Update as of 3/25/19: I've switched to ScotchBrite greener cleaner sponges, made of 50% agave fiber and 23% recycled materials.
Cut, Mic, Wipe: The Reductionist’s 3-Step Hack That Makes Kitchen Cleanup a Breeze
STEP 1: CUT
You wouldn’t think washing dishes would present a challenge for people like me and the leader of the free world. But as a small-handed individual, I’ve always felt that standard-sized sponges were a bit…unwieldy.
Now, I don't know how The Donald washes his dishes (baahhhh!!), but a few years ago, I started cutting my sponges in half. It allows me the full grip I need to really scrub filthy pots and pans with gusto.
Plus, it saves me money because I buy sponges less often.
As a Reductionist, however, I have concerns about the makeup of these sponges. According to Hunker.com, “Most of today's artificial sponges are made of a combination of wood pulp – or cellulose – hemp fibers, sodium sulphate crystals and topped off with chemical softeners.”
Wood pulp is gathered from cuttings made by other manufacturing activities, so there aren’t millions of acres of rain forests being chopped down to make sponges (I bloody well hope).
The ‘chemical softeners’ refer generally to a compound called sodium hydroxide (NaOH), which is a blend of lye and caustic soda. Sources tell me the caustic-y part evaporates by the time I’m scrubbing my pots, but I’m still a little skeptical.
The part I’m more deeply conflicted over is that I love the scouring pad half of my sponge. It’s just that it happens to be glued onto the soft side using a polyurethane adhesive.
Experts over at The Green Guide.com have this to say about polyurethane:
“Scientists found isocyanates, a compound that can bring potential harm to one’s lungs, in materials made up of polyurethane. Exposure to the said product can cause lung irritation and asthma attacks. Furthermore, it can also irritate skin and cause difficulty in breathing when lung infections develop. People with migraine and other related body issues should keep at bay from polyurethane fumes because it can swell brain cells that bring about severe head pain. Meanwhile, pregnant women, elderly and sick and young children should never be exposed to polyurethane fumes because it could cause coughs and colds, wheezing, and other symptoms that are related to asthma. Workers who are frequently exposed to polyurethane fumes experience several health disorders including unsettled stomach, vomiting, and dizziness.”
While the amount is small—it’s not like we’re sealing a deck here—I still let these sponges air out before using them someplace where my kids and I aren’t hanging around.
An alternative, which I’ve not yet tried, could be a so called natural sea sponge, or one made from silicone or cellulose. All allege to be “eco-friendly,” “green,” and “non-toxic.” Either way, I want them to be low-cost, natural solutions to meet my cost+eco requirement.
In the meantime, I admit I’m set in my ways and accustomed to my routine with the synthetic cheap-o sponges from Target.
Now, after I’ve used one for about a week, it starts to get funky. Especially if I’ve washed anything that’s come into contact with raw meat.
According to microbiologist and professor at University of Arizona, Dr. Charles Gerba, interviewed by Today.com, "The kitchen sponge is wet and moist, always soaking up coliform bacteria. It's like bacterial heaven."
That doctor also recommends not using your sponge to wipe down countertops and tables. I concur. The Today article suggests, instead, using paper towels and some cleanser or store-bought wipes for that.
The Reductionist, on the other hand, prefers using my special home-made, DIY antibacterial wipes. Get the recipe here!
Now, why the vinegar?
You may have heard some critics squabbling over whether vinegar alone, while it possesses antimicrobial properties, is actually strong enough to kill nasty germs.
I checked with the latest research to settle the debate, and once again science proves that, yes, in fact, vinegar, does kill bacteria. Even flu germs!
Now, I’m no expert, and I haven’t run a black light over one of my small, microwaved sponges to check for residual bacteria, but I take the extra step of boiling in vinegar to make sure I’m sanitizing effectively.
The germ doctor I mentioned above suggests microwaving your sponge every single day.
And of course, sometimes you just hafta throw that nasty thing out!
I think back to my college years, circa ‘95, when the guys in the apartment downstairs just threw their microwave out at the end of the school year because it was so caked in schmutz. If only they’d known this trick…
I'm Janeen; writer, mother, wife, and full-time, radical Reductionist. I share stupid-easy tips on how to save money while reducing your impact on the environment, & I'm committed to helping others live a life of simple sustainability.
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