious, and even lesser consequences of being mildly ill are no fun.
Protect yourself, clean your sponges!
Other kitchen tips:
- Don’t use the same cutting boards for meat and veggies
- Clean your drains regularly with baking soda and vinegar (drains are dark moist bacteria dens too!)
- Wash dish towels often and only use them for drying clean dishes and clean hands!
- Wash your hands before you do anything in the kitchen, and after you touch meat
- Disinfect surfaces everyday with a safe and effective cleaner (I buy mine here)
- Clean and disinfect the inside of your fridge, regularly (not just when something drips or spills!)
Please Share, +1, and Comment Below! In what ways do you tackle germs in your kitchen?!