Published on May 21, 2019

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Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

There you are, dutifully scrubbing away at your dirty dishes in the sink. But your conscientious cleanup efforts turn unjust when you discover your kitchen sponge has a dirty secret—emphasis on dirty. The supposed beacon of cleanliness is not only absorbing soap and water, it’s also probably harboring millions to billions of bacteria. Forty-five billion microbes per square centimeter to be specific, states a study published in Scientific Reports.

That’s bad, right? Well, it gets worse, because there really is no way to completely rid yourself of the bacteria that has made your sponge home. However, there are a handful of hacks and best practices to employ to keep the budding germs at bay.

First things first: Meat and sponges do not mix. “If you’re dealing with raw juices from meat or poultry, you should be using paper that can be disposed of,” food microbiologist Jennifer Quinlan previously told NPR.

Second, clean your sponge often, ideally every few days. You can either microwave it or, if you’re blessed to have a dishwasher, run it on the longest and hottest setting. Microwaving isn’t a perfect solution, but it will kill a portion of the bacteria. Make sure it doesn’t contain any metal or a plastic scouring pad. Get the sponge wet (it might catch on fire if dry) and put it in there for a minute, watching it carefully. Let it cool for 10 to 15 minutes before grabbing it. You can also soak the sponge in a diluted bleach bath for a minute or two: Mix 3/4 cup bleach with a gallon of water, then submerge it in the mixture for five minutes.

The third option, sorry to say, is to throw it away—often. Sponges are only meant to stick around for one to two weeks before replacing. If it starts to take on an off smell (that’s the bacteria throwing an impromptu celebratory party on your sponge), toss it before then.

If you’re reconsidering your current sink-side option or just need a new sponge ASAP, we found 11 that are (dare we say) chic. From cats to a “scrub daddy,” it might even be fun to clean the dishes now (emphasis on might). 

The Eco-Friendly Version

The walnut-based scrubber and vegetable-cellulose duo is an eco-friendly alternative to traditional toxin-laden options. Plus, this Public Goods version is an exercise in chic simplicity.

The Japanese Minimalist One

Don’t want a sponge that’s dull or boring? Try this Japanese-made option. The cerulean shade is made of a special rubber that doesn’t deteriorate easily and utilizes soap better so you won’t need as much to clean tonight’s dishes.

The Color-Blocked Version

If every moment in your home is an opportunity to add a dose of color, do not sleep on these color-blocked cuties. One of these won’t last for weeks on end, but it’ll be a good excuse to change it out often.

The Scrubbing One

Why use any old thing to scrub your delicate dishes when you can use a brush handmade in Sweden by visually impaired artisans? Plus, it will look shabby chic perched next to the sink.

The French, Delicate One

If you aren’t holding a French pebble-shaped sponge while gently washing your crystal, are you even living life to the fullest? For we plebeians, the cushy, soft sponge is a moment of luxe, even when just washing our beloved CB2 plates.

The Sparkly Version

If no amount of glitter is too much glitter, then grab these (well-priced) options, which bring a dose of glamour and color to an arduous task. The textured sparkly surface makes for an effective abrasion, but it’s still gentle enough for porcelain.

If You Need One Right Meow

If your landlord doesn’t allow cats, grab a kitty sponge in protest. (Rebellion!) These cuties from our Danish fave, Hay, will be beloved even by the professed cat haters out there.

The Scurvy Version

Does Mom keep checking in to make sure you eat enough fruits and veggies? Get a nightly reminder by holding either a papaya, orange, or strawberry in hand while doing the dishes.

The Copper One

If you need a bit more abrasion but don’t want a tough scrub brush, grab one of these French-made copper sponges. Just don’t microwave it to kill off germs.

If You’re Short on Space

Love the texture of those thick, soft sponges but don’t have a lot of space? Williams Sonoma has got your back, thanks to these pop-up options, which will spring to life when they hit the water. Until then, they can be stacked up under the sink, even in the snuggest of nooks.

If Your Favorite Slack Emoji Is “Simple Smile”

The only scrub we want is a Scrub Daddy. Nothing brings this guy’s smile down, even when laboriously removing the most stubborn debris from your Dutch oven. He’s made with a special material that dries fast, too, so it won’t gather bacteria as quickly.

Keep it clean: 
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How to Spring-Clean Your Whole Home in 6 Days
5 Obscure Areas in Your Home You’re Probably Forgetting to Clean