Do all those germs in your kitchen sink's sponge constitute a health problem?

It’s become almost a truism that if you have a sponge at your kitchen sink and use it regularly, it’s one of the most germ-laden places in your house, right up there with your toilet bowl.

But if that’s so, what are the consequences? Should I care about this? Are we really getting sick more often because of that sponge? Would we be healthier if we replaced the sponge every week or every day? Or is the effect of those germs on one’s family’s health minimal under normal circumstances? Or is anything at all actually known about this?

I have given this a lot of thought, most of the dish soaps claim to be anti bacterial. I soak the sponge in hot soapy water as I wash dishes and then rinse with hot clear water. I see no need for concern. I don’t use the sponge on counters or the table for the germ reason unless it comes right out of hot soapy water. I think germs are over rated. We tend to change sponges at least weekly. ( they get stinky)

It’s 95% just germophobic scaremongering. Unless you have a compromised immune system, you’re fine.

If you use the sponge like… certain members of my household, it’s got an LD50 approaching botulin toxin. That is, get it soaking wet, use it to mop up uncooked food spills, then toss it on the back of the sink to fester. That gives it a useful life of about four to seven days, most of which it will stink so badly that it’s questionable whether it’s doing any good.

If you use it properly, which means a rinse in clean water every time and in soapy water at least daily, then a thorough wring dry and set where it will dry out before the next use, it’s a useful and safe kitchen tool. It will also be odor-free and last until the sponge material starts to physically break down, two weeks or more.

As always, it depends on how well your body’s immune system has adapted to the presence of pathogens and micro-organisms in your environment.

If you have always used an old dirty sponge for months, then it is highly likely that you are immune to the onslaught of sponge-born nano-terrorists. But if you have always opened the pack and gotten out a fresh new sponge every day, you will have no resistance to what a sponge can carry, and you will get sick the next day if you use yesterday’s sponge.

Me, i get at least 6 months out of a sponge scrubber, by tying it up inside a net bag (like 3 pounds of onions are sold in). I just squeeze it after use, and it keeps fine.

You’d be a damn sight worse off without regular germs around, than with them.

I wipe the counter down with the kitchen sponge. I can’t imagine the germs will live long once the surface dries up. I sure don’t see any crawling around.

Rinse with **hot **soapy water daily. As in, OW MY HAND hot. You’ll be fine.

I also throw mine in the dishwasher a few times a week. My parents have done this for ages, and we’ve never been sick. Even when I was practically living on prednisone. (Then again, maybe my nearly-lifelong yogurt habit has kept my tummy very healthy.)

i don’t use a sponge on dishes or food contact surfaces. for those i use a dish rag which can be dried out easier or washed easier.

These “germs” are not human pathogens for the simple reason that if they are adapted to living in a sponge, which is, most of the time, at room temperature, they are not adapted to living in a human body, where the available nutrients are quite different and and ambient temperature are quite different. One of the principal reasons why mammals and birds maintain an elevated body temperature is to make themselves inhospitable to bugs living in their environment.

The worst thing the germs in your sponge will do is make it stinky. They will not make you sick.

I do not consider myself to be especially concerned about germs but I would never use a sponge in the kitchen. All the dirty dishes go in the dishwasher anyway, and we use a cloth to wipe down the surfaces. Cloths usually get washed after a couple of days at the most.

Just rinse out your sponge good, leave it wet, and microwave it for 1 minute on high. Let it cool, and then wring it out. It’ll be good and sanitized.

Not necessarily:

Germs or no, sponges are nasty. Wash rags changed out on a daily basis is what does it for me.

Maybe even more so than your toilet bowl.

Cecil touches upon the matter here. (Accompanied, BTW, by one of Slug’s more lurid illuminations.)

I do not see any evidence in that paper to suggests that anyone ever actually got sick because of the germs in the sponge that they washed their dishes with. (The paper shows that germs are there, which is not at issue.) I would not go so far as to say that it has never happened or could never happen, but, given the many millions of people who wash their dishes with sponges every day, the risk is clearly extremely negligible. You would be more rational to be worrying about getting struck by lightning, or having an eagle drop a tortoise on your head.

I’d venture a guess that lots of people are spending more time on the toilet than they need to. And I’d also guess that a lot of those people spending over time on the toilet aren’t making the connection between unsanitary kitchen and their digestive issues.

You are guessing that E Coli or Salmonella infections are causing chronic constipation or chronic diarrhea? Those are not how those illnesses present; they present with fairly severe and usually bloody or mucousy diarrhea. Probably if that is what they have then they are correct to not make a connection between their unsanitary kitchen and their digestive issues.

njtt’s point remains cogent: the op has not been addressed yet. Posters have documented what the op acknowledged already, that a kitchen sponge is very germ-laden, (and shared their personal habits) but no one has shown what the actual level of risk is. How many cases of disease would be prevented if everyone sterilized their sponges every day? Showing that sponges can be a resevoir for pathogens and can transfer some number of pathogens to other surfaces is not enough to answer that question. You have to know what amount of exposure actually represents a risk, show that the level of exposure presented by such sponge to other surface to humans equals or exceeds that level, and show that such exposures would not exist in a household kitchen environment if the sponge was sterilized.

I see no evidence presented for any of those.

“Listeria monocytogenes was found in 21% of households in the Netherlands”… the incidence of Listeriosis in the Netherlands with that pervasive endemic exposure is about 4.3/million per year and the identifiable risk factors are things like being on immunosupressive medications, having a malignancy, and other diseases. (Only 5 to 10% in those otherwise well.) Also what foods are eaten and eating in restaraunts. Nothing there about kitchen sponge use representing any increased risk.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence but so far there is no evidence shown that kitchen sponges being a potential resevoir of pathogens actually represents any real or measurable risk of disease.

So far the answer is only “no one knows.”

There is actual evidence.

Your lungs collect stuff out of the air. Your lungs are also a great environment for bacteria to grow. The stuff , and the bacteria laden fluids, are then pushed up the airway in phlegm, which is then pushed into your esophagus. This phelgm is green to grey, with dirt, mould spores, bacteria and other bugs in it. Litres of it each day go into your stomach…

The few bugs that you might pick up from bacteria left behind from the putrid sponge/dish cloth count for NOTHING compared to the amount coming out from you lungs.

The theory about washing your hands to avoid GI infection is to avoid picking up bacteria (strains of specific species) that cause such symptoms.


I’m not sure what you’re saying here. You seem to be contradicting yourself in the same paragraph. Salmonella does cause diarrhea.