I'll just cut to the chase: the kitchen sponge is the dirtiest thing in your house. Seriously. Apparently, you are more likely to find dangerous bacteria in your kitchen sink than in and on a flushed toilet. This was just one of the things I learned from the book I just finished, Organic Housekeeping.
The author, Ellen Sandbeck, goes on to tell about two microbiologists who collected kitchen sponges and dish rags from a thousand kitchens in five American cities. On 2/3 of the sponges they tested there were dangerous bacteria, including E. coli, salmonella, and staphylococcus. Turns out the reason why these dish scrubbers were so filthy was because the cellulose sponges provide a perfect habitat for bacteria: the sponges are porous and easy for bacteria to cling to, there's a constant food supply, and the moisture of the sponge keeps them alive. According to this book, a damp sponge can nurture a population of bacteria for up to two weeks. On a dry surface, bacteria only live for a few hours.
Ick. I've always used those green and yellow sponges. To keep mine sanitary (and so I wouldn't have to replace it as often), I'd run them through the dishwasher. Turns out most dishwashers don't get hot enough to kill the bacteria completely and the drying cycle doesn't dry the sponge out adequately. I've also microwaved mine after seeing someone suggest it on TV. If the sponge isn't wet enough, though, it can ignite in the microwave. I've heard you can boil sponges, but that seems a little much.
So what's a person to do? Live in paralyzing fear of the germs that lurk on our sponges? Buy cases of sponges and replace them daily? Is boiling or microwaving them the only option? Nope. Here are a couple alternatives -- one is a 'random reuse' suggested by Sandbeck; the other is a recent money-saving discovery of mine.
Sponge Solution #1
In the book, Sandbeck recommends ditching the sponges altogether and using dishcloths instead. Dishcloths work okay, but they don't offer the scrubbing power that sponges have. To fix this, the author suggests cutting the tag off one end of a plastic mesh bag from a bag of onions or oranges. This will make the bag into a tube. Fold the dishcloth a couple times and slip in into the mesh bag tube and then fold it until it's the size you want. Once you're done using it, pull the discloth from the mesh tube and throw the dishcloth into the laundry. Rinse off the mesh bag and hang it up to dry. Whenever the mesh bag gets too worn, toss it out and use another. Easy enough.
I was dubious of this at first, but once I tried it, it worked better than I thought it would. I'd even go as far to say that it worked just as well as the green side of my old kitchen sponge. The only drawback is that it felt a little cumbersome -- I liked having that little sponge to get in all the corners and edges of my dishes and pans. Even so, I threw out my supposedly bacteria-laden sponges and was ready to use the mesh bag srubber exclusively. That is, until I found out about my next solution...
Sponge Solution #2
It's kind of funny, serendipitous even, that I found out about this next solution right after I'd read about kitchen sponges. I was flipping through a catalog and came across something called a 'spaghetti scrub'. I went on to read the review of the product, Goodbye Detergent's Original Spaghetti Scrub.
This little scrub is made of peach pits, cotton, and polyester. It's made up of a bunch of little strands of the material, hence the name 'Spaghetti Scrub'. Because of the materials used and the design of the thing, it can't harbor bacteria because it dries quickly and completely. Even better, the scrub doesn't require dish soap to work. Even with my old green and yellow sponges, I had to give it a squirt of dish soap to get it really working. Not so with the Spaghetti Scrub.
In the catalog, the reviewer said she'd never use anything but this scrub for her dishes. Intrigued, I went to Amazon and checked out some of the reviews there. Again, nothing but positive things. So I ordered one. For a package of two scrubbers, it costs around $10, which seems a little steep at a first. However, these scrubbers are supposed to last for months. I was buying my old sponges fairly often, every few weeks for about a dollar each. Plus, I'm using a less dish soap than I usually did while washing.With the Spaghetti Scrub, I get a better and more sanitary product that lasts much longer than the old sponges I used.
I got my scrub in the mail last week and let me tell you, I'll never use anything else. It works better than anything I've ever tried! Just get the scrub wet, give it a squirt of dish soap if you want (it holds onto the soap much longer than the sponges did), and wash away. The true test of this scrub came when I had to wash my stainless steel skillet. I'd cooked eggs in it for breakfast and I always dread cleaning it because it takes a bunch of dish soap and intense scrubbing to get all the egg off. With the Spaghetti Scrub, it came off easily, with hardly any dish soap at all. Is it weird to get kind of giddy about a scrubber? Because I totally did with this thing. It made doing dishes way easier! And just as advertised, I just hang it from my tap and it dries right out.
The mesh bag method is a good way to do dishes without a sponge, but the Spaghetti Scrub is even better. The best thing about either method, though: no more worries about that filthy kitchen sponge. Send it to the trash where it belongs!