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Is your shower sponge making you sick?

LindyGirl asks…How often should you replace your shower pouf? Is the ‘once a month’ rule of thumb genuine or a marketing ploy?

The Beauty Brains respond:

When providing a rigorous scientific answer to a question such as this I think the most important first step is to come up  a good title. Before settling on “Is your shower sponge making you sick?” I had also considered the following titles:

  • Bacteria in your bath.
  • What’s lurking on your loofah?
  • Perilous pathogens on your pouf!

I hope you enjoyed this little peek behind the Beauty Brains curtain  - now on with the answer!

Shower poufs and pathogens

According to Journal of Clinical Microbiology, changing your pouf only once a month may not be often enough! That’s because poufs, sponges, and loofahs can harbor various strains of pathogenic bacteria. Specifically, researchers found gram-negative (Pseudomonas, Xanthomonas, and Klebsiella) as well as gram-positive (Enterococcus and group B Streptococcus) species. (To be clear, this study was done on loofahs which are cellulosic in nature. But the plastic-like material of poufs and synthetic sponges have also been shown to support bio-film growth.)

Clean and dry

That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to buy a new cleaning aid. You could clean the old one, if you do it properly. The study authors recommend soaking your loofah in 10% solution of hypochlorite (bleach). Unfortunately, the regular bleach you buy in the store only contains about 3 to 8% Sodium hypochlorite and that’s when it’s fresh. If you have and old jug of bleach that’s been sitting around your house the active content could be even less. Still, it can’t HURT to use a weaker bleach  solution to disinfect, you’re just less likely to completely kill everything. But, its certainly better than doing nothing.

By the way, in case you think you’re being clever by letting your sponge thoroughly dry out in the hopes that  lack of moisture will prevent bacterial growth, think again. According to the paper it takes almost 2 weeks of drying to kill off the microbes. I may be frugal but skipping showering for two weeks is not worth saving the cost of a new sponge.

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{ 9 comments… add one }

  • Carolyn April 9, 2014, 7:57 am

    Wow … I don’t change mine anywhere NEAR to every month. Now I feel dirty. Thanks for the scoop!

  • Carol Quezada April 9, 2014, 8:12 am

    Ha! I threw away three old ones this morning with the intention of buying new today. Now that is a coincidence!

  • Eileen April 9, 2014, 10:12 am

    Since I’m a fanatical fan of fantastic alliteration, I vote for “Perilous Pathogens on Your Pouf!” Thanks for the peek behind the curtain :-)

    Interesting article. I think I’ll be out there today with Carol buying new poufs!

  • Courtney April 9, 2014, 1:55 pm

    What if you washed it in hot water in the washing machine?

    I wondered about this because I would think washcloths would be just as bad at holding bacteria and germs, but we just wash them in the washing machine with other towels (including dishcloths.)

  • Eileen April 10, 2014, 10:43 am

    Hi Courtney; Hi Kevin,

    I don’t know about other people, but I always add bleach to my towel load be it bath towels or kitchen towels. Also, in my household, we only use towels and washcloths once before laundering them. That is not practical for some people, but adding bleach to a wash load is something anyone can easily do. BTW, we’re not germaphobes. We just like the scent and feel of fresh towels. As you can see from my previous comment, I haven’t been nearly as conscientious about poufs! :-)

  • Kevin April 9, 2014, 6:14 pm

    What about using a cotton washcloth, then throwing it in the washing machine?

  • Justine April 10, 2014, 3:05 pm

    What about microwaving it?

  • Madeira April 12, 2014, 12:42 am

    What if you bought two or three and rotated them every two or three weeks?

  • Kate G April 12, 2014, 3:00 am

    Is there any way to safely boil them maybe? Throw them in the washer? I don’t use them very often as I was concerned about this very same issue. Hmm. Perhaps a regular washcloth then laundered with bleach?

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