A sponge is essential for helping to clean dirty dishes and countertops—but knowing how to clean a sponge so you aren't smearing bacteria around your kitchen is even more important for maintaining a hygienic and germ-free space.
The sponge itself can become one of the dirtiest parts of your kitchen—and many of us don't know the proper way to clean one. A kitchen sponge is absorbent and moist, meaning it easily accumulates germs and bacteria, and these can pose various risks, including the spread of foodborne illnesses such as salmonella and E. Coli.
While giving the sponge a quick rinse under running water after you use it can help to remove the soapy lather, and bigger bits of food, it doesn't get rid of the microscopic germs inside the sponge.
How often should you clean your kitchen sponge?
Your kitchen sponge accumulates germs and bacteria every time you clean the dishes or wipe the counter as part of your cleaning routine.
- Daily—sanitize your sponge by rinsing out and spraying with disinfectant.
- Weekly—give it a deep clean with one of the below methods between one and three times per week.
How to clean a sponge—three easy methods
So, what is the best way to clean a sponge to ensure that it is properly sanitized and ready for use when cleaning your kitchen again?
Plain water and dish soap are not effective enough against the bacteria in your kitchen sponge. However, heat, bleach, disinfectant, and detergents kill even some of the most resilient germs—so the methods below for how to clean a sponge make good use of these.
1. Use bleach or disinfectant
Bleach is a kitchen essential, and one of the most important cleaning products for a spotless home, as it is effective against most germs and bacteria. It is also a fast and easy way of cleaning a kitchen sponge, and so it's recommended as a regular cleaning method. Do this once a week to keep your sponge hygienic.
- Clean and rinse the sink before filling it with a gallon of clean water. See our guide about how to clean a stainless steel sink for tips.
- Add three-quarters of a cup of bleach to the water and stir thoroughly to ensure it spreads evenly. Wear gloves whilst doing this, and be careful not to get any bleach on your skin or any other area of your kitchen.
- Soak the sponge in the solution and leave it to settle for at least five minutes. It is advisable to squeeze the sponge repeatedly after soaking it in the bleach solution. Soaking will enable bleach to seep deep inside the sponge, killing the germs.
- Remove the sponge from the bleach and rinse well under running water. Be thorough when rinsing the sponge, as bleach residue can be transferred to utensils and food prep surfaces.
Bleach is a very effective sanitizer but always use it with caution. Avoid prolonged exposure to skin and keep away from the eyes.
2. Cleaning in the dishwasher
You clean your dishes in the dishwasher, so why not clean the sponge in it, too? The dishwasher combines all of the elements required for thorough cleaning: heat, detergents, plus soaking and tossing. What's more, it requires minimum effort on your part.
- Set the dishwasher to the hottest setting, preferably 1400F (600C).
- Add a bleach-based detergent and leave it to mix for about one minute.
- Toss the sponge in the dishwasher and leave it to clean for about five minutes.
- Take it out and rinse it thoroughly under cool running water.
You might be tempted to throw the sponge in with your crockery and utensils when using the dishwasher, in a bid to save time or conserve water. However, this is not entirely effective, as the dishes may get in the way. It's best to ensure that the sponge goes in alone and that you use sufficient amounts of water and detergent.
And if you're dishwasher is in need of a clean before you begin or after a heavy load, see our guide for how to clean a dishwasher
3. Disinfect with vinegar
It might sound odd, but disinfecting your kitchen sponge in vinegar is another easy, home remedy for cleaning it that will take just five minutes. White distilled vinegar is the best option for cleaning, but any vinegar will work, as all of them are known to have anti-bacterial properties.
- Fill up a jug or bowl with plenty of vinegar—enough to cover the entire sponge.
- Pop the (dry) sponge in, and soak it into the vinegar.
- Leave to stand for 5-10 minutes.
- After this, take the sponge out and drain the vinegar from it.
- Give it a thorough rinse under cold water to get rid of any lingering vinegar.
- Leave it to dry.
The dos and don'ts when cleaning sponges
Cleaning your sponge is simple, and a good way to keep away germs and bacteria in the kitchen. But there are also a few helpful things to note about your sponge to ensure you are keeping the environment as sanitary as possible.
- Replace the sponge often—it is advisable to replace the kitchen sponge at least once every two weeks, or when you observe that it is too dirty to clean items efficiently.
- Know when to throw it—similarly, if your sponge starts to smell then it's contaminated and should be thrown away. This may happen in the middle of your two-week usage.
- Keep it away from food—to shield your sponge from any further contamination or food debris, make sure it is stored away from foods you are preparing, or cooking.
- Use a different sponge for dishes and surfaces—it's a good idea to use a different kitchen sponge for cleaning your dishes, and a different one for wiping down and sanitizing your surfaces. That way, you won't be smearing any potential food debris from your dishes onto countertops that you want to get clean.
And when it comes to hygiene in the rest of your kitchen, you might also want to look at our guides on how to clean a fridge, how to clean a stovetop, and how to clean garbage disposal units, for a sparkling kitchen all around.
Amy Hunt is an experienced digital journalist specialising in homes, interiors and hobbies. She began her career working as the features assistant at woman&home magazine, before moving over to the digital side of the brand where she eventually became the Lifestyle Editor up until January 2022. Amy won the Digital Journalist of the Year award at the AOP Awards in 2019 for her work on womanandhome.com.