Should You Microwave a Sponge? Science Knows!

It’s time to start asking the real questions: Have you ever microwaved a sponge? We’re serious – some of the best microwave ovens in the world are being used to cook sponges instead of food, with the understanding that this kills bacteria in the sponge and makes it safer to use. Because we’re excited about microwave tech and have never seen a sponge setting on even the most advanced microwave models, we decided to look into this practice.

It turns out experts from the University of Furtwangen in Germany were also curious: they analyzed the bacterial content of household sponges, and what really happens when they get microwaved (besides heating up). Let’s make a list of their most important findings – all of you cooks and kitchen dwellers, take notice:

  • Sponges are really, really dirty: This isn’t surprising, but you may not know just how dirty they can get. Around 82 billion live in a cubic inch of the average house sponge, with hundreds of different bacteria species living together. That’s roughly the same density of bacteria that is found in human stool…so you can see why getting your sponge clean is a priority. Oh, and you know that nasty sponge smell that develops? That’s a sign that a lot of busy bacteria are creating fatty waste deposits that build up and start to smell.
  • Microwaving a sponge will kill some of the bacteria: Yup, bacteria doesn’t like being microwaved. A good round of microwaving will kill off a lot of those bacteria.
  • However, the strongest bacteria are left: Some strains can survive high temperatures, and they tend to come back madder than ever. Indeed, microwaving a sponge (like using hand sanitizer) is a way to weed out weak bacteria and make sure that only the strong survives – and since we’re talking about bacteria, that’s really not a good thing. Plus, your microwave will get dirtier.
  • There’s no good way to clean a dirty sponge: The microwave trick isn’t particularly effective, and most other methods of cleaning a sponge ensure it stays warm and moist, perfect for future bacteria growth. That doesn’t leave you with many options. The bottom line is that when a sponge gets dirty, it’s time to throw it away and buy a new version.

So, in summary, while you can microwave a sponge, and clean your microwave using one, it’s not very helpful for the sponge or the microwave. There’s no sponge button for good reason – microwaves have a tough time killing the hardiest bacteria, and only encourage their future growth. If your sponge is starting to smell, throw it out instead.

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