Depending on the article and the quantity of alarmism the author wanted to inject, the headline either said, "Kitchen sponges have lots of bacteria" or "You're smearing bubonic plague on your toddler's highchair tray."
You're pretty sure you're not doing that, but you check your pantry anyway to see if any packages say "This product was processed in a facility that handles milk, nuts and rats." No? You're good.
The news that sponges had microscopic gunk isn't — what's the word I'm looking for? — news. You know that when you wipe the cutting board after slicing raw chicken, the germs don't go away just because you squeezed the sponge. "I'll just strangle the little buggers. That'll do it."
No. You use antibacterial soap — which we all suspect is absolutely useless — and you run the sponge through the dishwasher before putting it in the microwave. If anything's still living after being drowned and baked, it deserves to live. Send it to Mars, and in 25 years it will have evolved into something that stands erect and greets us when humans finally land.
I'm not worried about my sponges. I'm worried about my fridge, which smells.
Let's back up a second. In the old days, you would take out everything and discover the source of the olfactory offender. Elderly fish. Cheese with a pelt. Milk that made you think "maybe that's where they get stucco." You washed the fridge, and that was that.
Now you sit down and google that problem, even if it means fridge-freshener ads will follow you around the internet for a fortnight. Autocomplete reassures you that you are not alone. Type in "Why does my fridge smell?" and you get:
Why does my fridge smell funny?
Why does my fridge smell hilarious?
Why does my fridge smell but cannot see?
Why does my fridge smell like Joe Pesci's toupee?
Huh? Does he wear a toupee? Google that ... Wow, here are "16 little-known facts about 'Goodfellas.' " Eventually you're reading the biography of Mafia figures, and when your wife comes home and opens the fridge and makes a face, she says, "What happened?"
"Well, Paul Castellano went to Sparks Steak House without realizing that the meeting had been set up to rub him out."
"You rubbed what on the steak? Smells like sour motor oil."
"No, it's not the compressor. I googled that smell already."
Wife gets that expression that says: You spend entirely too much time by yourself, you know.
Here's the odd thing: It wasn't a recognizable aroma, like spoiled fowl or green meat. It smelled like some strange antiseptic chemical. Googled: "Why does the ice smell like chemicals?" You expect some poindexter to adjust his glasses and say, "Actually, ice is made of chemicals, like everything else. It's hydrogen and oxy. ... Ow, you stepped on my foot."
"Actually, I trod on it."
Anyway, more googling revealed that any strong smell in your fridge will eventually infect the ice, so you should either clean the inside or sell your house.
"Use hot water," my wife said.
"Let me check Zillow first."
The cleaning starts by putting something in the fridge that absorbs odors, like cat litter. We had none, so I got some from a neighbor. That seemed to make it worse, so I went back and asked for some fresh litter, maybe from the bag this time? Thanks.
Eventually, the odor diminished to the point where it was now either faint, or a hallucination. Family members would come home and find me standing in front of the fridge, sniffing. It's still there. A faint, sharp tang, like a dental hygienist dipped in rubbing alcohol. "I swear it's still there," I'd announce.
Only one thing left to try — besides taking everything out and washing the fridge, i.e., doing something about it that might actually help.
I put the kitchen sponge in the freezer. Within a day the odor was gone. From which I can only conclude that the microbes in the sponge feasted on the peculiar aroma. Hah! Victory!
Come to think of it, the disposal smelled a bit; why not put the sponge down there and flip the switch?
Should have defrosted the sponge first. Well, we needed a new disposal anyway.