Reports about a study that found microwave ovens can be used to sterilize kitchen sponges sent people hurrying to test the idea this week — with sometimes disastrous results.
A team at the University of Florida found that two minutes in the microwave at full power could kill a range of bacteria, viruses and parasites on kitchen sponges.
They described how they soaked the sponges in wastewater and then zapped them. But several experimenters evidently left out the crucial step of wetting the sponge.
“Just wanted you to know that your article on microwaving sponges and scrubbers aroused my interest. However, when I put my sponge/scrubber into the microwave, it caught fire, smoked up the house, ruined my microwave, and pissed me off,” one correspondent wrote in an e-mail to Reuters.
“First, the sponge is worthless afterwards so you have to throw it out instead of using it. And second your entire house stinks like a burning tire for several hours, even with windows/doors open,” complained another.
One reader wrote to tell MSNBC.com, "When I tried it, my sponge caught on fire. It had been in the microwave for less than two minutes on full power. There were flames and when I poured water on the sponge it was totally charred. I just wanted to let you know that the article might need to have a warning about this danger!"
Aaron Hoover, a press officer at the University of Florida, said several other news organizations received similar complaints, although no one had complained directly to the university.
“We figured, 'Wow, we better let people know right away that the sponge should be wet,”’ Hoover said in a telephone interview.
The university issued the following advisory: “To guard against the risk of fire, people who wish to sterilize their sponges at home must ensure the sponge is completely wet. Two minutes of microwaving is sufficient for most sterilization. Sponges should also have no metallic content. Last, people should be careful when removing the sponge from the microwave as it will be hot.”
MSNBC.com contributed to this report.