Let’s talk dirty, shall we? If you don’t take care to properly clean and replace your kitchen sponges, you risk spreading bacteria around your cooking surfaces.

All kinds of nasty germs – salmonella, E. coli, listeria, and more – love the moist, porous surface of a dirty sponge. And it’s not just when wiping up meat juices – veggies can carry this bacteria too.

To avoid giving your dinner party guests food poisoning, follow the below rules of thumb:

1. Scrub a dub dub

With regular use, you should be cleaning your sponges every day or two (or right away after an especially dirty task). And by cleaning, we don’t just mean giving it a rinse in soapy water. Here are three methods to kill bacteria in sponges:

Bleach soak: soak your sponge in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water for a couple minutes. Then rinse the sponge in water, wring it out to get rid of excess solution, and air dry. This method is proven the most effective. To make it simpler, you can keep a jug of the mixed solution below your sink, and pour a little into a bowl every time your sponge needs sanitizing.

The dishwasher: drop your sponge into a heated dry cycle any time you think it needs a deep clean.

The microwave: Soak your sponge (not the kind with metallic scrub pads!) completely in water and microwave for 1-2 minutes. The heat from the microwave will boil the water and zap the sponge’s microbes. But be careful: unless it’s completely soaked, you run the risk of starting a fire in your microwave. If you go this route, make sure to let the hot sponge cool properly after zapping.

2. Air dry

Bacteria loves moisture, so make sure to store your sponge in a way that allows it to dry completely. Use a countertop sponge holder that lets in air from all sides so it can drain, or clip the sponge into a binder clip and stand it up by the sink. You can even store sponges in the dishwasher so they’re out of the way and ready to clean when you run a regular cycle.

3. When in doubt, throw it out

If you disinfect your sponge after each use, it should last about four to six weeks, at which point it will likely have reached the end of its lifespan. But if at any point, it’s starting to smell, disintegrate or get slimy, chuck it.

4. Prolong its life span

Aside from regular disinfecting and proper air-drying, you can get more out of your sponges by cutting them in half – the smaller size can help you reach tougher-to-clean areas.

When wiping up bacteria-laden juices from raw meats, give the sponge a break: use clean paper towels and throw them out immediately.

Head image: Simplehuman

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