It’s fair to say the world’s become a little bit obsessed with household hygiene in recent years. Barely a week goes by without a new survey or report coming out, detailing the billions of bacteria lurking in nooks and crannies and coating doorknobs.

Cleaning isn’t just a chore to be getting on with any more – it’s even become a subject of entertainment, with numerous TV programmes dedicated to the topic.

But while we’re pretty clued up about keeping all those surfaces, floors and knick-knacks gleaming and germ-free, how often do we consider cleaning our cleaning materials?

After all, those brushes, sponges and cloths are coming into so much contact with dirt, grime, spillages and food debris – it makes sense that they probably end up being the filthiest items in the room. And they’re not going to be doing much good if, eventually, all they’re doing is spreading grime and germs around, not getting rid of it!

Is a quick shake and rinse under the tap really enough to keep those cleaning items clean? According to the experts, no, it’s not.
So how often – and using what method – should we be cleaning our cleaning products?

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How often should I clean or replace washing-up sponges and brushes?

You don’t need to replace these items until they fall to bits, advises leading hygiene and environmental health expert Dr Lisa Ackerley (, providing you keep them sufficiently clean and disinfected.

“These can get very dirty if you don’t look after them, and can be swarming in bacteria which thrive on the warmth of the kitchen, moisture and food trapped in the bristles and sponges - almost a perfect breeding ground,” says Ackerley.

“As I have a dishwasher, my washing-up brush goes in almost every time to kill the bugs [I use a hot wash]. If you don’t have a dishwasher, sponges can be placed in a small pan of water with a bit of washing detergent and brought to the boil, simmer for a few minutes and then cool, drain and rinse, or drain immediately in the sink over a colander and rinse with tap water. Obviously be careful not to scald yourself!

“If you have plastic bristle brushes, clean the brush under the running tap with some washing up liquid, fill a mug up with boiling water and dunk the bristles in for a few minutes, and that’s the bacteria killed off!”

How often should I wash kitchen cloths?

Cloths are another item we tend to simply throw away and replace frequently, rather than cleaning them properly.

Dr Ackerley suggests using the same boil-clean approach she uses for sponges. “You will be horrified at the colour of the water. This is what my grandmother did and it worked a treat. She had a pair of wooden tongs to lift the cloths out of the water and into the sink.”

How often should I clean my toilet brush?

It goes without saying that your toilet brush is not going to be very pleasant once it’s been used a few times. Using bleach-based products is something many of us avoid in our homes these days, as we’ve moved towards wanting cleaning products that are more environmentally-friendly and contain less harsh chemicals. When it comes to cleaning a dirty toilet brush however, experts usually advise using a suitable bleach and boiling water. Depending on how often the brush is used (perhaps aim for a monthly inspection), you’ll need a suitable bucket or container. Fill with boiling water and an appropriate amount of bleach (make sure you follow the usage instructions, wear gloves and do this in a well ventilated space), then put the toilet brush in to soak for about an hour. Afterwards, rinse with boiling water and let dry. Make sure you clean the holder too.

What about cleaning household brooms and floor brushes?

These days, lots of people use modern cloth brushes/cleaners for their floors, which have heads that are frequently replaced. But if you’re still using a traditional bristled brush or broom, when was the last time you gave it a clean?

Those tight bristles are great at picking up dust, dirt, hair and other debris – and often, that’s where a lot of it will stay! It’s a good idea to shake away as much of the debris (into the bin) as possible every time you use the brush. Use a wooden skewer, or any suitable unwanted item, to pick out things like hair and dust that’s wound up in the bristles. It’s also a good idea to rinse brush heads every now and then, so they don’t get so dirty in the long run.

How often you give the brush a thorough deep clean will depend on how often it’s used and how grubby the floor is it’s used on; every couple of months is probably a good guide. Use a similar soaking method as described for the toilet brush (using the appropriate cleaning product of your choice), and then hang the brush head to air dry, or leave to dry on an old towel or mat.

When did you last replace your cleaning cloths? Tell us in the Comments box below.