How Sponge-Worthy Is Your Kitchen? | Seventh Generation
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How Sponge-Worthy Is Your Kitchen?

Author: BethArky

The holiday season brings its perennial questions: "Do you prefer your stuffing inside or outside the bird?"; "Have you been naughty or nice?"; and, if you are wise enough to invite guests who pitch in on cleanup, "Which sponge do you use for the dishes?"

I had a hunch that, like me, most people are members of the two-sponge club: one for the sink and one for countertops, with cloths and paper towels -- recycled, of course -- for everything else. So when Seventh Generation asked me to poll my friends on their sponge situation, I was surprised to learn that most are one-sponge or even no-sponge adherents.

Sherrie has one sponge for dishes and counters and another for spills that wind up on the floor. "I would never use a sponge that has touched the floor on anything else," she says. Meanwhile, Liane has lots of cloth towels for wiping up spills and also uses rags for general cleaning, washing everything frequently. She also keeps recycled paper towels on hand.

Fastidious, ultra-efficient JoAnne, who dust mops while she chats, shocked me with the news that she eschews sponges. (And I thought I knew her.) Instead, she has one cloth she uses for dishes and others for her stainless steel appliances and glass. She uses washcloths that she's going to launder to clean the counters and floor spills.

Shana used to have two kitchen sponges but cut back to one after realizing the germ potential inherent in reusing a sponge for wiping counters and appliances. So she uses one sponge for the dishes and paper towels or Seventh Generation disinfecting wipes for the counters.

I already knew you can lengthen the life of your sponges by sterilizing them in the microwave but Liane and Shana turned me onto a new trick: tucking them into the silverware basket when running a load of dishes.

Even so, Shana says she's "starting to get a little skeeved when I see sponges in other people's sinks, wondering how long they've been there and how often they get mixed up. Come to think of it, SpongeBob has been around for a number of years. I wonder..."

Interesting point, Shana. Seventh Generation Nation, how many sponges do you use to clean up?

photo: bark


NewAgerJul picture
As a professional cleaner with being green as my focus I don't use disposable paper towels because it is a waste. I don't use sponges at clients because they take too long to clean with. I use microfiber cloths all the way for everything in their home including windows, stainless steel, sinks, dusting, floors, etc. I use two for each type - one wet and one dry. Being green is my business!
bluesfan74 picture
The water temp. of hot water in a house with kids is usually around 120 degrees. A gas dryer is usually around 167 degrees. We started using cold water to wash everything since using hot water was pointless due to the dryer temp being hotter and actually doing a better job of killing bacteria. The best part was our gas bill went down! I know line drying would be greener, but we don't have the space to do it. We only use dish cloths and wash them often.
ege picture
We have a sponge for dishes and a sponge for wiping counters/table. The are different colors and are never switched. We wash them frequently in the dishwasher or laundry. I am a bit of a food safety nut as I've had food poisoning a few times (not from my own cooking). If raw egg or meat lands on the counter, then we use something other than the regular sponge. We also have a rag that kind of lives on the floor, b/c we have 2 small ones.
JennySG picture
I stopped using sponges when I learned how bacteria-laden they become almost immediately. They are very hard to keep germ-free. Like many others who have posted, I use cleaning cloths: a fresh cloth for each meal's dishes. After I've washed up the dishes, the cloth is still soapy-clean and I use it to wipe down table, counters and stove. Then into the wash it goes. I use cheap white washcloths and have an abundance of them.
dwilder picture
I use a sponge that is strictly for sink use and a cloth that is for the counters. Anything that ends up on the floor gets a left over rag. I make sure to never mix these up because I wouldn't want to rub a plate on the floor and then eat off of it! It's also important to think about how many sponges you are using as they will never ever break down! I have switched to biodegradable sponges that will break down and I cut them in half so I get more use from them! Just something to think about.
beccadog picture
I put those green scrubbies in the dishwasher and then in the microwave to sterilize, but I have not used sponges for decades.
EAlmquist picture
I agree with Rhiamom, I use dishcloths or bar mops for most of my everyday cleaning, whether it be wiping counters, dusting, mopping up spills, etc. Then I wash them with my whites on hot hot water in the laundry. If I have to scrub pots and pans, then I use Scotch-Brite Natural Fiber Non-Scratch Scour Pads because they are made of plant fiber, they work very well, and then I can put them in the silverwear dryer of my dish rack (I hand wash dishes, no dishwasher) to dry out. It would be great if SG could make a product for scrubbing that is 100% natural fiber. I would certainly buy it!
LorJean picture
I don't use sponges - too many germs accumulate in them. I prefer to recycle old towels that I've cut into pieces for kitchen clean up. I use and re-use these every day. I use separate kitchen towel and dishcloth to actually handle the dishes.
jbasak picture
if you use a sponge, it's important to wet the sponge and put in the microwave for 2 minutes to kill all the bacteria and germs before using it.
rhiamom picture
Sponges are just too bacteria-laden for me. I use a clean dishcloth every day, and a clean floursack dishtowel. I have lots of both, and launder them separately from the rest of my laundry. I use recycled paper towels for small spills. Most of my dishes get washed in the dishwasher, so the dishcloth is mostly used for wiping counters.
meaghanmcb picture
I have some old hand-me-down dishcloths with a "scrubber" backing that I use on casserole dishes, but it's one-time use and into the washing machine. I always purchased white towels for use in the bathroom because my acne medication bleached them, and its turned into a useful habit! Raggedy towels become winter rugs in the laundry room or cut to size for my Clorox mop; white t-shirts become counter rags; white socks are used for dusting. I can always throw everything into the hot wash together and because of the FABRIC I know what its used for. My husband insists on having (recycled) paper towels in the house, but I prefer rags.
organicglenn picture
I've made my own 5%(1Tbl/gal or something like that) bleach solution, which is what food service/commercial kitchens use, that I keep in a WELL marked bottle. I'll soak a sponge and use it to wipe the counters and cutting board, which should kill the bacteria in the sponge and on the surfaces.
carolgib picture
Carol I, too, used to use sponges- one for the countertop, one for cleaning the sink and a dishcloth for washing dishes. I also used to put the sponge in the Dishwasher. Then, I read more about how the sponge in the DW would just spread the bacteria and dirt among the dishes as it washed out of the sponge, so I tried the Microwave. I read then that even that did not get the bacteria out, that it was best to use a fresh cloth each time and then launder in hot water and dry on high heat. So, I bought a big package of dishcloths. I think it is a good idea to rinse them in hot water first, then launder. I do like shabbypink's idea of the flannel sheet - one can get a lot more cloths inexpensively that way and either use them in the garage or clean windows once they get badly stained or just chuck them.
michelelyl picture
To do the dishes by hand. I use a fresh sponge for each batch. I've gotten some great environmentally friendly workhorse sponges at Eco-Mart in town. Then, they get tossed in the laundry with towels or dark clothes. I also don't use any paper towels- I save older, ragged kitchen towels, or cut up old bath towels, or old ragged facecloths to do all the cleaning. Then, they too go into the laundry- usually on the sanitize feature on my HE washer. Line dry is easy in the spring and summer. I won't even touch a sponge at anyone else's house or at the office...they are usually stinky and disgusting. I know how I care for mine at home, but others are very questionable.
SandraP picture
We recently switched from using a sponge to clean our dishes, glasses and flatware before putting them in the dishwasher. Now we use the original spaghetti scrub. It is environmentally friendly, lasts much longer than any sponge and dries fast. It cuts down on the use of dish soap too!
kdlouise picture
I avoid sponges not only because they carry bacteria, but many garden variety brands emit a strong odor when first used. I have assumed this is a chemical used in the manufacturing process. There is always a basket of freshly laundered cotton dish clothes on my kitchen counter. I use several throughout the course of the day for washing dishes, wiping up spills, cleaning countertops, etc., but I never "cross contaminate". I rinse them in hot water before laundering them in warm water and drying them. Once they are too gray for household use, they make their way to the garage for washing the car, as clean up rags, etc. Microfiber clothes are great for dusting, washing windows, and general cleaning. They too launder nicely and last for years. It really grosses me out when I visit homes that appear spotless, but have a sponge in the sink that looks like it has been in use for months.
shabbypink123 picture
Personally the thought of all the bacteria that festers inside of a sponge just grosses me out. I prefer to use my own 100% organic cotton hand crocheted dishcloths. I grab a clean one every morning unless I've washed some really messy dishes then I will change as necessary. For my countertops, I use cotton flannel cloths that I cut from a full size sheet, that I bought at the salvation army for 50 cents. You can get ALOT of 10x10 inch squares this way. I use them along with my Seventh Generation disinfecting Multi-Surface cleaner. When I'm nearly out of clean cloths I wash them alone in hot water on the small load setting. I place them in the sun to dry.
karen82 picture
Martha Stewart changed my sponge-sanitizing habits. I, too, used to throw them in the dishwasher to sanitize them, but M.S. says you should instead put them in the clothes washer. Something about them needing the water to circulate through them in order to clean them (whereas they just stay soaked in the dishwasher).
emwinslow picture
I've never thought about any inherent dangers associated with wiping my counter down with the same cloth I wipe my countertops with, but maybe we wipe different appliances. Growing up we NEVER used a dishcloth, but my MIL converted me. I use those for dishes and wiping, barmop towels for drying, and cheesecloth towels for lint-free wiping. I keep paper towels on hand for some cases, but try not to use them too often.