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Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

Brushes, Sponges, or Something Completely Different? The Kitchen Cleaning Overview



Every day, we always make time in our busy schedules to clean the house. It’s a never ending task, especially in the kitchen.

Little do we realize that, even if we were to clean our dishes and cookware and the kitchen 24/7, it would never be 100% clean.

No, seriously, that’s true. And it’s certainly not because we aren’t cleaning enough. Even the cleanest person is probably unknowingly spreading bacteria in their kitchen right now as we speak–while they think they’re cleaning!

person's hands washing dishes in sink with brush and sponge on side of sink
Hand-washing delicate dishes–use a brush, sponge, or dish cloth? Find out which is best.

And what’s to blame for this problem? Surprise—your kitchen cleaning tools–the very sponges, dish cloths and towels, and brushes that you’re using to scrub everything are actually at fault.

It’s shocking, isn’t it? It begs the question: which are best at cleaning the kitchen and the items in it? Are there better options? Are we cleaning and sanitizing our sponges, towels, and brushes correctly?

We will help you understand this common kitchen situation, including what cleaning tools are best for kitchen clean-ups.

Bacterial Growth in the Kitchen

Beating bacteria is difficult because we can’t even see it. We think our kitchen surfaces are flawlessly clean, but one thing is for sure: they are not.

Bacteria is amazingly adapt and can survive in almost any environment; it’s not a surprise that they thrive in our kitchen.

Kitchen brushes, sponges, dishcloths are perfect places where bacteria thrives—they love a moist and room-temperature environment.

To prevent the risk of making us sick in the long run, having an in-depth understanding of bacterial growth is essential.


One major reason why bacteria thrives on sponges, brushes, and dishcloths is due to the warm temperature in our kitchens. The warmer the temperature, the faster bacteria grows.

They grow the fastest especially in temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit–and room temperature certainly falls within that range.


Another vital condition that bacteria needs to grow is moisture. Without water, bacteria will die.

Knowing how our sponges, brushes, and dishcloths are usually in water or damp from being used with water, and how we use them to clean numerous things in our kitchen–from dishes to the microwave to the refrigerator door handle to the counter–makes us realize we’ve been helping the spread of bacteria all along.

Which is Best: Brush, Sponge, or Dishcloth?

Dish brush versus sponge versus dishcloth: which should you choose? Basically, it really all depends on your personal preferences.

To guide you, we share the pros and cons of these tools to help you find what works best for you.


If there is one battle among the kitchen tools, it has to be the dish brush versus sponge competition.

Both are prone to accumulating bacteria; however, dish brushes are known to dry more quickly and easily than sponges. Dish brushes are less habitable for bacteria, making them a great choice as your preferred kitchen cleaning tools.

However, you may think twice regarding the effectiveness of dish brushes in cleaning the kitchen for the following reasons:

  1. It’s sometimes awkward to use dish brushes in cleaning various kitchen items.
  2. It can difficult to find the perfect brushes for different types of jobs. Some brushes may have too tough or too soft bristles.

All that said, though, dish brushes are as effective as sponges in terms of effective cleaning.

  1. Dish brushes are durable, often plastic-free, and easy to clean.
  2. Most of all, they are the most hygienic compared to the other two (a totally wise recommendation for the germaphobes among us).

If you’re now considering switching to dish brushes, one vital piece of information to remember is that you should buy brushes made from natural and biodegradable materials.

Since you’ll be using dish brushes more often and to clean more items, it makes sense to purchase dish brushes that are good for the environment. Some of the best materials include bamboo, stainless steel, fiber, and boar or horse hair, among a few.

OXO Good Grips Dish Brush

OXO Good Grips Dish Brush

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The OXO dish brush is the perfect tool to clean pots, pans, dishes, and a whole lot more. Its nylon bristles are durable and can easily scrub away stains, food, dirt, and even baked-on spots.

The OXO is also safe to use on non-stick surfaces. However, the softness of this dish brush may be an issue if you need a sturdier brush for tougher jobs.

Casabella Loop 3-Piece Dish Brush Set

Casabella Loop 3-Piece Dish Brush Set - 15519AZ(Colors May Vary)

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If you don’t want to limit yourself to just one brush to clean everything, this 3-piece dish brush set is a great deal.

Each dish brush has durable nylon bristles that can scrub even the hardest-to-clean spots, stains, and dirt. They also have handy loops on the handles so you can hang the brushes easily to dry after every use.

MR. SIGA Pot and Pan Cleaning Brush, Dish Brush for Kitchen, Pack of 2

MR.SIGA Pot and Pan Cleaning Brush, Dish Brush for Kitchen, Pack of 2

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Mr. Siga’s dish brush is a popular product due to its high-quality, sturdy, and non-scratch nylon bristles. Its ergonomically-shaped handle is non-slip, which fits with hands properly.

Also, its scraper edge can remove stubborn food stains and dirt effectively. This pack of two-dish brushes may cost a bit more than other similar tools, but most customers say the extra money is worth it.

What is the Best Way to Clean Kitchen Brushes?

The easiest dish brushes to clean and sanitize are the ones without a wooden handle. You can simply place them inside the dishwasher with the bristles facing up, and voila! You’ve got clean and sanitized dish brushes.

However, if your dish brush has a wooden handle or if you have no dishwasher, there is a simple alternative. You will need the following:

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Fork
  • Dish soap
  • Large cup or dishpan
  • Clean towel


  1. To begin, you need to remove all food chunks or dirt of any kind with running water from the brushes.
  2. Use a fork to disassemble any pieces, if necessary.
  3. Fill the large cup or dishpan with distilled white vinegar and a few drops of dish soap.
  4. Soak the dish brushes inside the large cup or dishpan for at least an hour.
  5. After an hour, place the dish brushes on a clean towel and allow to air dry.


When it comes to kitchen cleaning tools, sponges are the most commonly use to for a number of good reasons.

  1. They are affordable. You can buy regular ones for pennies, while the high-quality kitchen sponges usually cost only a bit more.
  2. Sponges are disposable. After several uses, you can replace them with new ones.
  3. They have tough scrubbing features that help remove stubborn grime. This is one of the biggest reasons why people still choose sponges to clean dishes and surfaces.
  4. Sponges can be sanitized in the microwave. If you wish to reuse sponges, this is the most convenient way to kill germs and bacteria.

However, sponges are not as flawless as we most think they are. Using a kitchen sponge also has its downsides.

  1. You need to replace sponges more often than brushes or dishcloths. Sponges can hold food residue, dirt, and moisture that encourage germs and bacteria; therefore, it is best to replace them weekly.
  2. Sponges get dirty easily. Since they can absorb anything, they also absorb germs and bacteria that can keep living in the sponge, even if you think you have cleaned them properly.
  3. Cleaning sponges in a microwave is not the best idea. It can be time-consuming and, worse, may result in an unpleasant odor in your kitchen.

Scotch-Brite Heavy Duty Scrub Sponges, 6 Scrub Sponges

Scotch-Brite Heavy Duty Scrub Sponges, 9 Scrub Sponges, Stands Up to Stuck-on Grime

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Scotch-Brite is the number one selling sponge in the US. Its 100% recycled scrubbing fibers can remove baked-on stains or mess faster than other sponges. Plus, you can easily sanitize in the dishwasher to reuse.

One downside about these sponges is that the current batch of Scotch-Brite kitchen sponges are noted to be thinner than they used to be.

SCRUBIT Kitchen Scrub Sponges 12 Pack

SCRUBIT Kitchen Scrub Sponges - Non-Scratch Dishwashing Sponge for Cleaning Dishes, pots and Pans - 12 Pack (Blue)

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ScrubIt kitchen sponges are made to last despite tough, daily use. Their amazing scrubbing power results in less time cleaning and removing stains and dirt.

These sponges clean effectively without scratching surfaces, making them safe to use for cleaning countertops. A bonus: you can safely clean these sponges in the dishwasher, as they are made of biodegradable materials.

Kitsure Sponges for Kitchen, 15 Pieces

Kitsure Sponges for Kitchen, 15 Pcs Dish Sponge with 2 Designs for Cleaning, Loofah Sponges Efficiently Remove Oil Stain, Natural Sponge 100% Plant-Based Fibers, Biodegradable and Zero Waste

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If you wish to have a different, more environmentally-friendly kind of sponge, Kitsure Loofah sponges are the best choice because they are made of 100% natural plant-based fibers.

The sponges can also remove oil effectively due to their scrubber’s strong decontamination characteristic. Many purchasers of these sponges loved them compared to the usual plastic-based sponges in the market.

Don’t forget: when it’s time to replace these sponges, don’t throw them away! You can bury them in the soil for composting.

What is the Best Way to Clean Kitchen Sponges?

Sponges are more prone to harboring bacteria because they tend to be moist, where bacteria feel at home.

If you still prefer to use a sponge despite this, you need to know how to clean sponges thoroughly. You can use the dishwasher, or you can opt for the microwave instead.

Here are the simple steps to follow:

  • Rinse the sponge with hot water.
  • Remove all dirt, residue, or metal fragments, if there are any.
  • Make sure the sponge is thoroughly wet before you place it inside the microwave. Dry sponges in a microwave can bea fire hazard.
  • Let the sponge cool before you take it out from the microwave.

Ideally, you need to clean sponges once every three or four days. However, researchers have noted how fast bacterial growth is in sponges despite the microwave trick.

Really, the best thing to do is replace sponges more often. Sponges are low-cost. It won’t hurt your pocket that much.


Dishcloths work similarly to sponges. Most people use dishcloths to clean the countertops and wipe up spills. There are three good reasons why people consistently use dishcloths:

  • They are generally low-cost. You do not need to spend a huge chunk of your money to buy dishcloths, because most of them are pretty affordable.
  • Dishcloths are easy to clean. They are basically like our clothes that need a thorough washing after each use. Just toss them in the washing machine–you don’t need to overthink the effective strategies to keep them clean.
  • There are different types of dish towels to choose from. Although the most recommended are the quick-dry dishcloths, you can pick whatever type of dish cloth is best for your needs.

Like sponges and dish brushes, though, dishcloths aren’t the perfect cleaners for your kitchen and its contents. Here’s why:

  • Dishcloths can accumulate germs and bacteria. Since dish cloths are damp most of the time, spreading harmful pathogens is easy to do when you use the same one for different tasks.
  • Cleaning dish towels may be time-consuming. To ensure that your dishcloths are cleaned correctly, you need to take time out to do so. However, with quick-dry dishcloths, that time is cut significantly.

AMOUR INFINI Grid Terry Dish Cloth, Set of 8

AMOUR INFINI Grid Terry Dish Cloth | Set of 8 | 12 x 12 Inches | Low Lint, Super Soft and Absorbent |100% Cotton Dish Rags | Perfect for Household and Commercial Uses | Beige

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Amour Infini dishcloths are made from 100% natural and biodegradable cotton. They are durable, fast-drying, and made to last, despite the number of washes you put them through.

These high-quality dishcloths passed the highest standard of testing, making this brand a perfect choice for dishcloths. Most users love how absorbent these dishcloths are. The Armour Infini dish towels are truly a great deal.

Jekayla Swedish Dishcloth Cellulose Sponge Cloths Eco-Friendly Reusable Cleaning Cloths for Kitchen, 6 Pack

Jekayla Swedish Dishcloth Cellulose Sponge Cloths,Eco-Friendly Reusable Cleaning Cloths for Kitchen, 6 Pack of Absorbent Dish Washing Paper Towel(6 Dishcloths - Orange)

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If you are looking for a more affordable set, Jekayla’s dishcloths are the best choice for you.

These dishcloths are eco-friendly, as they are made from biodegradable cellulose. Plus, they have guaranteed effective cleaning and they can absorb up to 20x their actual weight in water.

They are both dishwasher and washing machine safe. This set of dishcloths received the most five-star ratings for effectiveness from purchasers.

Egles Kitchen Dishcloths, 12 pieces

Kitchen Dishcloths 12pcs 11x12 Inches Bulk Cotton Kitchen Dish Cloths Scrubbing Wash Cloths Sets (Mix color)

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This set of 12 kitchen dishcloths is recommended for its 100% cotton make up and its efficient absorbent features. These dishcloths dry more quickly than others, minimizing the spread of bacteria.

These dishcloths easily clean countertops, kitchen items, or any mess or dirt inside your house. The set comes in different colors, so you can choose which ones fit your kitchen decor or you can add a pop of contrasting color.

What is the Best Way to Clean Kitchen Dishcloths?

Dishcloths, unfortunately, can be a bacteria’s haven. Knowing how to clean dishcloths thoroughly is essential. Here are a few relevant tips and tricks that can help you with this process:

  • Wash dishcloths regularly. It is best to wash and change dish cloths every couple of days, as they are more prone to bacterial growth due to the warmth and moisture in your kitchen.
  • Before placing dish towels in the laundry, soak them in a mixture composed of warm water and vinegar for 15 minutes. Add one tablespoon of baking soda to remove offensive odors.
  • Always use hot water when washing your dishcloths. Set your washing machine to its hottest water temperature.
  • Never leave dishcloths overnight in the washing machine as this will cause bacterial growth. Transfer them straight to the dryer once washing is finished.

Keep in mind that you absolutely must hang up dishcloths between uses. Allow them to air dry thoroughly.


If there is one part of our home that needs extensive cleaning, it is definitely the kitchen. Understanding how bacterial growth accumulates, we realize the importance of regular kitchen cleaning, as well as cleaning the cleaning tools themselves.

Three of the most commonly used tools are dish brushes, sponges, and dishcloths. Each one has its pros and cons. Each one allows chances for growth to spread, yet by using and cleaning them correctly, you can choose which one works for you the best.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are dish brushes cleaner than sponges?

There is no way of telling for sure if brushes are cleaner than sponges, since we use them for various reasons.

One thing is for sure, though: dish brushes are less prone to the growth of bacteria and germs because they dry quickly. While sponges are naturally a safe place for bacteria as they generally stay moist and warm. However, there are ways to sanitize both dish brushes and sponges to keep them clean.

Are dish brushes sanitary?

Dish brushes are probably the most hygienic option of all cleaning supplies. They are still prone to harboring bacteria and germs, however, especially when used as a cleaning tool in the kitchen.

A big difference is that dish brushes dry more quickly after use; therefore there’s less chance for bacteria to linger on them. Dish brush bristles can shed moisture to prevent foul odors from developing.

What is the best thing to wash dishes with?

The best tool for washing dishes is a sponge.

Sponges have two sides: the scouring pad for removing stubborn stains and dirt and the sponge itself, responsible for getting off the grimy stuff.

Although sponges are the best option for washing dishes, it must be remembered that they are more prone to bacterial growth. It is highly recommended that you replace your kitchen sponges every once in a while, depending on how often you use them.

Are sponges good for cleaning?

Sponges are an ideal cleaning tool due to their soft and porous components. Most Americans prefer to use sponges for cleaning because they’re great at absorbing moisture, including water-based solutions, but can be used in cleaning impermeable surfaces as well.

There’s no question that sponges can be an effective tool for cleaning; however, keep in mind that sponges need to be sanitized and cleaned often, as well.

What can I use instead of sponges?

Instead of using a sponge, you can use a dish brush. Dish brushes are great alternatives to sponges because they are quick-drying, resulting in the slow growth of bacteria or even none at all. The best thing to do is to clean and sanitize dish brushes often to keep them clean.

Does boiling a sponge sanitize it?

You would think boiling sponges would sanitize them, but, actually, that is not recommended.

If you have a microwave oven, then use it instead to clean and sanitize sponges. Otherwise, it is best to replace them often. This way, you can reduce the growth of bacteria. Stocking up on sponges shouldn’t be a huge problem, as they are generally fairly affordable.

Additional Resources:

Kitchen Professor author
About the Author: Bryce Heitman

Bryce is not a real professor, but he's real nerdy in the kitchen. He's been barbecuing, chopping, and generally blazing food for many decades. He thinks there's definitely a better spatula or utensil out there that hasn't been invented yet.

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