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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Ask EPPC: Microwaving sponges

How do you clean sponges?

A 2007 University of Florida (UF) study about disinfecting sponges in microwaves drew attention to a sanitation technique. The New York Times, BBC, WebMD and others fawned over the prospect of being able to completely sterilize their kitchen sponges in two short minutes. A 1999 study claimed that many bacteria were killed after 15 seconds and only E. coli could survive longer than 30 seconds in the microwave. The message circulated in my home as well – 30 seconds to kill most things and 40 seconds to kill everything.

But is it true?

It turns out there may be a few caveats to the rule. The UF study insisted that you must wait two minutes to disinfect effectively, but a CBS news article entitled, “Microwaving Sponges Might Not Kill Germs,” scrutinizes that claim. Sharon Franke, kitchen technology and appliances director at Good Housekeeping Research Institute, claims that people shouldn’t nuke their sponges because sanitation efficacy varies across different types of microwaves and it can be dangerous. The UF study also initially failed to mention that the sponges must be thoroughly wet – an omission that caused microwave fires.

As a “safe frugal alternative,” Franke recommended adding about a teaspoon of bleach to a cup of water and letting the sponge sit in the mixture for five minutes.

But what is the best course of action? Should we risk fire, partial sanitation, use hazardous bleach or throw out sponges as soon as they seem “contaminated?”

This is ultimately up to you, but we think you should microwave damp sponges very carefully (this will kill most, if not all bacteria), or you could boil them for five to 10 minutes and get similar results. Guest contributor Darach Miller adds that there are 10 times more bacteria cells than human cells in your body.?

Got a question for EPPC? Submit it to margaret.link@gmail.com.


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