clean kitchen sponges

new kitchen sponges stored in drawer

One of my pet peeves is a nasty kitchen sponge. You know the kind: stained a brownish gray, continually sopping wet, and smelling like feet dipped in sour milk. Why people choose to wash their dishes with such filthy things is beyond me. I've even seen people use such a sponge to wipe a spill off the floor and then turn around and throw it into a pot of half-dried spaghetti sauce or whatnot lying in the sink aside three days' worth of dishes. At that point, you might as well be washing your dishes with a dirty old mop.

At the other end of the continuum, my germophobe mother has a real fear of kitchen sponges with their gazillion porous germ caves and so won't even use one anymore. Not even the bacteria-yeast-and-mold-killing wet-sponge-zapped-in-the-microwave trick is enough for her. Instead, she hand-washes her dishes with a cut-up Brillo scour pad. (Extreme, I know.) She also cleans her kitchen with bleach and a range of antimicrobials, which are no more effective than regular soap and in fact much more harmful. (It's useless to argue; her issues run deep.) 

partial pack of natural cellulose sponges

But, like Goldilocks, I'm all about moderation and happy mediums. For as long as I can remember, I've bought a pack of natural cellulose pop-up sponges from Trader Joe's every year or so (currently for $7), and use one for a month or two until it starts to look ratty—usually meaning one of the edges is hanging off or else I've poked a finger through the middle—at which point it gets demoted and a new one brought out, magically transformed with water from flatness to a real inch-thick sponge. Then the old sponge gets used the next time I clean the bathroom sink (a one-time reuse, mind you).

kitchen sink sponge in drainer

As a result, my kitchen sponges aren't stained and they don't smell of anything but soap. The trick is to never use a dishwashing sponge for prewashing caked-on food or wiping up counter spills and never leave the sponge in the sink but squeezed-out and left to dry in a breathable drainer after each use. Sponges are for washing rinsed dishes only, using lots of dish soap, preferably an eco-friendly product that won't kill sea animals downstream. (It also helps that I'm vegetarian and don't have to worry about E. coli or Salmonella from handling raw meat.) I use a knit-nylon scrubby for prewashing (yes, plastic is ecologically problematic, which is why some people use those bristled wood-handled brushes for this) and a reusable rag for wiping countertops, which also gets hand-washed and left hanging to dry on the dish drainer, as well as thrown into the washing machine during the next load. Everything wet must have the chance to dry out to limit the growth of microscopic creatures.

So if your synthetic sponge gets smelly, try things my way. You'll thank me, I promise.

What do you wash your dishes and wipe your counters with? How picky are you about sponges?

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