How To Clean and Disinfect Smelly Kitchen Sponges

A wet kitchen sponge is a breeding ground for bacteria and can be one of the most germ-ridden items in your home. If not cleaned and sanitized properly, using sponges can result in cross-contamination, infections, and cause kitchen smells. To maintain high-level hygiene and avoid odors, I explain the best methods on how to avoid smelly sponges.

Why do dish sponges smell?

Dealing with stinky kitchen sponges is a common problem in every household, but before going through the solutions, let’s detect why they smell bad.

Sponges and dishcloths meet dirty dishes and countertops. Food and dirt particles get trapped between the fabrics’ fibers and sponges’ pores that start to decompose quickly in the wet environment. During this process, bacteria, germs, yeast, and mold build-up that causes sour and mildew smell.

colorful kitchen sponges

This is not only about the unpleasant smells, however. Dirty dish towels and stinky sponges can easily lead to health-related problems by transmitting bacteria and viruses to your plates and dishes, so disinfecting sponges and dish cloths should be a high-priority cleaning task in order to maintain a bacteria and odor-free environment in the kitchen.

Tips and methods to disinfect and clean kitchen sponges

Sponges build up dirt easily, therefore rinsing them with hot water and dish soap has to be done after each use to remove any leftover food particles, but at least once a week -ideally before they start smelling bad- deep clean them following one of these methods:

Cleaning with vinegar

Plain white vinegar, this common household product does wonders to deodorize sponges. It’s fast and easy and only takes a few minutes of soaking to do the job.
Just simply pour white vinegar over the sponge. Once it is completely saturated, allow the sponge to soak for about five or more minutes. Rinse it thoroughly with tepid or hot water, and that sour mildew smell will be gone.

Preparing a baking soda sponge deodorizer

Baking soda is a natural cleaner that you can use in place of harsh chemicals. It is an effective way to get rid of dirt, grime, and odors because its alkaline properties are mildly abrasive. Frankly, I use it almost every day to clean kitchen towels, deodorize the fridge, remove the odor from pots and pans etc.

cleaning sponges with baking soda

It is so multifunctional that I could keep writing about it forever but let me explain now how I to keep sponges clean and odor-free using baking soda.

  • Mix four tablespoons baking soda with warm water and soak the stinky sponges in it (if they have a foul odor, add a few tablespoons of vinegar to the mixture)
  • Let the sponges absorb the solution and leave them in the mixture for a few hours
  • Rinse the sponges with warm running water, squeeze the water out of them, and let them air-dry in a sponge holder overnight before reusing them again
Sponge Holder

Stainless Steel Kitchen Sink Suction Organizer Basket/Sponge Holder

  • open wire design kitchen sink organizer basket to allow items to dry more efficiently after use
  • easy installation with suction cups; powerful hold on most smooth surfaces including glass, tile, fiberglass, and some metals
  • durable rust-resistant stainless steel construction

Disinfecting with bleach

Sponges never seem to stay clean, even if they look like because bacteria start quickly growing in their pores in the humid kitchen environment. An easy solution to disinfect them is bleach which will kill all those nasty germs that make your sponges smell so bad.

a bottle of disinfecting bleach

The process takes just a few minutes and you’ll have fresh smelling sponges every day! Here are step-by-step instructions on how to deodorize kitchen sponges right at home with bleach:

  • Pour warm (not hot) water into a bowl
  • Add around ½-1 teaspoon bleach to the water. Stir until combined. The chemical reaction might fizz and bubble up-don’t let this alarm you!
  • Wring out the sponge, then place it into the bowl. You may want gloves for this part because bleach can be irritating to your skin. For the best results, let the sponges soak for at least 20 minutes.
  • Once you finish soaking them, rinse them off with clean water and let them dry, and voila, you will have odor-free sponges!

Sanitizing in the microwave

When researching how to avoid smelly sponges, you’ll probably read about the microwave sponge myth that says microwaving your stinky sponges will kill the germs and bacteria that are responsible for the bad smells. Sanitizing your sponge in a microwave is an effective way and can kill 99% of germs, food-borne bacteria, mold, and yeast.

cleaning with sponge in the kitchen

Here is the procedure how to clean your sponges in the microwave:

  • place the sponge in the microwave, making sure it is fully wet
  • microwave on high power for at least two minutes
  • allow cooling before using it again
  • enjoy using your odor-free sponge

Washing in the dishwasher

The dishwasher also can do the chore of cleaning your kitchen sponges thoroughly. Just leave it flat on the top rack, and let it go through the wash, rinse, and dry cycle. You can run the machine using the same dishwashing detergent you always use. This will do a great job to remove odors and wash out the embedded food and grease in your kitchen sponges.

Using the power of the sun

Last but not least, let me share a natural sainting method I’ve just discovered lately. It is so simple and evident; I don’t even know how I didn’t think about it earlier. It is known that the sun has disinfectant properties; drying clothes in the sun sanitizes them, so it does the same for sponges (and for anything else you leave in direct sunlight).

sun and UV rays disinfecting effect

Your kitchen sponges won’t smell like mildew and will be fully sanitized if you allow them to soak in the sun. Just set them out on a plate where direct sunlight can reach them (ideally outdoors) and let the UV rays help to get rid of odors and bacteria!

Get odor-free sponges

Finally, there are some brands of anti-odor sponges that are also worth a look. My experience is that such sponges work well, but please continue to do your part by following any or all of the above tips. You’ll feel good knowing that you are doing everything you can to help keep your sponges free of odors and bacteria.


I’ve covered a variety of ways on how to clean and disinfect your kitchen sponges. My personal experience is that some methods are better than others, depending on what material the sponge is made from and how dirty/smelly it is. I recommend mixing up your cleaning routine with different techniques and see what works best for you. If all else fails and you can’t get rid of the funny smell or dirt present in your sponges, remember it’s time to replace them! But before you throw it out, why not put it to use for some non-kitchen cleaning tasks? For instance, use it to wash down the patio furniture or do some other outdoor cleaning chores. After that, just get rid of it once and for all!

Inspired? Pin it!

how to clean and disinfect your kitchen sponges - pin