- Rule #1: Choose your sponges carefully. Many are made from polyester, polyurethane, and/or other non-renewable, non-biodegradable petroleum-based materials. They're also increasingly treated with conventional antibacterial chemicals. A better option are sponges made from renewable, biodegradable cellulose, which will last longer, absorb more, and work harder. You can find untreated, natural cellulose sponges at almost any natural food store.
- Rule #2: Practice safe sponging. I keep two different sponges, and never the twain shall meet: One is exclusively for counters and the other is only used on dishes. I clip a corner of the counter sponge to distinguish it. I also don't use my kitchen sponge to clean up after meat preparation, on the floor, or anywhere else I think bacteria might lurk. Meat zones and other suspect areas get treated with Seventh Generation's new disinfecting cleaner and recycled paper towels. Messes on the floor get another paper towel or two.
- Rule #3: A sponge can't clean unless it is too. According to a 2008 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) study, which looked at everything from soaking sponges in lemon juice to treating them with chlorine, only three techniques effectively sanitize sponges: Wash them in the dishwasher or microwave them on high for 60 seconds. The third choice is to boil them, but that's not very energy efficient. These tactics should kill 99.99 of any bacteria present. Everything else, according to the USDA, is snake oil. Between sanitizings, keep your sponges high and dry. Wring them out after each use, and store them in a dry place. I found a cool little wire basket at the hardware store that suction-cups to the side of the sink and lets air circulate around my sponges so they dry faster.
Follow these rules of safe sponging, and that's one more common toxic hot spot you won't have in your own home. Because really...who wants to make a new mess while cleaning up an old one? photo: blmurch
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!