Kitchen Sponge Smells? How to Get Rid of Odors & Germs

If your kitchen sponge smells, you’re certainly not alone. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve stood over the sink and smelled the classically offensive bad odor emitting from a sponge.

Have you ever been aware that your kitchen sponge smells, but you don’t have a replacement so you continue using it? No need to lie, it happens to all of us. It’s not uncommon to wait up to 2 weeks after noticing your kitchen sponge smells or looks gross to change it. It’s not intentional, of course. You have every intention of buying a replacement, but for some reason, it’s easier to remember chocolate and cream cheese than cleaning supplies.

Easy to forget? Sure. Nasty? 100% absolutely. That nasty smell, it represents colonies of bacteria feasting off your leftovers and polluting your dishes and sink, as well as your hands every time you touch it.

Why Does Your Kitchen Sponge Smell So Bad?

Bacteria are living things, and like most living things, they come with their own distinct scents. Pair moisture with all the food particles a sponge comes in contact with and you’ve got the ideal recipe for a bacteria farm.  Researchers have found sponges to contain bacteria, yeast, salmonella, mold and E. coli too. Different classes of bacteria have their own unique smells. Those most prevalent on a kitten sponge tend to produce a moldy, stale smell–as you’ve likely noticed. In part because when mold decomposes food it gives off a musky scent reminiscent of an old basement.

How Often Should I Disinfect My Kitchen Sponge?

In a perfect world, you’d disinfect your kitchen sponge on a daily basis. But, in the real world, you should at least try to clean your sponge every time you use it to clean something that could make you sick, like raw meat or moldy Tupperware. Even if you change your sponge once every 2 weeks, it’s still important to sanitize your sponge every few days.

How to Get Germs off a Kitchen Sponge

There are several popular methods used to disinfect kitchen sponges:

  • Microwave
  • Dishwasher
  • Soak in lemon, vinegar, or bleach

But, do any of these methods really work?

In part, it depends on the bacteria present on the sponge. To further complicate matters, there are some conflicting reports. Scientists from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Beltsville, MD found that microwaving a sponge can kill 99.99999% of bacteria. Although, microbiologists in Germany found that microwaving sponges eliminated just 60% of microbes at best. “Presumably, resistant bacteria survive the sanitation process and rapidly re–colonize the released niches until reaching a similar abundance as before the treatment,” the microbiologists explained in their report.

ARS researchers noted 99.9998% of bacteria were eliminated in the dishwasher. As for soaking sponges in a mix of 10% bleach with 90% lemon juice or deionized water, anywhere from 93.3% to 37% of yeasts and molds were eradicated.

After taking all the evidence into consideration, your best bet to disinfect a kitchen sponge is in the microwave or dishwasher (with a drying cycle).

What About a Smelly Kitchen Sponge?

If your sponge smells, we recommend changing it. If you can smell your sponge a few inches away from your face, it’s time to get rid of it. You should really change out your sponge before it starts to smell.

In the meantime, lemon and vinegar are your friends. Pour vinegar over your sponge and let it sit for 20 seconds or so before putting it in the microwave. This helps kill more bacteria, and it may also help with the smell.

You could also squeeze lemon juices over your sponge before putting it in the microwave. For bonus cleaning points, grind lemon peels in the sink disposal to freshen the air around your sink. The acidic quality of lemons kills some bacteria, mold and germs, plus its fragrant scent helps mask nasty odors. The key word here is MASK, it won’t eradicate all mold or germs by any means.

The Best Way to Get Germs Off a Kitchen Sponge? Change It!

The best solution to combat kitchen sponge smells? Researchers recommend changing your sponge regularly. Some researchers say to change it as much as once a week, while others recommend changing it every few weeks. Microwaving or dishwashing your sponge isn’t a bad thing, it just doesn’t replace the need to change it on a regular basis.

After all, cleaning your sponge isn’t the end-all solution to avoid nasty bacteria. Researchers have found sanitized sponges still contain bacteria, namely Moraxella and Chryseobacterium, which can both cause disease.

Now there’s just one problem left to solve… how do you remember to buy a new brush or sponge at the store every time you need it?

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