Why you shouldnt use a sponge to do your washing up – billions of bacteria

Tiktok user inspects sink bacteria with microscope

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Handwashing dishes remains relatively popular among Britons, as most British households still take their plates and cutlery to the kitchen sink. Approximately 51 percent of people do not own a dishwasher, leaving them to scrub off their kitchen items by hand, usually with a sponge. Scientists have warned these tools aren’t as effective as they may appear, no matter how shiny they make those knives and forks.

Earlier this week, Trond Møretrø, a scientist at the Norwegian food research institute, said they harbour bacteria.

Kitchen pathogens like salmonella and its relatives often favour sponges for their reliably damp surface.

While people can squeeze out most of the liquid absorbed by them, sponges almost always remain partially damp.

Ultimately, while this won’t always make people sick, it could facilitate the spread of bacteria like salmonella.

Mr Møretrø said a lone sponge could harbour “a higher number of bacteria than there are people on Earth”.

Those bacteria thrive on dampness and propagate as they subsist on food residue.

The researcher added even cleaning them doesn’t remove the legions of bacteria.

The only reliable way to clean without redistributing these bacteria is by replacing the sponges almost daily, a costly move both for household incomes and the environment.

Mr Møretrø’s warning is backed up by a 2017 study by German researchers at the Institute of Precision Medicine (IPM) and Institute of Applied Microbiology.

They found sponges harboured 362 different types of bacteria, with 45 billion inhabiting each square centimetre of a sponge.

The results surprised even the researchers, who said their discovery was “one to two orders of magnitude more than we initially expected to find”.

People concerned about their sponges aren’t without recourse, as there are other, cleaner ways to wash the dishes by hand.

What should you use instead of a sponge?

Reducing kitchen bacteria build-up means finding cleaning implements that dry quickly and don’t cling to food.

Brushes made with plastic or silicone fill those requirements, according to housekeeping experts.

They usually stay drier after use and have fewer crevices where bacteria can build a home.

Carolyn Forte, director of the Good Housekeeping Institute’s home appliances and cleaning products lab, told TIME they are easier to clean.

She said people can stand the brushes up or “put them in a caddy where they are likely to dry out”.

Anything stuck to a brush is easier to clean off, as water is more effective at rinsing less absorbent surfaces.

When it comes to cleaning, all they need is a quick soak in white vinegar and dish soap once a week.

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