Surfaces and Sponges

Reviewed by Wendy Marcason, RDN
sponge and spray bottle

Tips To Keep Kitchen Sponges, Towels, Cloths and Surfaces Safe

Handwashing may be rule No. 1 when it comes to keeping your family safe from food poisoning — but, if kitchen tools and surfaces aren't clean, too, they can spread germs just as easily as your hands.

According to a new survey conducted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the ConAgra Foods Foundation, dishcloths (64 percent) and sponges (47 percent) are the cleaning tools of choice for most Americans. Ensure that they are clean by following these tips:

Sanitize Your Sponges

When it comes to cleaning sponges, many of us (40 percent) just rinse them with water — a method not sufficient to remove harmful bacteria that may be lurking inside. Remember to pay close attention to what the sponge was used to wipe up. For instance, if it was a drip from raw meat, it's necessary to clean the sponge before using it a second time around. To keep sponges safe, make sure they are cleaned properly. Choose one of the following methods to keep them from contaminating the surfaces you are trying to clean:

  1. Let the machine do the washing. Wash your sponges frequently by throwing them in the HOT cycle of your washing machine or in the dishwasher.
  2. Microwave. Sanitize sponges by heating them in the microwave for one minute. The USDA reports that this method kills over 99 percent of bacteria.

Know When To Call It Quits

Nearly one in four of us (21 percent) keep sponges until they look dirty or smell bad, while 17 percent wait until sponges fall apart before throwing them out. Another 18 percent say they typically keep their kitchen sponges for three to four weeks, while a few (8 percent) keep them a month or longer. A damp, smelly dish towel/cloth or sponge is a sure sign that unsafe bacteria are inside. Replace worn sponges frequently — don't wait until they're falling apart to get a new one.

Start a New Cycle

While the majority of us (61 percent) clean our dish towels and cloths in the washing machine — make sure you are selecting the proper cycle. Bacteria live and grow in damp, warm conditions, so wash dishtowels and dishcloths frequently in the HOT cycle of your washing machine and dry thoroughly on a high setting.


Try using separate dish towels/cloths for different tasks: one for drying clean hands and one for wiping off the counter. Different colored towels can help keep them straight, i.e., blue for hands, green for the counter. Also remember to frequently clean all kitchen surfaces, including appliances, counter tops, refrigerator doors and handles with hot, soapy water.

Download: The Kitchen Sponge Safety Guide.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics/ConAgra Foods Foundation survey conducted by Impulse Research, July 2004.

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