December 12, 2017

Kitchen Sponges – Causing More Harm than Good?

By Rebecca Alexander

What seems like a convenient cleaning product may be causing more harm than good. In this expert Q&A with Jacie C. Volkman, Director of Infection Prevention and Epidemiology at Mission Health, learn how a kitchen sponge can be harboring more bacteria than a household toilet.

Q: How disgusting can sponges truly get?

A: According to a 2017 study conducted by Scientific Reports, sponges can house more bacteria than your toilet. Sponges have the second highest rate of harboring bacteria out of household products, the No. 1 being the drain trap.

Q: Can the bacteria in sponges be harmful to humans?

A: Yes, sponges can harbor pathogenic bacteria, which has been known to cause diseases such as E. coli and salmonella. Not only do kitchen sponges house this bacteria, but also can contribute to cross-contamination since sponges can spread the bacteria over kitchen surfaces and hands.

Q: Does sanitizing sponges actually work? Such as boiling them in water or microwaving them?

A: While sanitization by boiling or microwaving can significantly lower the amount of bacteria in a sponge momentarily, from a long-term perspective sanitizing doesn’t seem sufficient because of how quickly the bacteria can grow back.

Q: What can a person do to prevent a sponge from getting gross?

A: One option you can do is to change out your sponge frequently, Scientific Reports suggest weekly. Personally, I prefer the brushes that you can clean in the dishwasher rather than a sponge.

Jacie C. Volkman, MPH, CIC, is Director of Infection Prevention and Epidemiology at Mission Health.