The sponge that you use to clean your dishes--the dishes that you literally eat off of--is probably one of the most germ-riddled objects in your home. There's a reason kitchen sponges start to smell after a few days; what you're smelling is bacteria.

As various studies have pointed out, most of this bacteria is fairly benign. But even the "harmless" bacteria can cause issues for people with compromised immune systems, and if your sponge ever comes into contact with particularly dangerous pathogens found in raw meat or the dirt on fruits and vegetables, it can become a risk factor for everyone.

The problem is that kitchen sponges are used frequently enough that they rarely completely dry out, and bacteria love to proliferate in moist spaces.  Running your sponge through the dishwasher or microwave can help in some cases, but in the end, you're fighting a losing battle, and will have to throw that sponge away after a fairly short amount of time.

A Cleaner Alternative

The point of a kitchen sponge is to clean dishes, and while its absorbent nature can help hold soap and water to make this task easier, it isn't necessarily the only tool for the job.

Lately, a crop of silicone-based kitchen scrubbing tools has emerged that can belp you clean your dishes with fewer germs, and less waste. In my experience, they don't clean nearly as effectively as sponges, and may require a little more elbow grease for tougher messes, but they're good enough that the benefits outweigh any minor drawbacks.

Since silicone is a dense, non-porous material, there's nowhere for moisture to hide inside these scrubbers, and thus fewer nooks and crannies to harbor bacteria growth. That's not to say that they're immune from bacteria, but if you want to disinfect them, they're dishwasher safe. But even if you don't regularly clean them, they're certainly less likely to get gross over time, and most of them will last for years, rather than days.

The Sponge Impersonator

Peachy Clean Silicone Sponge

The Peachy Clean scrubber looks like a sponge and works like a sponge, but it's actually a delicate latticework of tiny silicone strands bound together into a kind of otherworldly sponge facsimile. The resulting porous shape design does a solid job of holding onto soap, but since silicone itself is a non-porous material, it'll still drain and dry out out much more quickly than a real sponge.

However, since it's made from such thin strands of silicone, the Peachy Clean will break down over time, and will probably need to be replaced every few months (which is still far longer than you should keep a regular kitchen sponge around). In the meantime though, it's dishwasher safe if you want to clean it off.

For a Sure Grip

Silicone Scrubbing Gloves

Silicone scrubbing gloves feature an array of silicone nubs on the palms and fingers that, when combined with soap and water, can clean most food off of plates with a proverbial wave of your hand. And since this is a scrubber that you actually wear, you won't have to worry about dropping it into the sink, which can be a problem with silicone scrubbers when they get soapy and slippery.

The Starter Set

Silicone Scrubbers

These silicone scrubbers are about as simple as they come; they're silicone discs with some tightly spaced bumps on them for holding soap and scrubbing food. That said, they're extremely affordable, and you get several of them in a pack, so you can toss them in the dishwasher after each use if you're so inclined (though you really don't need to), and still have plenty of spares at the ready.

Great For Glasses

Silicone Bottle Brush

These scrubbers are attached to the ends of a plastic handles, which gives you extra leverage for stuck-on food, or the ability to reach in and clean skinny glasses and flower vases with the silicone bristles. Most importantly though, your hands don't even need to get wet while you use them.

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