A sponge is a useful tool for wiping down surfaces in your kitchen. But, if you’re not cleaning it regularly and properly, it can be a source of bacteria that can cause food poisoning. According to a recent study published in Scientific Reports, your sponge can contain several billion bacterial cells in every cubic centimeter of material. These microbes can breed easily because of the sponge’s warm, wet, nutrient-rich environment. They can also hitch a ride from food to the sponge, then onto other surfaces around the home. Those germs can include coliforms, E. coli, and Salmonella, which can all cause vomiting and diarrhea.
The good news is, your microwave might be able to help. In fact, according to a team of engineering researchers from the University of Florida, two minutes in a microwave on full power mode will kill or inactivate more than 99 percent of bacteria, viruses, parasites, and spores living in a damp sponge or scrub pad. The researchers believe that the radio-frequency waves that heat up food in a microwave cause water molecules in sponges to vibrate. The friction caused by this vibration is thought to cause the pathogens to dehydrate and die.
Interestingly, the engineers found that regular cleaning of sponges does not significantly reduce their bacteria levels. However, they did notice that microwaving a sponge gets rid of the most virulent strains of bacteria, which might help prevent them from reproducing and spreading in the kitchen.
There are some other cleaning methods that might help get rid of the bacteria in a sponge. According to a 2007 study from the Agricultural Research Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a solution of bleach and water might eliminate 37 to 87% of bacteria. Bleach solutions are also effective at killing the E. coli and coliform bacteria in a sponge, which can lead to stomach upset and diarrhea.
One caveat to consider is that the sponge may smell after being zapped in the microwave. While this method is fast and easy, the unpleasant odor can be offputting.
To use this hack, simply wet the sponge with warm water and put it in a microwave for no more than a minute on the highest setting. Be sure to check on the sponge often so it doesn’t burn, and let it cool down before removing it from the microwave. This method is a great alternative to washing or using soap to clean your sponge, which can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. If you’re not comfortable using this microwave sponge sanitizing hack, there are other options to keep your sponge germ-free between cleanings, such as using paper towel instead of the sponge or throwing it in the dishwasher on the sanitize cycle. Also, it’s a good idea to throw away your sponge once it starts smelling. This is a sign that it’s getting old and may be harboring some bacteria.