Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Flaming Sponges

I microwave my kitchen sponge and dishrag to disinfect them. So, this story sparked my interest. It turns out that microwaving sponges may lead to fires:

THE FACTS For years, it has been said that people looking for an easy way to disinfect their soiled sponges, which can become remarkable germ magnets, can pop them in the microwave. The practice has become common. But is it effective?

In recent years, at least two studies have put the claim to the test, and both have confirmed it. The most recent, published in the December 2006 issue of The Journal of Environmental Health, found that microwaving kitchen sponges and other scrubbing pads for one to two minutes at full power could reduce levels of bacteria, including E. coli and other common causes of food-borne illness, by more than
99 percent.

To avoid fires or overheating, the authors of the 2006 study recommended that only damp sponges and those without metal be zapped. But some experts say the practice poses a safety hazard and should be discouraged. Some news accounts have described cases in which kitchen sponges caught fire while being cooked by microwave.

Other studies have found a safer alternative: soaking soiled sponges in diluted solutions of bleach, which is just as effective as heating. Then again, there is an even simpler option: tossing the sponge out and getting a new one.

Throw out my favorite sponge? How environmentally friendly of you. I don't think so. Besides, sponges and money don't grow on trees you know.

Since the article didn't provide the news stories about flaming sponges, I hit the Google. I also remember seeing this a few weeks back, but I can't remember where. It might have been on the local news. If anyone knows, by all means, email me. This is very important stuff. :)

Anyway, I didn't find much, but I did find this curious Q&A page where the Q isn't really a Q:
Q: If you are going to zap your kitchen sponges in the microwave to disinfect them, make sure they are wet. If one puts in dry sponges, they could start a fire.
Another reader added: "I am surprised you advocate disinfecting sponges in the microwave. I read about this in a cooking magazine and tried it, placing my damp sponge in the microwave for two minutes on Christmas Day 2005. We then left the house. Upon our return, we noticed a burning smell the minute we walked in the door. The sponge had ignited, ruining the microwave. We now disinfect our sponges by boiling them in water on the stove."
It's reassuring that the people who turned on their microwave and left their house on Christmas morning aren't using their microwave for disinfecting sponges anymore. It's slightly more frightening to think of them using a stove though.