Cleaning 101

Some of the most effective ways to cut down on harmful bacteria in the kitchen aren't what you'd think.

Depending on factors such as moisture, temperature, surface porosity, and the particular strain of bacteria, microbes can live as long as 60 hours on your sink or cutting board. But you don’t need anything special to clean a kitchen—for the most part, we rely on old-fashioned soap and hot water or a bleach solution.

All Hands Under Water

Washing your hands is one of the best ways to stop the spread of food-borne pathogens. Wash before and during cooking, especially after touching raw meat and poultry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends at least 20 seconds in hot, soapy water. How long is that? Try singing “Happy Birthday.”

Sanitize your sink

Studies have found that the kitchen sink is crawling with even more bacteria than the garbage bin (the drain alone typically harbors 18,000 bacteria per square inch). The faucet handle, which can reintroduce bacteria to your hands after you’ve washed them, is a close second.

Water plus Bleach

Though we’ve found that hot soapy water is amazingly effective at eliminating bacteria, for added insurance, clean these areas frequently with a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach per quart of water (the bleach will also kill off some of those microbes in the drain).

Cleaning Sponges
Whenever possible, use a paper towel or a clean dishcloth instead to wipe up. If you do use a sponge, sanitize it regularly. Lisa Yakas, a microbiologist at NSF International, a public health and safety organization that develops standards and certifications, recommended several methods. Dampen your sponge and microwave it for 2 minutes; run it through a dishwasher on a setting that reaches at least 155 degrees and use the heated drying cycle; or submerge your sponge in a bleach solution (3/4 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water) for at least 5 minutes and then rinse thoroughly. We've found that sponges can burn in a high-powered microwave, so we prefer to use the dishwasher or the bleach solution method. After using any of these techniques, allow the sponge to dry completely before using it again, ideally in a dish rack or a container that allows air to circulate around all surfaces of the sponge. Yakas also recommended replacing your sponge regularly, every 1 or 2 weeks.

To find the best method, we tried microwaving, freezing, bleaching, and boiling sponges that had seen a hard month of use in the test kitchen, as well as running them through the dishwasher and simply washing them in soap and water. Lab results showed that microwaving and boiling were most effective, but sponges can burn in a high-powered microwave, so we recommend boiling them for 5 minutes.

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