“The dirtiest thing you have in your home is the little sponge you use to wash the dishes, more than the toilet seat or trash bin.” Dr. Philip Tierno
You probably don’t think too hard about your kitchen sponge. It’s just there and you use when it you need it. When you’re done? Easy peasy. You pitch it in the trash, reach under the sink for that supersize pack you bought and grab a new one.
Did you know that supersize pack of sponges can be one of the most dangerous things in your kitchen?
I know, it’s kind of shocking. After all, a sponge looks pretty simple. Cleaning side, maybe with a scrubby side, and you wash things with it. What’s so bad about that?
Sponges, it turns out, can be highly toxic. Not only due to what they’re made from (we will get to that in a moment) but because they can turn into pathogen-laden, bacteria-smearing blobs in your kitchen.
It makes sense when you stop to think about it. You use sponges to clean food off plates and countertops. Damp sponges at that. If you don’t clean the sponge thoroughly, that moist environment plus all the bacteria are a perfect recipe for growing some pretty nasty stuff.
We’re talking e. coli, staphylococcus, even salmonella.
In fact, one study looked at the DNA analysis of household kitchen sponges and found hundreds of different kinds of bacteria. The report clearly stated, “Despite common misconception, it was demonstrated that kitchen environments host more microbes than toilets.”
Since you can’t see the bacteria you don’t even know that you’re taking all of that bacteria and transferring it from one place to another. If you’re not cleaning your sponges thoroughly enough you’ll repeat this cycle several times a day.
The three best ways to clean a sponge
The good news is that it’s easier than you think to sanitize your sponges. And no, we’re not talking bleach.
- Microwave oven – Put a damp sponge into a microwave oven and set it on high for 1 minute. It’s important to use a damp sponge because otherwise, you run the risk of causing a fire as the microwave oven overheats the dry sponge.
- Boiling – Place a sponge in a pot of boiling water and let it boil for five minutes.
- Dishwasher – Throw your sponge into the dishwasher before you turn it on and let it go through an entire cycle with the dishes.
According to researchers microwaving or boiling a sponge can reduce 99.9% of the bacteria. Dishwashing is also highly effective.
Compared to soaking the sponges in either lemon juice, deionized water, or 10% chlorine bleach, the reduction in the amount of yeast and mold was significantly less than when the sponges were microwaved or run through the dishwasher. One study found that using bleach or lemon juice only reduced bacteria by between 37-87%.
That’s a LOT less.
Fortunately a microwave oven, boiling water, or a dishwasher are all super easy ways to sanitize your sponges. None of which involve harmful chemicals.
Regardless of how you do it, this is definitely one healthy habit you want to add to your daily routine.
Eco-unfriendly sponge issues
Now that we’ve gotten the issue of how to properly sanitize your sponges out of the way, let’s talk about the sponges themselves.
Synthetic sponges are made from toxic ingredients:
- Foam style sponges – these are made from polyurethane which is created from petroleum. The chemicals used to create the “bun” that turn into a sponge are hardly environmentally friendly. First because of how they are made. Secondly because once you’re done with the sponge and throw it out all of those chemicals continue to break down, leaching into the environment.
- Cellulose – made from wood pulp which by itself doesn’t sound so bad. But the manufacturer has to add chemical softeners and a few other ingredients, one of which is bleach, to “remove any remaining dirt or other impurities.” While the base of the sponge comes from wood pulp those added chemicals are not very eco-friendly.
- Toxic ingredients – The next toxic challenge with a sponge can be an ingredient that is supposedly added to help you clean. We’re talking about the sponges marketed as anti-bacterial. Now you may be wondering how exactly a sponge gets to be an antibacterial sponge. That happens when the manufacturer adds a toxin called Triclosan.
Toxic triclosan, what you really need to know
As an antifungal, antibacterial agent, Triclosan is heavily used in many formulations including deodorants, soap, toothpaste, personal care products, and cosmetics.
This is particularly bad because as an antibacterial agent, triclosan kills bacteria indiscriminately. Even the good bacteria that we need to keep a healthy balance. By overusing this chemical we are weakening our immune system as well as potentially causing super bacteria.
Triclosan has been shown be an endocrine disruptor, having a toxic hormonal impact which can start as early as in utero. It has also been shown to have an impact on the immune system and can cause allergies, asthma, and eczema. Even worse, it’s a toxin which can accumulate in fatty tissue and is suspected to cause cancer.
That’s the human side of Triclosan; environmentally it’s just as bad. There is an impact on waterways and aquatic life, especially algae which is the food for other larger aquatic animals. Because wastewater treatment plants are unable to filter triclosan, and since it doesn’t break down very quickly, it accumulates in the waterways causing significant problems.
Petrochemicals, softeners, bleaches, and toxic antibacterials; who wants to wash with that? You definitely don’t want to harm yourself or the environment. All you really want is clean dishes and countertops.
Choosing an eco-friendly sponge
Without having to resort to knitting your own sponges (yup, that’s really a thing), you can get a truly all-natural sponge.
One natural sponge is made from…well…sponge.
A marine animal, these simple organisms grow in both saltwater and freshwater. Unfortunately, some species are endangered, in part due to over-harvesting.
Another option, our favorite, is to use a sponge which is made from luffa. This plant-based material (it comes from a luffa gourd) is 100% eco-friendly, sustainable, and fully biodegradable.
When choosing a sponge you want to be sure the one you’re using is non-toxic.
That’s why we like ecologically friendly, sustainably grown, completely biodegradable luffa. It’s a sponge that is equal to any sponge-task you use it for.
Luffa is from gourds. They are simply grown in the ground, not created in a lab. Then they are harvested, peeled, and seeded. There’s no chemical anything to this wonderful sponge. When you’re done with it, you can dispose of it knowing that it will break down completely leaving no negative residue or harmful chemicals behind.
Not only that, a luffa sponge is strong, equal to scrubbing any difficult pan or dish.
Got difficult to clean dishes with food stuck on them? Not a problem with a luffa!
That all natural scrubbing ability is up to those difficult tasks.
Choose the best, most eco-friendly option because that’s what you and your family deserve.
When you’re done with it you can give it one last washing (to remove any soap residue) and throw it away without worrying about the environmental impact. Heck, if you have a compost pile you can even put it in there to break down.
The best part is that you can rest easy knowing you haven’t added any toxic ingredients to your kitchen or to the environment.
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