Microbes love to nestle down in small, damp spaces such as the inner cells of sponges or the pores between the fibers of wooden cutting boards. Antibacterial soaps, detergents, sponges, cloths, boards, and utensils posses a chemical additive intended to deter bacterial growth, but they have not proved superior to regular products in tests. You can reduce the microbes in sponges by washing in dishwasher or by treating them as suggested below. Alternatively, save the sponges for car washing and other heavy cleaning chores and clean the kitchen with washable dishcloths and towels, and launder them often.
- To eliminate microbes with highly toxic chemicals such as bleach (one teaspoon per quart of water). Chlorine kills most organisms. However, chlorine is toxic to handle, can ruin clothing, and when washed down household drains into the water supply, it forms chemicals harmful to people and wildlife.
- Kill the microbes with heat. Soapy water heated to 140⁰F kills most harmful organisms and washes most others away. This method takes effort, though, since the water must be truly scalding hot, well beyond the temperature of the tap.
- Use an automatic dishwasher to combine both methods: it washes in water hotter than hands can tolerate and most dishwasher detergents contain chlorine.
- Use a microwave to kill microbes on sponges. Place the wet sponge in a microwave oven and heat it until steaming hot (times vary). Caution: heat only wet sponges in the microwave over and watch them carefully; dry sponges or those that contain metal can catch on fire. Also, to prevent scalding your hands, use tongs to remove the steaming sponge.
The third and fourth options turned out to be the most effective for sanitizing sponges in an experiment by the USDA microbiologist. Washing in a dishwasher and microwaving killed virtually all bacteria trapped in sponges, while soaking in a bleach solution missed over 10 percent. The dishwasher may be preferable, however, for overall safety.
(Quoted in its entirety from Nutrition Concepts & Controversies, by Sizer / Whitney, Twelfth Edition, pages 454-455)
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