The sponge in your kitchen sink is filled with bacteria — and no, you can’t clean it

​​​​​​Your kitchen sponge is disgusting.

Chuck Gerba, professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, told the BBC in 2012 that a kitchen sponge is 200,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat.

Now, German researchers have DNA-sequenced 28 samples from 14 sponges — and they have some even more disturbing facts about what you probably use to clean your plates.

The researchers discovered a small bacteria-dense portion of a sponge — the size of a sugar cube — could have 54 billion bacterial cells. This level of bacteria density is found only in one other matter: feces.

Related: Your kitchen is full of germs

13 PHOTOS
11 Sneaky Places Germs are Hiding in Your Kitchen
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11 Sneaky Places Germs are Hiding in Your Kitchen

The kitchen is one of the germiest places in the average home.

Refrigerator Drawers

The produce drawer in your refrigerator can be contaminated with salmonella, listeria, yeast and mold. To clean it, remove the drawer from the fridge and wash it in warm, soapy water.

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Kitchen Sink

It’s no secret; lots of germs are washed down the kitchen sink. Make sure the pathogens don’t linger by disinfecting it daily with a solution of bleach and water.

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Can Opener

The best way to ensure that salmonella, E.coli, yeast and mold aren’t growing on your can opener is to wash it in the dishwasher after each use. If you don’t have a dishwasher, hand-wash after each use but be sure to pay extra attention to the area around the blade.

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Rubber Spatula

Check to see if your spatula can be disassembled. If so, remove the handle and wash both pieces in the dishwasher or by hand to remove any E.coli, yeast or mold that may be present. If the spatula cannot be disassembled, be sure to pay special attention to the area where the two pieces join when washing.

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Salt and Pepper Shakers

Because they’re handled so frequently, salt and pepper shakers harbor a tremendous amount of germs. The best way to ensure that your salt and pepper shakers are clean is to periodically wipe them down with disinfecting wipes.

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Knife Block

Periodically clean your knife block to prevent yeast and mold from thriving. Remove the knives, turn the knife block over to remove any loose debris, and then clean the knife block in hot soapy water using a small brush in each of the slots.

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Rubber-Seal Containers

Reusable containers with a rubber seal can harbor salmonella, yeast, and mold. If the rubber seal is removable, remove it before machine or hand washing. If it’s not, be sure to pay special attention to the area around the seal when hand washing.

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Coffee Reservoir

Mold, mildew and bacteria can all be hiding in the reservoir of your coffee maker. Clean your coffee maker according to the manufacturers’ instructions frequently; many also recommend using vinegar.

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Blender

The blender is another kitchen gadget that needs to be fully disassembled before washing. Be sure to remove the blade and seal from the jar and base before washing to prevent salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold from thriving. Be sure to dry each piece thoroughly before reassembling.

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Sponges, Rags, and Towels

Your dish sponge, rag and towels all create an ideal environment for pathogens. Be sure to wash and change your rags and towels frequently and microwave your dish sponge for a few seconds after each use to help disinfect and dry it.

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Rubber Seal on Your Refrigerator Door

Much like the rubber seal on food storage containers, the seal around the door of your refrigerator or freezer can harbor harmful bacteria. Remember to clean it periodically with soapy water and then dry it thoroughly with a clean towel.

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"Despite common misconception, [past research has] demonstrated that kitchen environments host more microbes than toilets," the authors wrote in the paper, recently published in the journal Scientific Reports. "This was mainly due to the contribution of kitchen sponges, which were proven to represent the biggest reservoirs of active bacteria in the whole house."

"Kitchen sponges ... were proven to represent the biggest reservoirs of active bacteria in the whole house," the researchers said. Source: Giphy

Even more bad news: If you think zapping your kitchen sponge in the microwave or boiling it will make them more sanitary, think again. The study found neither cleaning method makes sponges any more hygienic.

"No [sanitization] method alone seemed to be able to achieve a general bacterial reduction of more than about 60%," the authors wrote. "Our data showed that regularly sanitized sponges (as indicated by their users) did not contain less bacteria than uncleaned ones."

Related: Germ magnets in your kitchen

11 PHOTOS
10 germ magnets that need spring cleaning
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10 germ magnets that need spring cleaning
Dishwasher
It might seem that something with the word "washer" in its name would be as clean as a whistle. Nope. The dishwasher is one of the dirtiest spots in the kitchen. Food particles that remain on the dishes after loading create a breeding ground for mold and bacteria that can make you sick. Reviewed.com recommends multiple methods for keeping your dishwasher safe from troublesome germs, including one technique that involves a jar of Tang drink mix.
Door handles, light switch plates, and knobs
It's hard to go anywhere without touching a door handle, switch plate, or knob. Then think of the hordes who have been there before you. Light switch plates are especially troublesome because of all the nooks and crannies. Do everyone in the household a favor by routinely using a safe disinfectant on these surfaces. If out in public, consider using the paper towel you dried your hands with in the restroom to open the door before throwing it away -- or carry wipes.
Pantry
Spring is a good time to go through your pantry and refrigerator in search of foodstuffs that were shoved to the back an untold number of months ago. Check for shelf-life dates to determine what is still safe and what is not. Although many dry and canned products (rice, pasta, spices, tomato sauce, beans, and the like) and refrigerated standbys (salad dressings and condiments) have lengthy shelf lives, this can lead to a false sense of security. If you can't read an expiration date or just aren't sure, abide by the old maxim: "When in doubt, throw it out." Eating expired food can put you at risk for gastrointestinal distress and other uncomfortable illnesses.
Towels and sheets
We get up close and personal with sheets and towels at least once a day, allowing them to pick up germs, allergens, dirt, and other bits of nasty. Hygiene experts recommend changing sheets and towels every seven to10 days. Getting into a routine, maybe picking one day of the week as "sheets and towels" day, can help reduce the spread of germs and the likelihood of anyone at home getting sick. If you are sick, make sure your towel is yours only for the week and wash it as soon as you feel better.
Bed pillows and mattresses
Pillows and mattresses accumulate dust, dead skin, sweat, drool, and germs. Replacing pillow cases and sheets takes care of only part of the problem. The accumulation of these particles in the place where you rest your head every night can cause repeated allergy flare ups, which can lead to prolonged medication and doctors' visits. Most bed pillows can be cleaned fairly easily. A Bowl Full of Lemons provides a tutorial for keeping pillows fresh and germ-free. Prevention also recommends replacing pillows every year and a mattress every nine to10 years (more often if you aren't sleeping well).
Cell phone
We're all guilty of taking the cell phone into the kitchen, the bathroom, the grocery store, and sometimes even (gasp) the public restroom. In the many miles this mobile device traverses daily, it picks up more than the 25,000 germs cavorting on a toilet seat, according to Clean Link. And after you've been sick, do you clean the phone?Geeksugar offers tips for thoroughly cleaning all your portable devices.
Purses and wallets
Much like cell phones, purses and wallets travel with us everywhere. According to Huffington Post, the bottoms of women's purses pick up bacteria that can cause a variety of illnesses, from colds to diarrhea. Regularly replacing these items is one way to limit the germs' impact. Dr. Oz suggests wiping down the contents of your purse with antibacterial wipes and not bringing it farther than the front door to avoid the risks of exposing other areas of your home (especially the kitchen).
Coffeemaker
Because bacteria thrive in damp places, your morning cup o'Joe may be at risk for contamination. Keeping the coffee maker clean means more than running water over the components; scrubbing with soap and water is necessary to remove harmful germs. Fox News says a weekly breakdown and cleaning is optimal, with a monthly run-through using a vinegar solution for further protection.
Toothbrushes
For something that is used in your mouth at least twice a day, a toothbrush is not all that clean. WebMD cites research from the University of Arizona Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science that found that drops of bacteria can float around the bathroom for up to two hours after the toilet is flushed. To prevent germs from settling on your toothbrush, flush the toilet with the lid down, keep toothbrushes as far away from the toilet as possible, and replace them often. Replacing a toothbrush following an illness is an easy way to avoid renewed exposure to the germs.
Keyboard and mouse
Those of us with desk jobs are constantly going from car to computer, bathroom to computer, lunch to computer, and so on. By the time your hands hit the keyboard and grab the mouse again, you've likely accumulated quite a few germs. Never mind all the crumbs dropped in between the keys after scarfing down lunch or a snack. Hand washing is the No. 1 protection against transferring bacteria to and from computer components. Also make sure to clean the keyboard and mouse frequently.
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That's not to say you need to say goodbye to your kitchen sponges forever. After all, the study has its limitations and the authors call for more research.

But you should definitely consider tossing out your sponges more frequently. The researchers advise swapping out a kitchen sponge for a new one on a weekly basis.

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