Learn which frequently-used kitchen products you're probably forgetting to clean and when it's time for a replacement.
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Some of the filthiest spots in your kitchen are probably the items you use most frequently. Common kitchen essentials, including sponges, dish rags, and cutting boards, can become breeding grounds for germs and bacteria if you don't keep them clean. Because these objects often come in contact with your food, dishware, or hands, waiting too long to clean or replace them can even be potentially harmful to your health. Learn which kitchen items you're probably forgetting to clean and when it's time to replace them altogether. Then add these tasks to your regular kitchen cleaning checklist to help keep your cooking space free of germs and bacteria.

Julienne slicing carrots with knife on cutting board
Credit: Blaine Moats

1. Cutting Boards

Cutting boards are one of the most versatile kitchen tools. They're perfect for food preparation, and their stable surface makes cleanup a breeze. Plus, most cutting boards have a long life if properly maintained. If you're using a plastic cutting board, simply run it through the dishwasher after each use. If you're using a wood or bamboo model, clean with hot, soapy water.

When to Replace: Retire cutting boards when they show signs of wear, such as deep groove marks or an unstable surface. Crevices in cutting boards can harbor harmful bacteria, making them impossible to fully clean.

kitchen sink filling with soap water with color striped bowls
Credit: Marty Baldwin

2. Sponges

Because sponges come into contact with so much grime and bacteria, they're bound to get dirty fast (and often). Clean your sponges daily by tossing them into the microwave or into your dishwasher to help kill germs. To disinfect a sponge, you can also use 3/4 cup bleach in 1 gallon of water. Soak the kitchen sponge 5 minutes and rinse well in warm water.

When to Replace: Washing your kitchen sponge is only a temporary fix; no sponge will or should last forever. We recommend replacing sponges every month or so.

filling water filter pitcher from faucet
Credit: William N. Hopkins

3. Water Filters

Using a water pitcher with a built-in filter is an easy, inexpensive way to increase the quality of your drinking water. But can you remember the last time you changed the pitcher's filter? If you're not keeping up with the manufacturer's recommendations for replacement, the filter won't be able to do its job.

When to Replace: Consult your manual for specific recommendations, but most filters need to be replaced every 2-6 months.

Water bottles in plastic and wicker baskets
Credit: Laura Moss Photography Corp

4. Water Bottles

Reusable water bottles are a sound investment. Besides quenching your thirst and keeping you hydrated on the go, they can also help reduce your carbon footprint. Plus, they can last for years with proper maintenance. As a general rule, you should wash your water bottle every day. Pay attention to easy-to-miss areas like the mouthpiece, and invest in an elongated bottle-cleaning brush to help you reach the bottom.

When to Replace: Replace when your bottle shows serious signs of wear, including exterior cracks or funky smells.

detail of kitchen sink with backsplash and green cabinets
Credit: Brie Passano

5. Dish Rags and Towels

Your trusty dish rags and towels have been there for you through every kitchen spill and sticky situation. They wipe up spills that have leaked onto counters and sweep up spilled crumbs. But as great as these linens are for wiping up surfaces, they're also prone to germs and bacteria, which can transfer to your hands when you use them.

When to Replace: Swap out your dish rags and towels daily to keep germs at bay. Wash dirty towels separately in hot water, and replace them when they become ripped or badly stained.

Drawer with organized spices
Credit: Marty Baldwin

6. Spices

Next time you clean out your pantry, pay attention to your spice rack. Although cooking with old spices probably won't hurt you, it can make your food less flavorful. When you buy new spices, write the date of purchase on a piece of tape and stick it on the spice so you'll know exactly how old it is.

When to Replace: Toss spices every few years, depending on their makeup (whole spices typically last longer than ground versions).

food storage containers lids blue in drawer
Credit: The Wilde Project

7. Plastic Storage Containers

We all know somebody who loves to reuse old yogurt containers for years on end. But reusing any plastic container for too long, especially one that was meant to be disposed of, can be dangerous. Over time, plastic breaks down, causing the chemicals to leach into your food. Look for signs of wear after each use (such as cracks, discoloration, or unusual smells) and always toss disposable packaging once you're finished with the product.

When to Replace: Disposable plastic containers that were intended for single-use should be recycled or thrown away after use. Recycle or dispose of reusable storage containers and replace them every few years. Discolored, warped, cracked, or unusual-smelling containers should be replaced immediately.

By Katie Bandurski and Jessica Bennett

    Comments (8)

    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    January 16, 2020
    All good suggestions - but please use kitchen towels instead of paper towels whenever possible. The paper in paper towels is sourced from boreal forests, bad news for the planet.
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    April 28, 2018
    these ideas are wasteful.....they can be washed and sterilized ...we live in a wasteful throw away society and this doesn't help anyone...especially our planet! think reuse recycle
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    April 27, 2018
    I have made a conscious change from using paper towels all the time to rarely. I started using rags and washing them. One extra load of laundry a week but cheaper.
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    April 27, 2018
    Never cook food in plastic or store hot foods in plastic. Plastic causes many hormonal disruptions
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    April 27, 2018
    Where can I buy the drawer insert as shown in the above photo with the plastic containers? Thx!treetopmar@aol.com
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    April 27, 2018
    Just went and gave my reusable water bottle a good scrubbing - thanks for the reminder!
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    April 27, 2018
    I do both! IKEA has great dishtowels for 89 cents that can be used for a couple years, then make excellent towels for cleaning. We also use paper towels for some things and dispose of them into the yard debris for compost. The pick-a-size rolls are a good way to go because rarely do we need a large towel.
    Better Homes & Gardens Member
    April 27, 2018
    Thanks for this article ... one point, the suggestion to use paper towels ... not a good idea for Mother Nature. After being washed a billion times, my dishtowels become cleaning rags, then finally thrown away. New towels are fun to buy. So many great designs!