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You should be replacing your sponges way more than you think — here's why

Studies tell the ugly truth about how often you're supposed to be cleaning and replacing your kitchen sponges.
Cleaning a sponge doesn't help with all bacteria, but it can help kill some germs in between replacements.
Cleaning a sponge doesn't help with all bacteria, but it can help kill some germs in between replacements. Vivian Le / TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

You probably use it every day — multiple times a day if you don’t have a dishwasher — but are you sure that the kitchen sponge you're using to wipe dirty dishes is safe? A study from 2019 says probably not.

Researchers in Italy found that dish sponges were the "most contaminated item in the household" and serves as an "ideal habitat" for microorganisms and foodborne pathogens.

"These findings induce much more concern, considering that common dishwashing soaps or chemical compounds do not reduce significantly microbial load in kitchen sponges," the researchers wrote in the paper.

They went on to suggest we should be frequently changing out our sponges, adding that it’s an easily affordable option for staying hygienic. To get more insight, we consulted with experts Jessica Ek from the American Cleaning Institute as well as Marla Mock, president of Molly Maid, for some sponge sanitizing tips.

How often to replace sponges | How to clean a sponge | How to sanitize a sponge | Does microwaving a sponge sanitize it? | Can you put a sponge in the dishwasher? | How to clean a sponge with vinegar | How to disinfect a sponge in boiling water | The best products for sanitizing your sponges

How often should you replace sponges?

When it comes to how often you should change sponges, the bottom line is that it’s probably best to just invest in a giant pack of sponges and swap them out on a weekly basis.

If you're the sort to clean your kitchen counters with a sponge, you may want to instead opt for an antibacterial kitchen wipe or machine-washable microfiber towel that you can bleach or throw in the washing machine on the sanitizing cycle, just to be safe.

How to clean a sponge

While the study shows that cleaning a sponge doesn't help with all bacteria, it can help kill some germs in between replacements.

The best way to clean a sponge and minimize germs is to wash the sponge daily in hot, soapy water and then microwave it wet for two minutes, as Mock also suggests below.

Alternatively, you can soak the sponge for one minute in a solution of 1/2 teaspoon of concentrated bleach to a quart of warm water, but it's still a good idea to replace sponges often.

How do you sanitize a sponge?

Ek suggests soaking the sponge for five minutes in a solution of one-quart water to three tablespoons of chlorine bleach and then letting the sponge air-dry. "Be sure to wash your hands when you’re done," she advises.

Does microwaving a sponge sanitize it?

Ek says that it’s hard to know if the sponge is sanitized or not since that will depend on variables like the size of the sponge and the power of the microwave. "In addition, unless the sponge is soaking wet, there is the possibility of starting a fire in the microwave. Not to mention the smell of your microwave afterward."

Mock agrees, but says that if you are going to, you should microwave it for two minutes. And remember: a dry sponge could start a fire!

Can you put a sponge in the dishwasher?

While Ek says that there are silicone sponges that are designed to be cleaned in a dishwasher, Mock has some specific tips for correctly sanitizing any sponge.

"This is a very common way to disinfect your sponge," she says. "If you place it inside with a load of your dishes using the heated dry feature, it will kill 99.9 percent of the bacteria in your sponge!"

How do you clean a sponge with vinegar?

"Cleaning a sponge with vinegar is quite simple!" Mock says. "Place the sponge in a small container and pour about six ounces of vinegar over it. Let the sponge soak for at least five minutes and then your sponge will be sanitized."

How do you disinfect a sponge in boiling water?

Mock says to bring about two cups of water to a boil, and then place the sponge in the pan and let it sit and boil for about five minutes.

"Then, take the pan off the burner, but keep your sponge inside as you want it to cool with the water," she explains. "Once the water is cooled down, take the sponge and wring out any excess water."

The best products for sanitizing your sponge

Some of the best products for your sponge are simple pantry staples you probably already have! But when in doubt, just replace your sponge.

Lucy's Family-Owned Distilled White Vinegar

Ahh, distilled white vinegar, the humble hero of the cleaning world. Stock up and buy it by the gallon(s) so you can always have it on hand for sanitizing sponges or...basically anything else around the house.

Clorox Bleach

Soak those sponges in a mix of half a teaspoon of bleach and a quart of warm water to give them a little longer life.

Scotch-Brite Non-Scratch Sponges

If the idea of sanitizing your sponges seems like too much of a hassle for you, just make sure you always have enough sponges under the sink to grab once your old one gets grimy!