Does Your Kitchen Sponge Smell?

After a long day, some things we look forward to is a nice hot meal at home and to rest. Unfortunately, after eating that nice meal, there is typically one more task you still need to do: washing the dishes! Growing up in an Asian family, even if there was a dishwasher, we would rarely use it. As a result, that habit has been engrained in me and I will still hand wash all my dishes. Dishwashers are still a place to store dishes and other kitchen tools for me.

So when doing dishes, what is our weapon of choice? Most likely a sponge (and perhaps a pair of dish washing gloves to go with it). After some time, you start to get used to the process of cleaning dishes. You even surprisingly become more efficient at it by using fewer dishes when cooking or eating. Perhaps you scrub all of them BEFORE doing a final rinse. (I used to wash, clean, and dry each item before moving on to the next one and that took forever).

After washing all the dishes one day, you might be scratching your nose due to an itch or something and notice this foul odor emitting from your hand. Where can it be coming from? You start to backtrack to the things you touch throughout the day. You don’t recall touching anything dirty other than the dishes. Perhaps you thought of sniffing the dishes and they smell clean. Then you get to the sponge and WOW, that is ONE powerful odor!

What is that Smell Emitting from Your Kitchen Sponge?

The foul scent of a sponge is something that is not easily forgotten. You would think the sponge is the best smelling thing after all that detergent you’ve been using and all the scrubbing you’ve been doing. So how is it so smelly?

Well, what happened was the sponge that you were using was still wet when you were finished your previous dish washing sessions. This wet environment essentially becomes a home for all sorts of bacteria and other microscopic critters!

The food and different sauces you scrubbed down may be caught in the pores of the sponge and this in turn becomes food for the microscopic bugs. Like people, they need to eat and in the process, they pass gas too which accumulates in the sponge. This is why our kitchen sponge can get so smelly.

Are the Bacteria in the Kitchen Sponge Harmful to Health?

Yes and no. There have been more than 300 species of bacteria found on sponges. When not kept in check, bacteria can multiply in just 4 to 20 minutes. 1 becomes 2, 2 becomes 4, 4 becomes 8, 8 becomes 16 and so forth.

You also never find just ONE bacteria within your sponge but MANY of them. Each square inch on your sponge can easily harbor 100 million bacteria. And if each one is multiplying, they can reach an insane number! The good news is that a majority of them are NOT harmful. There are a few that one should pay attention to:

  • Staphylococcus aureus – known for skin infections
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli) – causes food poisoning
  • Citrobacter freundii – known for urinary tract infections
  • Salmonella – known for causing stomach issues like diarrhea

Although our bodies have great mechanisms in protecting us from these critters, we still need be careful especially those who are immuno-compromised. All it takes is just one (infectious) bacteria to enter the human body if it has the opportunity. It will multiply and can produce toxins which harms the body.

In the unfortunate event that our bodies are not capable of fighting off the toxins, that is when we may start to experiences various ailments like food poisoning. Fortunately, that is when we usually visit the doctor who will most likely prescribe some type of antibiotic. Thank goodness for them!

How Do You Get Rid of the Sponge Odor?

To get rid of the sponge odor and the bacteria, first wet the sponge and throw it in the microwave for about 2 minutes. You can also place it in a bowl so the water doesn’t leak all over your microwave (along with the dead bacteria).

This should be sufficient in killing more or less 99.9% of the bacteria in your sponge. After that, take it to your sink, rinse, and wring it. You can repeat the process again by heating it up for an additional 2 minutes to kill the potential surviving bacteria.

Other Recommendations

Here are a few methods you can try to reduce the amount of (potentially harmful) bacteria living in your kitchen sponge:

  • Avoid the sponge from contacting raw meats and juices
  • Use that particular sponge ONLY for washing dishes, DO NOT use it for other purposes like cleaning countertops and other areas (this spreads the germs)
  • Rinse dishes with water as thoroughly as possible first BEFORE cleaning/scrubbing with sponge
  • Keep sponge as dry as possible (when not in use) by wringing it
  • Make sure no food particles are on sponge (in case you attract pests like roaches or ants)
  • Avoid washing if you have small cuts on hands/fingers (how bacteria can potentially enter)
  • Microwave the sponge every 2 days
  • Replace sponge (perhaps every 2 weeks, probably the best way to avoid the most bacteria contact, but can be costly over time)

If you need more sponges, you can purchase some here.

(As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases)


When removing the sponge from the microwave, it will be extremely hot so always proceed with caution. It will still be smelly just out of the microwave, but once you wash and wring it, the smell will be gone!


In the microscopic world, there are many species of bacteria and they like to live in moist places like your kitchen sponge. Because they are microscopic, you will not be able to see them with the naked eye. Thus, you can never be sure what species may be present in the sponge.

To prevent potential diseases from infecting you or loved ones, it is recommended to take the necessary precautions mentioned above to care for your kitchen sponge. In doing so, you can rest easier knowing that the dishes you washed will not make anyone sick.

Did you enjoy this life hack on how to get rid of that foul odor in your kitchen sponge? Please leave a comment below!

20 thoughts on “Does Your Kitchen Sponge Smell?”

  1. Usually I can only smell the soap I use with the sponge. So does that mean it is not infested with bacteria, or has the foul smell been covered up by the soap smell?

    I shall keep your suggestion in mind. Who knew that one can disinfect his/her sponge using a microwave!?

    • Hello there, Clark! Thank you for your comment. Although you might be smelling the detergent more than the foul odor, it is not yet safe to assume that it is not infested with bacteria. Not all bacteria actually produce a foul odor, When you do smell it though, it is already in the late stages and a huge sign (and reminder) that the sponge is already overly infested with bacteria. 

      It only takes a short time for bacteria to start multiplying, perhaps within 4 to 20 minutes. 1 becomes 2, 2 becomes 4, 4 becomes 8, 8 becomes 16, etc. It becomes an exponential growth process.

      And you never have just one bacteria on your sponge. Every square inch on the sponge can easily harbor over 100 million bacteria, so imagine all of them multiplying at an exponential rate, it can reach some crazy levels.

      So even though there may not be an odor, it is still recommended to microwave and replace the sponges every few weeks. Hope that helps!

  2. Thank you for this eye opener, I like food a lot. To ensure I am not a burden to my wife, I always help her out in the kitchen to wash the plates and keep the whol environment clean. This is usually my contribution to the cooking process. I never knew the sponge could carry as many as 300 bacteria. I will ensure we microwave our sponge for at least 2 mins like you adviced and also change them often

    • Hello there, Parameter! Thank you for your thoughtfulness in always helping out your wife in any way you can. I am sure she is thankful for that too! Now that you know about the bacteria issue, you will be able to help protect you and your family from potential diseases even further.

      Just to clarify, there have been 300 different species of bacteria found on sponges. But in terms of the amount, every square inch of the sponge can harbor about 100 million bacteria and it could be one or multiple species of bacteria. In addition, they can each multiply in about 4 to 20 minutes. When not kept in check, they can reach a crazy amount of level. 

      Fortunately though, most of the bacteria are harmless but it is always good to assume they can be harmful and take necessary precautions in the rare case that an infectious species is found in the sponge.

  3. WOW! I never knew such a strong smell can come from something we use to clean our dishes. 

    Here I am and I’m sure many thinking that we are cleaning all the germs and bacteria from our dishes but little do we know we are actually using a breeding ground for bacteria and dirt sponge to give a clean.

    I never knew this I definitely need to give my sponge a clean up as well as replace it.

    Thanks for providing this important information!

    • Hello Sariyah! I am happy to hear that this article was able to provide you with more insight. Hopefully there will be no more odor!

  4. Hello. Good day. I love this article. It’s shows and remind us on our health and keeping our home clean. Keeping our sponge clean is very necessary and because it what we use mostly to keep our eating utensils clean. I like the idea of microwaving the sponge when it’s not been used. That way it helps to kill the bacteria faster and quicker. Thanks for showing us this wonderful article. Hope to see more of it. 

    • Hello there BobKay! Thank you for your comment. I am glad you enjoyed this article. More articles like this will definitely be coming out.

  5. Hello Mike, I have read a similar article about 2 years ago, and since then I decided to stop using sponge. And I don’t regret it. I haven’t deal with a smelly sponge every since. I now use a piece of scratchy cloth, the one used as a veil for the bride (i don’t know the exact term), and a crocheted type of fabric. All of these I just recycled from old fabrics that I have. It’s a very good alternative because the fabric dries right away, so there’s no bad smell to deal with and I believe that it’s safer with regards to bacterias since it gets dry quickly.

    • Hello there Julai! Ahh, bacteria live in many places actually and it is not just the sponge. They can live practically anywhere especially if there’s moisture like the cloth you use and even the toothbrush. Since those items are constantly exposed to bacteria, the microwave sterilization technique should be utilized frequently. 

      In addition, since they are part plastic, those items might not be able to withstand a full 2 minutes of heating so you can probably try 10 to 12 seconds every other day. The goal is to keep sterilizing those tools before you can smell some odor. The smell is just a late stage sign that there is already A LOT of bacteria present.

  6. Oh god the dreaded sponge. Yikes.  Nothing worse than a sponge that stinks.  I have a love hate relationship with them for sure.  What I have been buying recently are the sponges that slide into a handle and are easily replaced.  That way at least I am not touching the sponge.
    People unfortunately don’t rinse their food dishes and often don’t change the sponge out often enough.  This will certainly make people think about their sponge and hopefully force them to follow your tips.
    Great job.

    • Hello there, Coralie! Thank you for your comment. Hopefully others are now more aware of their sponges and will take the necessary steps to help “sterilize” it a bit more.

  7. This is such a wonderful article.  I never thought about the number of germs sponges carry.  I am not sure if I smell an odor from the sponge.  If I did, I probable threw it in the trash without giving it any thought.  Your article is a reminder of how what we do not know can really be harmful.  Thank you for sharing a solution to this harmful issue.

    • Hi there, Patricia! It is amazing how there is a whole microscopic world that exist that we cannot see with our naked eyes and there is just so much going on that we are unaware of. I usually take the odor as a late sign that the sponge has already been carrying A LOT of bacteria. It would still be good to sterilize the sponge even before the smell starts to form.

  8. Oh, thank you very much for writing this useful tip! Just recently, I found out that my sink sponge has a foul odor. I’m not sure why it smelts so strong now, but perhaps it caused by the new washing soap that I bought is different from the previous soap. By the way, is it necessary to microwave it every two days? If possible, I like to reduce microwave usage. Thanks

    • Hello there! The strong odor is due to bacteria that consumes the food particles (from when scrubbing food off kitchenware). They will eat, grow, multiply, and as a colony, produce gases which will lead to foul odors with time. You do not necessarily have to microwave every two days, it’s just recommended.

  9. Thank you very much for such an interesting article about Kitchen sponges and how to use sponges in washing Utensils. Sometimes here we use steel wire and soap to wash dishes. I didn’t know that there are thousands of bacteria in sponges that cause such odor. This time I will be careful when washing my utensils and I will check out to where I will buy that Kitchen Sponge.

    • Hello there! Steel wires and soap are excellent tools to wash dishes with. Bacteria and other microbes can dwell there too and unfortunately sterilizing it with the microwave is highly discouraged. Perhaps you can put it in the oven to bake like the autoclaving technology with medical tools. I’m just not too sure of the temperature or time at the moment. In terms of sponges, there is no preferred kind. Bacteria will still thrive even with the best quality sponge.

  10. I was listening to the radio the other day and they were playing a game where the listeners had to guess what the most unhygienic thing in your kitchen was.  Turned out that the answer was the sponge that you use to wash your dishes. They didn’t however tell us how to curb this problem.

    Thanks for the great advice. I am going right now to kill all those germs on my sponge by microwaving for two minutes. I just hope I don’t cause a fire, as I haven’t tried anything like this before.

    • Hello there, Michel! Sponge is definitely one of the most unhygienic thing in the kitchen. Another item to consider would be our cell phones. It goes practically everywhere with us and can contract all types of species of microbes so it would be good to clean it often. In terms of the sponge catching fire, you won’t have to worry about that happening because the sponge should be wet. While you are microwaving, the water should convert to steam which will keep the compartment moist with the temperature still high enough to kill bacteria.


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