What has more germs than a toilet seat? Your kitchen sponge.
Scientists from NSF International, an independent public health and safety organization, recently conducted a swab analysis of 30 different surfaces in 22 homes to check for yeast, mold, E. coli and other types of bacteria. They found that the kitchen sponge is the worst offender – harboring more germs than your toilet seat or bathroom faucet. In fact, more than 75 percent of sponges tested positive for coliform bacteria, which can cause food poisoning, and 18 percent of sponges had staph germs.
This is not a huge surprise. Bacteria require moisture to grow and a sponge is designed to absorb water. So, what can you do to prevent the bacteria buffet on your sponge from making you sick? You have a few options:
1) Try dishcloths instead. They can easily be thrown in the washing machine and dried on high heat when they start to get funky. Use good dishrag etiquette and allow them to dry out between uses.
2) Microwave your sponge to kill the bacteria. A study from the USDA's Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center found that the microwave is the best at killing bacteria, yeast and mold in kitchen sponges. Place a completely wet sponge in the microwave on the highest setting for two minutes. Carefully remove the sponge and let it cool before use.
3) Next time you run your dishwasher, throw your sponge on the top shelf. Run your sponge through the dishwasher on the hottest cycle. Be sure to dry the sponge thoroughly afterwards. This may not be as effective as your microwave at killing germs, but it's convenient!
4) Once your sponge is sanitized, try this DIY technique from LifeHacker for keeping your sponge dry and off the countertop. Cut a hole in the center of the sponge slightly smaller than your faucet's handle and slip the sponge on. We recommend cutting the sponge while it's dry because it will be easier to cut and you can be more accurate.
5) If you're a die-hard sponge user, experts recommend you replace them every two weeks and wring them out as often as possible. For the eco-conscious, there a few sponges made from natural and sustainable materials on the market. Twist's biodegradable Loofah and Naked sponges are two good options.