Microwaving Sponges Kills 99% Of Pathogens

Popping a dirty sponge in the microwave for two minutes will kill 99% of its pathogens, says a new study in the Journal of Environmental Health.

Professor Gabriel Bitton said it was the heat that killed the buggers, rather than radiation. Microwaves work by exciting water molecules.

The professor advised to use slightly moist, not dry, sponges to minimize risk of fire.

Don’t microwave metal scrubbing pads either, or you’ll have an exciting science experiment. — BEN POPKEN

Microwave ovens sterilise sponges [BBC via BoingBoing]

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  1. RumorsDaily says:

    Eh, I just tried putting one of those yellow-green sponges in there. After a minute it smelled awful and was emitting a thin plume of smoke, so I turned it off. I think the green stuff started to melt.

    Admittedly, my sponge was dry.

    So, if you don’t mind your bacteria free house being smelly, go ahead.

  2. TheUpMyAssPlayers says:

    Ooooo cool beans. I forgot about this trick. Forgot if it kills the “this is so filled with e-coli” smell though.

  3. Hawkins says:

    Sponges are disgusting, microbiologically speaking. Microwaving them sounds like a good idea.

    But not nearly as much fun as microwaving steel wool. And the ball lightning that you get if you do it right will certainly kill germs on contact.

    See http://amasci.com/tesla/bigball3.html

  4. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    I wonder what would happen if you microwaved Sponge Bob…

  5. Ben Popken says:

    I think this only works on pure sponges, not combo scrub/sponges. Those have got plastic or metal in em.

  6. Ben Popken says:

    You could also boil your sponge.

  7. acambras says:

    I’ve run sponges through the dishwasher before with good results. I don’t know if this sterilizes them as well as microwaving or boiling, but it seems to work pretty well.

  8. orielbean says:

    Why is she wearing headphones while microwaving? Maybe she is trying to microwave her Sexy Back cd to make it sound better

  9. Sudonum says:

    My wife runs sponges through the dishwasher all the time. I don’t notice much difference. They seem to soak up a lot of water and never really get hot enough to kill the germs. I usually hit em with a little bleach. Don’t soak them or the bleach will eat the sponge.

  10. kerry says:

    The water is a lot of what does the killing, as the rapid movement of water molecules will break apart cell membranes and kill fungi and bacteria. Dry sponges won’t have enough water in them to kill much of anything. That said, I don’t think it’s a good idea to use a sopping wet sponge, either. Get sponge wet, squeeze out, stick it in the microwave. All clean.
    It does smell a little weird, though. Maybe squeeze a lemon on there to freshen things up a bit?

  11. homerjay says:

    Go Fightin’ 1%! Evolve! Evolve! You’ll kill us all!

  12. kcskater says:

    Vanilla extract is very nice too. My wife does a steam clean of the microwave once a month with a bowl of water and an 1/8t of vanilla extract.

    The sponge trick is once a week with either lemon juice or vanilla. Both are nice smelling.

  13. The dishwasher is great for folks with no microwave ovens.

  14. Alex says:

    Wouldn’t a better solution be to throw it away and buy a new one. They’re like $0.50 cents each and guaranteed to be 99% bacteria free.

  15. CanuckGreg says:


    After I finish washing the dishes, I give the dish cloth a 2 minute zapping on high. It seems to significantly retard the funkification process.

  16. Ben Popken says:

    Prof Britton says microwave decontaminates while dishwashers merely clean:

    “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”

  17. Gripchimp says:
  18. acambras says:

    Oops, I guess I should have RTFA.

  19. any such name says:

    you shouldn’t run a sponge through the dishwasher either as little pieces of it can break off and clog up your dishwasher.
    microwaving is the way to go.

  20. synergy says:

    I think usually the smell in sponges isn’t from E.coli, but from mold.

    This idea’s been around for years. I nuke my wet bath sponge every now and then to keep it clean.

    Even if a sponge is only 50 cents, if it’s not falling apart it’s more environment friendly to not fill up the landfill with moldy sponges when you can just nuke the one you have.

  21. crayonshinobi says:

    The dishwasher is great for folks with no microwave ovens.

    Not to be mean, but are there people with dishwashers and no microwave ovens? I mean, dishwashers are far more expensive than a microwave…

  22. pdxguy says:

    The babe in the picture is hot!

  23. Alex says:

    Ok, spend $1 and buy an organic one which you know will break down to spongy dust in a year.

    I can see this being a little more applicable with dish/wash rags, which are not as “disposable” as sponges.

  24. Hoss says:

    now i got an urge to put a dry sponge in the microwave

  25. JeffreyK says:

    I tried microwaving my underwear. It just made my figs hot.

    Maybe I should have taken them off first.

  26. Dustbunny says:

    I’ve been putting sponges in the dishwasher, but I’ll do the micowave thingie from now on, since I’m a tad germaphobic. (I haven’t reached the Howard Hughes stage yet, but no doubt that’ll come when I’m in my dotage ;-)

  27. Well Jeffrey at least no worries on the unwanted pregnancy front.
    I thought you had to throw them away, sponges, when they smelled, but now I’m looking at the MW in a whole new light. I’ll just go get my headphones…

  28. magic8ball says:

    For my money the most interesting thing in the article was the fact that Britain has a Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. How can I get a job with an outfit like that? I imagine them heroically rushing around, preventing people from microwaving dishcloths or dry sponges.

  29. mellie3 says:

    “Not to be mean, but are there people with dishwashers and no microwave ovens? I mean, dishwashers are far more expensive than a microwave…”

    Well, heck, I’ll offer myself as an example. It’s not a cost thing – I just don’t like microwaves. But the dishwasher? Ah, the dishwasher. A gift of the gods.

  30. Metschick says:

    You could also boil your sponge.

    Yeah, that’s what done in our house. Boil the sponge with the cloth that we use to wipe down the counter.

  31. brilliantmistake says:

    Not to be mean, but are there people with dishwashers and no microwave ovens? I mean, dishwashers are far more expensive than a microwave…

    Crayonshinobi, I’ve been in the situation where I had a dishwasher and not a microwave. The dishwasher just came with the apartment, so i didn’t pay for it. Since I lived alone, I rarely ran the thing, but it came in handy as a dishrack.

    Right now, I don’t have a dishwasher or a microwave (however, I do have five different ways to make coffee).

  32. TVarmy says:

    Homerjay, that’s an awesome way to describe the modern medical delima.

  33. faust1200 says:

    Microwaving sponges kills 99 percent of bacteria? Not using sponges would eliminate 100 percent! Sponges are ick icky gross!!!!!!!!!!!!! Kill a tree, use paper towels!

  34. Nygdan says:

    Consumerist should probably put an update in their blurb saying ‘the sponge MUST be wet or it will be a fire hazard’.

    As far as dishwashing a sponge, that doesn’t seem like its going to clean it, sounds more like its doing to incubate it.

    I think that all that is happening in the microwave is that the water is boiling, and the boiling is killing the bacteria, so boiling in a pot on the stove would work too. Of course, I don’t think I’d want to use that pot for cooking afterwards, even if I know its clean.

  35. SexCpotatoes says:

    Will this work for toothbrushes too? or would they melt?