Many people do their best to keep their homes clean and free from nasty bacteria. However, despite our best efforts, our homes are never completely clean.
While you definitely get an A+ for putting in some good old elbow grease, it’s not your lack of effort that is to blame. Did you know that your cleaning tools are actually the culprits for harboring illness-causing bacteria? That’s right, the items designed to keep your home clean are actually the ones at fault. Oh, the horror! Let’s dive into the importance of keeping your cleaning tools bacteria-free; in particular your dishcloths, brushes, and sponges.
Conditions for Bacterial Growth
Bacteria are like ninjas, hiding in plain sight. You may think you got rid of them, but they are always there. They are excellent at adapting to various environments and thrive in many types of conditions; some more than others. In order to reduce your risk for food poisoning or bacterial infections, understanding the optimal conditions for bacterial growth is of the utmost importance.
- Warm Temperatures
Bacteria thrive in warm temperatures growing fastest in temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (5 to 60 degrees Celsius). Quite a wide range and some bacteria can still survive on either side of those temperatures.
Bacteria require water to grow and will die without it. Unfortunately, your dishcloths, brushes, and sponges are often moist after being used to clean and wipe various items; thereby providing a haven for bacteria to flourish.
Oxygen-rich environments are ideal for most disease-causing bacteria to grow. However, it should be noted that other bacteria thrive in oxygen-deficient environments, such as the bacteria that cause botulism.
- Acid vs. Alkaline Environments
Most bacteria prefer environments with a pH level that is close to neutral. However, in true bacteria style, there are some that can survive in environments that are more acidic or alkaline in nature.
How to Keep Your Cleaning Tools Bacteria-Free
As you can see, most bacteria thrive in environments that are moist, warm and oxygenated. Your dishcloths, brushes, and sponges all provide such environments. When you use these tools to clean or wipe other items, cross-contamination occurs, allowing the bacteria to spread and eventually be consumed by unsuspecting people. In order to really keep your home clean and germ-free, it is important to not only clean it but to clean your cleaning tools as well. Here’s how:
- How to Clean Your Dishcloths
Warm, moist dishcloths are bacteria heaven. In order to get them clean and bacteria-free, toss them in the washing machine with a cleaning agent that contains bleach. The washing machine should be set to at least 140 degrees. Then leave it out to dry completely. This temperature setting and the alkaline bleach will help get rid of nasty bacteria. The drying process also can also kill up to 99% of bacteria. Other tips include:
- Purchase dishcloths that dry quickly such as thin, microfiber or bamboo cloths; not thick cotton ones.
- Use paper towels or wipes instead, especially when cleaning up meat and poultry juices, and other food spills.
- Wash your dishcloths every other day
- Replace your dishcloths every month
- Keeping Your Brushes Clean
If you had to choose between dishcloths, brushes, and sponges, choose brushes as they are the most hygienic of the three. They are relatively easy to clean and dry quickly. Understandably, though, they can be awkward to use on certain items such as wine glasses – in which case you would have to use something else.
The easiest way to clean a brush is to put it on the top rack of the dishwasher with the bristles facing up, run it through a cycle and let it dry. Alternatively, make a solution using white vinegar and a drop of dish soap. Soak the brush in the solution for at least an hour, and then hang it out to dry or put it on a clean dishcloth to dry. Don’t forget to remove any huge chunks of food and dirt beforehand – you can use a fork to dislodge any stubborn bits.
- How to Clean Your Sponges
Sponges are said to be the worst of the three tools when it comes to harboring bacteria. They tend to stay moist and have so many nooks and crannies for bacteria to make themselves at home. Sponges must be cleaned thoroughly. You can throw them in the dishwasher to kill bacteria, or you can use the microwave instead. Here’s how:
- Rinse the sponge
- Ensure that it is clean and has no metal fragments on it
- Make sure the sponge is wet before placing it in the microwave because dry sponges are a fire hazard
- Handle it with care: Allow the sponge to cool before taking it out of the microwave
Assuming you use your sponge every day, it should be replaced at least once a month. However, some researchers came to the conclusion that sponges are so ideal for bacterial growth that even the microwave trick does not work and that sponges should be cleaned in bleach every three days and tossed out every week. Thankfully, sponges are generally low-cost, so this hopefully won’t hurt your pockets too much.
Keeping Your Cleaning Tools Bacteria-Free: It’s for Your Own Good
Cleanliness is next to godliness – or so the saying goes. And while we aspire to be as clean as possible, we hardly ever think to clean the very items that are designed to keep our homes clean – at least not as often as we should. However, in order to keep our families safe and healthy, perhaps it’s time to cut our losses and clean and replace them as often as is suggested. Alternatively, use dishcloths, brushes, and sponges in other areas of the home (not the kitchen) where bacteria won’t cause too much of a problem; on gardening equipment or for cleaning floors, for example. As long as they are not used on the items you eat with, there’s less of a chance for infections and other illnesses.