Oh my. This story is littlered with so much over the top germophobia I do not know where to begin: The Dirt on Your Sponge – NYTimes.com. The story, by Penelope Green, discusses how Tod Maitland and Matthew Flannery have developed a sponge cleaning system called “SpongeBath”. This is going on sale on Amazon and Bed Bath and Beyond in September. Why is it needed? Well, they assert
“that your kitchen sponge, a smelly, disgusting bacteria magnet, is 200,000 times dirtier than your toilet seat. (This interview has been condensed and edited.)”
That is a perfect quote for David Coil who wrote that he would “rather lick a toilet seat than a cellphone“. In writing this he was basically trying to point out that there are microbes everywhere and that toilet seats are not the germiest places in the world (they are actually cleaned more often than many other sites). So – it is not really that big a deal if a sponge has more bacteria than a toilet seat. What matters perhaps more is what kind of bacteria are there.
So anyway – these two ended up being grossed out by sponges and developed a system to soak sponges in a cleaning solution made of “Citric acid and silver.”. This to me seems like a potentially bad idea since I am not sure what the long term effects of such a soak are. They justify this mix because “Both of those have been around for thousands of years.” How does that make using them wise????
In response to question about how they knew sponges were dirtier than toilet seats they say “The Wall Street Journal. But I’m sure they got it from someone else. There’s a lot out there about how horrible your sponge is.” So – alas they are reading the germophobia literature not the rationale stuff. Sure – sponges probably are in fact gross much of the time and one should probably worry about what is in them. But this seems a bit over the top as a response.
The developers try to make the connection between cleaning sponges and foodborne illness “You can’t directly track it to the sponge, but food-borne illnesses cause over 3,000 deaths every year.” and “There are 48 million cases reported every year. The sponge is the No. 1 cross-contaminator.”. Hmm. I am not aware of these numbers coming from the literature. I am aware of studies showing that sponges are indeed a risk factor (e.g., see this web site). So I am not trying to discount the possible risks from sponges. But I would very much like to see more on the effects of soaking sponges in silver and citric acid before such products get widespread use. Seems like this could potentially lead to various forms of resistance and also could leave a blank slate that might allow nasty microbes to grow better on the sponge than if one was not so enthusiastic about sterilization.