Do sponges really, always, spread germs?

So, there’s a commercial on TV and in some magazines I get that is advertising some kind of germ killing wipe, designed, I believe, for kitchen surfaces. All well and good…

But they make the claim that all a sponge does is spread germs around and that it won’t kill them. This, to me, seems somewhat odd. If a sponge has got a bunch of soap/detergen in it, what’s the chance that any germs will be able to survive, let alone thrive in such an enviornment? Are there really health risks associated with using a sponge in the kitchen, as one of these ads suggests by using the phrase ‘harmful germs?’ Can this risk be minimized or eliminated simply by switching to a new sponge every few months, or weeks, or days, etc…? Would there be the same health risks if I used, say, paper towles instead of a sponge?

Gimme the straight dope, if you please.

Of course sponges have germs. Are they dangerous to you? Probably not. It isn’t likely to hurt you, because you’ve been exposed long enough, to have plenty of antibodies.
The ad on TV is designed to frighten you into buying their overpriced, environmentally unfriendly, disposable bleach clothes. They do more harm than good.

People who avoid all bacteria are more likely to get sick, than those who just live their life. After all, we’ve co-existed with them for centuries. Sure you could culture almost anything in your house and find bacteria… But are you dead? are you even sick? I didn’t think so.

To keep the bacteria load down in my sponge, after each use, I get it very wet, add a drp of soap, and microwave it for 4 minutes. I leave it in the microwave for 5 minutes or so, to cool. Once cool I wring the excess water out and leave it out to dry. This isn’t going to sterilize it, but it certianly reduces the bacterial load.
There’s an added benefit to doing this, the soapy steam makes the microwave easier to clean.

Bacteria don’t live for long in dry environments, (not so for viruses, so if anyone in your household is immuno-compromised, or if anyone has a serious viral disease, throw the sponge away after a week or so.)

Oh, and one other thing, soap doesn’t kill germs either. It lowers the surface tension of the water and the of the germs, so the are floated off the skin and flushed down the drain.
There are antibacterial soaps. They are useless, at best, and dangerous, at worst.
They have chemicals to kill the bacteria that could also be toxic to you.
Using them can cause that antibody protection, I mentioned before, to weaken, so your chances of getting sick go up.

Tip: If you use a dishwasher, toss the sponge in when you’re ready to wash a load of dishes*. Comes out looking like new.

*stick it into the silverware holder so it doesn’t get tossed around by the water jets.

Yeah, I do this when the sponge starts to smell mildew-y, and it works like a charm.

Wow, thanks Picu! I took a smattering of bio back in freshman year of college, and even TA’d a course, but most of the nitty gritty has been lost to me over the years.

Patty: are you sure that’d kill germs, or, in light of Picu post, that you’d even really want to?

No I can not say that it’s a surefire germ killer, but I am not a germophobe anyway so that’s not really my aim. Dishwashers get hot water straight from the water heater, usually at about 140°F. This has got to kill at least some of the germs that have become acustomed to life in a damp room-temperture sponge.

I agree with picunurse that a certain germ population is necessary to keep our immune systems sharp and responsive. I only suggested it because it seems to rejuvinate the sponge.

One of the reasons dishwashers work so well is that they heat the water to a much higher temperature than what’s piped in from the water heater. This is what sanitizes the dishes and helps remove set-in food and hardened muck. There’s usually a large heating element along the bottom of the washer.

Sponges from the dishwasher are probably pretty effectively autoclaved.

I also put a tablespoon of bleach in the final dishwash cycle (not the rinse cycle, but the cycle where the soap hatch opens) as an added sanitation booster. This may very well be superfluous, since chlorine is pretty unstable in hot water. But I’ve noticed that my dishwasher never has that musty smell that other dishwashers sometimes have.

Dishwasher detergent is largely bleach to begin with, so I can’t see much benefit in adding more.

My new dishwasher has an NSF sanitizing cycle, which appears to be defined as over 161 degrees. Hotter than the usual water heater, but still short of steam.

But enough about sponges. How about dish towels? How long should one let a towel hang around in the kitchen?

washing the sponge in the dishwasher is friggin brilliant.
just use a cap or 2 up bleach in a squirt bottle of water and use this on counter tops after you clean up. soap+rinse+bleach kills damn near everything and trace amounts of bleach wont hurt you. I recomend this if you cook alot or cook foods that will contaminate like meats.

The only problem with the dishwasher is the bleach ruins the sponge. But then I think dishes washed in a dishwasher stink.

Am I the only one who never uses a sponge in the kitchen? I have a dozen or so dishcloths, I use each one once and then toss it in the laundry to be washed. I only use teatowels once and then wash them too. It’s not a great hardship to do a load of laundry and I’d rather use a clean cloth than one that’s been sitting there for some time. I have a dish brush too, once every couple of days I soak it in disinfectant.

I use both, but I personally prefer to use a dishcloth.

Mrs. Butler washes them in the clothes washer. We change them out every couple of days, or after a nasty job.

Ours are soaked in anti-bacterial dish soap, and rung dry(ish) when no longer in use.

Sponge to wipe up the spills, stains, etc. Then we do a “clean” with simple green and a paper towel.

If that doesn’t kill enough germs, then tough, we’ll have to live with them. Nobody is getting sick due to our countertops at our house, so I’m not going to fall into the advertising hype that we’re exposed to. Granted, we don’t watch commercials any more, now that we have a DVR! :slight_smile:


This seems to be a good place to insert the example of how to care for a horse penis.

When artificial insemination first took off in the horse industry, stallions had their parts cleaned off with disinfectant all the time. The sequence of events was to bring the stallion into a situation where it would get excited and thus “drop”(sucha s being near a mare in heat), clean the member off with something like a tamed iodine solution, collect the semen in an artificial vagina, wipe off the stallion’s parts, then take him back for a well deserved meal of hay and carrots. A popular stallion would have this done many times a week.

Bacterial infections of the urethra and other parts became a big problem in the horse breeding industry. The bugs cultured were resistant to almost everything and about impossible to clean up. They set up shop on the stallions because all the normal flora (i.e. good bugs) had been killed off. As soon as the use of disinfectant cleansers was stopped, the bad urethral infection problem stopped as well.

To get back to this thread:
Wiping “germ killers” over everything is, on one level, silly. Only babies and kids in bubbles live in sterile worlds. We are surrounded by all sorts of microbial life everywhere. To think that a wipe with anything kills all the “germs” on a non-sterile surface is dumb.
On another level, killing off normal bugs helps select for more pathogenic bugs - so it may just be doing more harm than good.

I don’t use sponges in the kitchen. I do use one for cleaning my bathroom, but I figure it’s so dirty in there anyway–if the sponge holds germs, it’s the least of my problems.

I use cloths in the kitchen.

FWIW, we use the green scotchbrite pads for hand dishwashing [mainly pots n pans, we use the dishwasher for utensils and eating tackle] They sterilize in bleach wonderfully, though they are so dang cheap in warehouse clubs we use them a few times and throw them away frequently [we cut down the ‘whole sheet’ into thirds]

For cleaning counters, we use plain castile and water, and do the first wash with a green scrungie we use specifically for counters, and rinse and dry with paper towels.

I have a liking for basic castile soap and water for pretty much any cleaning.

Oh come on. Is there ever not a good place to insert an example on how to care for a horse penis?

Do you leave it in during the dry cycle or take it out early?