Sponges and Scrubbing Pads: Your Secret Weapon for Disinfecting

You’ll be a bit horrified to read here in an excerpt from 4 Weeks to Maximum Immunity about the pathogens found on sponges and scrubbing pads. Who knew they could be so contaminated? Although I don’t use microwaves for heating food (and I won’t until someone can prove to me that microwaves don’t kill food enzymes), I can see following these directions for using microwaves for disinfecting kitchen cleaning utensils.

Even the cleanest-looking kitchen can be crawling with nasty germs such as E. coli and salmonella. It’s easy to unwittingly spread these pathogens by using the same sponges and dishcloths to wipe down counters, stove tops, tabletops, and other surfaces. Because sponges and dishcloths contain the two essential elements to sustain microbial life–water and nutrients–they’re ideal habitats for viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms.

You can disinfect dishcloths by regularly laundering them with hot water. But what can you do about sponges and plastic scrubbers?

To find out, researchers from the University of Florida in Gainesville conducted a novel experiment, the results of which were published in a 2006 issue of the Journal of Environmental Health. The researchers soaked sponges and scrubbing pads in a raw wastewater containing a witch’s brew of viruses, fecal bacteria, protozoan parasites, and bacterial spores, including one especially hard-to-kill spore: Bacillus cereus. Then they tested the ability of the common microwave oven to destroy these pathogens.

The results were unambiguous: Just two minutes of microwaving damp sponges and scrubbing pads at full power was enough to inactivate more than 99 percent of the pathogens. But 4 minutes of microwaving was required to inactivate Bacilus cereus, which is similar to the protozoan cysts and oocysts that cause giardiasis, a common gastrointestinal infection.

“People often put their sponges and scrubbers in the dishwasher, but if they really want to decontaminate them and not just clean them, they should use the microwave,” says lead researcher Gabriel Bitton, Ph.D. “The microwave is a very powerful and inexpensive tool for sterilization.” He recommends microwaving sponges according to how often you cook, with every other day being a good rule of thumb.

After the study was published, some consumers complained that microwaving caused sponges and scrubbers to catch fire, which ruined their microwave ovens and stunk up their homes for several hours. As it turned out, the consumers had nuked sponges and scrubbers when they were dry. This prompted the University of Florida to issue the following advisory: “To guard against the risk of fire, people who wish to sterilize their sponges at home must ensure (that) the sponge is completely wet. Two minutes of microwaving is sufficient for most sterilization. Sponges should have no metallic content.”

Adapted from 4 Weeks to Maximum Immunity, by the editors of Prevention (Rodale, 2008).


S Gardner
sandy Gardner2 years ago

I like to spray vinegar all over the sink to disinfect it. But I don't like the smell. Any suggestions?

Alex P.
Alex P.3 years ago

Before you zap your sponges in the microwave, researchers offer the following advice:

Microwave only sponges or plastic scrubbers that do not contain steel or other metals.
Make sure the sponge or scrubber is wet, not dry.
Two minutes should be enough to kill most disease-causing germs.
Be careful in removing the sponge from the microwave because it will be hot and should not be handled immediately after zapping.

Greets !
Putney Carpet Cleaners Ltd.

Lis T.
Elisabeth T4 years ago

Good info, thanks for sharing.

Ganaisha Calvin
Ganaisha Calvin5 years ago

great info! thanks for sharing!

Jason Niederhauser

Have no fear: microwaves don't "kill" food enzymes. I am 100% certain of this because that statement itself is a non-sequitur. Enzymes are not living creatures, they are a type of protein. I struggle to understand what that statement is even supposed to mean, or where you may have heard it.

James Maynard
James Maynard5 years ago

Interesting info - Thanks!

Joanne S.
Jo S5 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Joy Wong
Joy W6 years ago


Nicolas Bourel
Nicolas Bourel6 years ago


Winn Adams
Winn A6 years ago