How Healthy is Your Kitchen Sponge?

Sponge or dishwashing brush? Which do you usually use to wash the dishes? If your answer is a sponge, you may want to reconsider your methods after the results of a recent study of the bacteria that survive on the two common kitchen tools.

“A single sponge can harbor a higher number of bacteria than there are people on Earth,” said Trond Møretrø, a research scientist and author of the study.

Sounds pretty gross, right? Though not all bacteria are harmful to humans, the chances for cross-contamination of pathogenic bacteria such as salmonella were higher with sponges than with kitchen brushes. In the study, salmonella was not found on either the brushes or sponges under everyday household use. When the scientists placed a sample of salmonella on each purposefully, they discovered that the bacteria could more easily thrive in the sponge than in the brush.

Part of the problem, the researchers noted, is that sponges often don’t dry completely between uses. They found that kitchen brushes allowed to dry overnight harbored far fewer bacteria than the sponges. They also found that it didn’t matter how often you cleaned your sponge (using the microwave or boiling methods). It did not significantly reduce the bacterial load.

If sponges are not replaced daily and remain consistently damp, they become a humid environment with food residue, which is the perfect place for bacteria to thrive. And throwing out a sponge daily hardly seems practical for the environment or your wallet.

The takeaway? In a typical setting, neither the sponge nor brush was a significant source of the harmful, pathogenic bacteria types like salmonella. So that’s a sigh of relief.

But if you want to err on the side of caution and lower the risk of bacterial contamination, you can try one of two things: using a kitchen brush instead of a sponge or allowing your sponge to dry out completely overnight. Be sure also to replace your sponge every 2 weeks.

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