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Microwave Experiments Cause Sponge Disasters 517

Posted by samzenpus
from the can-it-dry-a-wet-cat dept.
gollum123 writes "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."
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Microwave Experiments Cause Sponge Disasters

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 25, 2007 @05:42AM (#17749228)
    3
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    • by Aglassis (10161) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @06:04AM (#17749352)
      Incoming lawsuits in: 3..2..1..

      Actually it should be the opposite. Anyone who convinces the stupid to sterilize themselves or remove themselves from the gene pool through other means certainly deserves our hearty congratulations. In fact, they should be allowed to sue the stupid bastards they convinced to kill themselves.

      I can see it now, billboards with signs saying: "a microwave is a great way to get a tan," "a blowtorch is a great way to thaw frozen pipes," and of course "it is cool to operate power tools--in the nude! Buy Budweiser!"

      Truly, we need the stupid to start killing themselves again. With the advent of birth control, human evolution is starting to go backwards. In 100 years they will talk about the benevolent reign of George Bush the Wise.
      • by Skrynesaver (994435) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @07:08AM (#17749612) Homepage
        Truly, we need the stupid to start killing themselves again. With the advent of birth control, human evolution is starting to go backwards. In 100 years they will talk about the benevolent reign of George Bush the Wise.
        You raise a very interesting point, those who take advantage of the opportunities presented to them in western society tend to reproduce at a much lower rate than those who get hammered and start breeding while the more capable are still in education.

        The fact that educated women want to establish a career before becoming mothers means that they start a family in their late thirties and consequently have fewer kids, sometimes they have no family at all as it is too late for treatment when they discover infertility issues. Basically the smart people aren't replacing themselves.

        Fuck, I sound like some Eugenics Nazi but really stop running yourselves down, have a shower and go out and breed people!

        • by Vintermann (400722) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @09:14AM (#17750354) Homepage
          The traits you may think are useful and great may not be the traits mother nature approve of, but the nice thing about mother nature is that you know her judgement's not personal, whereas if it's a person deciding, it's just his selfish genes being especially despicable, and wanting to get rid of its competitors.
        • by TapeCutter (624760) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @10:10AM (#17750918) Journal
          "...those who take advantage of the opportunities presented to them in western society tend to reproduce at a much lower rate than those who get hammered and start breeding while the more capable are still in education"

          I understand what you are saying and largely agree but I kind of object to the "more capable" tag, perhaps "more mature", "more fortunate", "more materialistic" or just plain "wiser".

          Wisdom and comfort are the twin goals of many humans, and often the reason for desiring wisdom is that it's seen as a path to comfort. Evolution does not have goals, it has survivours called "genes" who's lineage goes back billions of years, these "genes" are actually just patterns of interacting atoms originally created in exploding stars. "Strong people", "loyal people", "pious people", "educated people", ect, are the result of conceptual tools that humans use for dealing with each other, the deep rooted tribal tendencies [pointlesswasteoftime.com] found in our genectic makeup appeared long before our particular species did.

          "....but really stop running yourselves down, have a shower and go out and breed people!"

          I did that while my "more capable" friends finished high school, some went all the way into thier thirties totally clueless about kids or the value of a buck. I am now 47, my youngest is 21 and is getting married next year. Having worn collars of both colurs for a minimum of 15yrs I can attest that a good education can buy you time via a healthy paypack, intellectual satisfaction via interesting work, and the comfort of not fighting the checkout-chick to the death over a 50 cent overcharge. Personally, formal education doesn't rate highly with me in a relationship - after all, even the most "retarded" red-neck can teach you something.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mike2R (721965)

          Basically the smart people aren't replacing themselves.

          To play devil's advocate, that's a very subjective definition of "smart." From the point of view of your genes, not having children is an incredibly stupid thing to do.

          Rather than saying the human race is selecting for stupididy, you might well say that we are selecting for a willingnes to have children, even in adverse conditions (ie modern developed society, with its multitude of distractions from procreation).

          Given that the human race will hopefu

      • by LordVader717 (888547) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @08:28AM (#17749992)
        Anyone who convinces the stupid to sterilize themselves or remove themselves from the gene pool through other means certainly deserves our hearty congratulations

        Perhaps, if they're clever, they could sterilize themselves with their microwave.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by steveo777 (183629)
          I knew a guy back in hi school who tried to take apart a microwave in electronics. When the teacher came back, he almost emptied the room and let him turn it on with everyone else safely on the other side of the locker bank outside. But figured it would bite him in the ass later in life and decided to prevent him from powering the thing up.
    • by Oxygen99 (634999) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @08:26AM (#17749970)
      *Ping*
  • As they say (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 25, 2007 @05:42AM (#17749232)
    However, when I put my sponge/scrubber into the microwave, it caught fire, smoked up the house, ruined my microwave, and pissed me off.
    The stupid shall be punished.
  • A bit silly? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ckwop (707653) * <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Thursday January 25, 2007 @05:46AM (#17749256) Homepage

    How else did they expect it to work? Of course you need the god-damn water in the sponge. Microwaves have a wave length measured in the centimetre. The size of a bacterial spore is a couple of orders of magnitude smaller The size of a bateria is a lot smaller than this again.

    This means that if you wanted to destroy the blighters with radiation alone you have to choose a frequency a lot higher than microwaves, otherwise there will be areas in the minima of the standing wave that won't heat sufficently to kill the microbes.

    The mechanism for steralisation is through the formation of steam that kills the majority of the nasties - not the microwave energy itself.

    Simon

    • by 246o1 (914193) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @05:49AM (#17749268)
      People do not understand microwaves. Berating them for not using their understanding of microwaves is like watching a Spiderman movie and saying "Why doesn't he just fly out of there?"
    • by cuzco (998069) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @06:06AM (#17749362)
      We Americans measure our bacteria as fractions of an inch so the sponge fires were no doubt caused when people, in their germ kill potential calculations, screwed up while converting centimeter length microwaves to inches. Honest mistake.
    • by KnightTristan (882222) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @06:26AM (#17749444)
      ... how else did _you_ expect it to work?

      A simple question for you: water molecules, are they larger or smaller than the bacteria and spores to be killed?

      Last time I've checked, the wavelength used in the microwave is about 12.5 cm. Sure, the bacteria are much smaller than that, but is it at all relevant?

      KnightTristan
      • by Dr. Hok (702268) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @12:24PM (#17753158)

        Last time I've checked, the wavelength used in the microwave is about 12.5 cm. Sure, the bacteria are much smaller than that, but is it at all relevant?

        Actually, the parent does say why it is relevant: there will be areas in the minima of the standing wave that won't heat sufficently to kill the microbes.

        The microwave radiation in the oven is a standing wave. This means there are areas where the radiation is (close to) zero, and the buggers there won't be heated, even if they contain water. Put a sufficiently large chocolate bar into the microwave oven for some seconds and observe the patterns of solid and soft chocolate. Then eat the chocolate, of course.

        The water (steam) is needed to average the heat out over the whole sponge to kill all bacteria in it.

    • Neat. (Score:3, Informative)

      by Valdrax (32670)
      How else did they expect it to work? Of course you need the god-damn water in the sponge. Microwaves have a wave length measured in the centimetre. The size of a bacterial spore is a couple of orders of magnitude smaller The size of a bateria is a lot smaller than this again.

      So, are you suggesting that any body shorter than the wavelength of microwave radiation (12 cm) will be left unheated? Neat! That must be why my pizza rolls are still frozen when I get them out.

      ...Or maybe someone who feels superior
  • by macadamia_harold (947445) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @05:48AM (#17749262) Homepage
    However, when I put my sponge/scrubber into the microwave, it caught fire, smoked up the house, ruined my microwave, and pissed me off,

    He wasn't using one of those Sony battery-operated microwaves, was he?
  • by StarWreck (695075) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @05:48AM (#17749266) Homepage Journal
    The microwave steralizes the wet sponge because it makes the water hot enough to kill anything living. The same effect can be had by dunking the sponge in a pot of boiling water.
    • by sumdumass (711423)
      Yea, but then it would take longer then 2 minutes, would make us look super smart by using teknoligy to do something and we wouldn't have the scifi like atmosphere were the microwave oven "zaps" someting into being cooked.

      It is kind of like putting your socks in it to dry them. because it can and somewhere i was told it was cool.
    • by iamlucky13 (795185)
      There's plenty of good jokes here about Darwinism, and some useful discussion about how to actually sterilize a sponge (boiling water, dishwasher, eliminating the sponge as a middleman and simply cleaning plates in the microwave, etc.), but what about the reasons for sterilizing the sponge in the first? Does it even make sense?

      Remember, we're talking about a species that used eat stuff raw that had been sitting out in the sun for a couple hours, and beat it into edible sized pieces with sharp rocks. It's
  • by Squapper (787068) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @05:50AM (#17749276)
    If the sponge caugth fire, the microbes are probably dead by now. Right?
  • This just in... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bin_jammin (684517) <Binjammin@gmail.com> on Thursday January 25, 2007 @05:50AM (#17749278)
    holding your breath underwater for 5 minutes cures stupidity. I take full responsibility for all results of home trials.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 25, 2007 @05:51AM (#17749286)
    Lots of smoke? Smells like burning tires? Really pissed off? These people sound like Linux users trying to get their sound cards to work.
    • by Andy Dodd (701)
      LMAO.

      Where are my mod points when I need them?

      Not like it matters, since +funny = no karma and AC = can't get karma anyway.

  • People trying an experiment involving using the microwave at full power can get into trouble!

    At least they didn't try to dry their dogs and cats.

    --
    Superb hosting [tinyurl.com] 200GB Storage, 2_TB_ bandwidth, php, mysql, ssh, $7.95
  • by freedom_india (780002) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @05:55AM (#17749304) Homepage Journal
    Prepare for a Class Action Suit filed against Reuters, the Scientists who did this and news papers that carried it for the damages caused by the fires.

    Out of the $100 million that will be awarded, $80 million will go the lawyers, $10 million towards court fees, etc., and the class action plaintiffs awarded a $15 coupon each that can be redeemed for a Microwave at Wal-mart.
     
  • Irradiating sponges is ok but OMG, don't do it to beef!
  • There's this method of execution shown in Tom Hanks' 'The Green Mile' in which the guy to be electrocuted is seated in the chair and a wet sponge must be placed on top of his head. Some guy (Percy) with sadistic intentions 'forgets' to do this and the poor convict burns to death in the chair.
    Forgive me if its off-topic, but you can learn a lot from the movies...
  • by dtmos (447842) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @05:57AM (#17749314)
    Note that even the original University of Florida press release [ufl.edu] begins
    PLEASE NOTE: 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.
    *sigh*
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 25, 2007 @06:03AM (#17749346)
      Simple. Ban all sponges. They are clearly dangerous.

      That bloody squarepants thing should be locked up too.
    • by rsidd (6328) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @06:27AM (#17749450)
      From last paragraph of TFA --that's not the original release, that's the advisory the university issued after all these people burned their sponges.
      • by dtmos (447842)
        I guess the GP should read, "No matter what you do...life makes you look like an idiot on Slashdot."

        I had read the University of Florida press release on Wednesday at 1000 UTC, and the warning was already there, though there were as yet no media reports of the fires. So, naturally, I thought...

        Oh, never mind.
    • by Jacer (574383)
      Don't just read Slashdot for your news fix. According to the CNN article those instructions were added later.
  • by OlivierB (709839) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @06:04AM (#17749356)
    Back in good old days, many centuries ago, there wasn't any kind of this Politically Correct stuff and neither was there protection of the idiots. There was one rule: survival of the fittest.
    If you made mistakes dumb enough to kill you , you didn't get anybody to pull you out and nature did its thing and eliminated the "idiot's" gene.
    Of course this had nothing to do with real accidents, but in the long term idiots would dissapear.
    Nowadays there is no personal responsibility. People do their own mistakes and blame it on somebody else.
    This idiot should have had at least his genitals burned so we wouldn't have anymore kids.

    Mind you, I am all about protecting and subsidising the weakest, the handicapped, the sick and al. I just believe that dumb people that bring it upon themselves deserve no attention and no compassion whatsoever.
    • Mind you, I am all about protecting and subsidising the weakest, the handicapped, the sick and al.

      I think Al would be hurt if he found out you categorized him that way.

      • by OlivierB (709839)
        I'm pretty sure Weird Al Yankovick won't mind. I think he fits the category like a charm.
    • Mind you, I am all about protecting and subsidising the weakest, the handicapped, the sick and al.
      Puh, thanks.
      -Al
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ajs318 (655362)
      Well, actually, I got a sneak preview of the next Jean M Auel book. You will recall that Ayla has already invented flint and steel for making fire, horse riding, needles and dogs, and Jondalar has invented guns. In this new book, Jondalar invents Rock and Roll (but Ayla gets jealous and smashes his instrument when he starts "sharing Pleasures" with groupies) and Ayla invents the Courts and becomes the first lawyer. She successfully prosecutes the First Cave of the Lanzadonii for breach of patent when t
    • >>>Back in good old days, many centuries ago, there wasn't any kind of this Politically Correct stuff and neither was there protection of the idiots. There was one rule: survival of the fittest....

      Yes, you just hogtied people to a stone, and threw them in the lake. The ones that sank drowned, and the ones that did not survived.

      Or you made them walk on burning coal. The ones that got burnmarks were killed, and the ones that did not could live.

      This is called survival of the fittest.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        "Yes, you just hogtied people to a stone, and threw them in the lake. The ones that sank drowned, and the ones that did not survived."

        Actually, the ones that survived were burned for being witches. After all, how else could they survive? Talk about a shitty test.
  • by REBloomfield (550182) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @06:20AM (#17749416)
    of course, those of us with children and bottle sterlisers know that placing water and objects in a microwave leads to the steam cleaning them... "well duh" was my reaction when i saw this "news" item yesterday....
  • by xav_jones (612754) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @06:22AM (#17749420)
    "Just wanted you to know that your article on nuclear fusion reactors aroused my interest. However, when I put my reactor into operation, it caught fire, levelled the neighbourhood, stained my carpet, and pissed me off."

    Perhaps if you can't follow all the instructions there are some things you really shouldn't be doing.

  • by CmdrGravy (645153) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @06:47AM (#17749516) Homepage
    They had this on the BBC yesterday too, I think in the morning they had suggested everyone microwave their sponges and then in the evening news they had a man with a ginger mustache from ROSPA who said that he wouldn't advise microwaving sponges because there is no setting on microwaves for sponges and that he for one didn't have the faintest idea what would happen if you did microwave a sponge except that whatever it was which happened would probably be unsafe and might cause an accident.

    I found it very reassuring that ROSPA ( Royal Society For The Prevention Of Accidents ) does its research so thoroughly before making announcements.
    • by DaveCar (189300)

      I heard about this on the BBC too, though I thought they ought to tell people to be very careful taking the things out of the microwave as they would be extremely hot (I could see someone putting a cloth on the tray directly rather than in a container like most foodstuffs and retrieving it with bare hands). Little did I realise that they would be falling well before they got to that particular hurdle.
  • by Capt'n Hector (650760) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @06:59AM (#17749576)
    Calling these people stuipd only makes you look like an arrogant asshole. For most people, a microwave is a black box contraption in their kitchen that makes food hot. Sure, they also know that you shouldn't put a fork or knife in, but have no idea why. This isn't because they're stupid, it's because they're ignorant about the inner workings of that particular machine in their kitchen.

    Oh, but you say, taking things as fact without questioning why is a folly committed only by stupid people, thus making them ignorant. The two are really the same. I would then ask you why light is both a particle and a wave and why electrons jump to a different energy level when hit by the right frequencey of light. There's probably less than 1,000 people on the planet who can give a good answer to these questions, and unless you're one of them, you've committed the same folly as your average suburban mom - you still don't truly know why a microwave works.

    • by Pikoro (844299) <init@iAUDENnit.sh minus poet> on Thursday January 25, 2007 @07:20AM (#17749670) Homepage Journal
      You put a dry sponge into your microwave didn't you?
    • by kv9 (697238)

      Calling these people stuipd only makes you look like an arrogant asshole. For most people, a microwave is a black box contraption in their kitchen that makes food hot.

      no, they're not stupid. they put shit in a "black box that makes food hot" and it caught fire. WOW! color me surprised. I'd say that's pretty stupid. just yet another case of RTFM.

      *sigh*

      I'm pretty ignorant regarding lots of things, but I don't stick my fingers in an outlet, then act all surprised and shocked (pun intended?) that it zapped

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Tony Hoyle (11698)
        no, they're not stupid. they put shit in a "black box that makes food hot" and it caught fire. WOW! color me surprised. I'd say that's pretty stupid.

        No. The media told them "if you put shit into a black box that makes food hot it will sterilize it".

        So they did. And it caught fire... because the media forgot to mention that you should use *wet* shit.

        That is totally different to waking up one morning and trying to microwave a random object to see what would happen.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Minwee (522556)
      You don't have to know how to derive Maxwell's equations from first principles to turn on a microwave. You should, however, take enough of an interest to read the little book that came with it, or at least the stickers pasted all over the front of it, which explain what not to do.

      If you own a microwave and use a microwave, then you should know how to use one safely. Remaining ignorant of that is just stupid.

  • by giafly (926567) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @07:32AM (#17749706)
    The only mention of water in the Microwave zaps germs on sponges article [cnn.com] was as follows.
    Writing in the Journal of Environmental Health, Bitton and colleagues said they soaked sponges and scrubbing pads in raw wastewater containing fecal bacteria such as E. coli, viruses, protozoan parasites and bacterial spores.
    Seems to me that only very stupid people would follow these instructions.

    IMHO a better way to sterilise a sponge is as follows:
    1. Place sponge in a large, empty drinking mug
    2. Pour boiling water over it from a kettle and dunk it a few times using a spoon
    3. Place a small plate or saucer over the mug to retain the steam
    4. Wait until it's cooled
  • by viking80 (697716) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @08:02AM (#17749850) Journal
    One exceptional feature of a microwave is that it will keep heating at full effect no matter how hot the target gets. The only limit how you design your target.

    You can for example melt and cast most metals:
    http://net127.com/2005/01/24/melting-metals-in-a-d omestic-microwave-oven/ [net127.com]

    With some research, you may even be able to use your kitchen microwave to generate some fusion reactions.
  • by Dekortage (697532) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @08:10AM (#17749888) Homepage

    When I was in college, someone took one of my coffee mugs, filled it up with Hershey's chocolate syrup, and put it in the microwave for 90 minutes. Then they left. As best as we can tell, the syrup first boiled over and filled up the bottom of the microwave. Eventually it hardened into a black crust and caught fire. That's when the fire alarm woke us up, you know -- it was three o'clock in the morning.

    The microwave was ruined, and there was some damage to the cabinet. And I lost my favorite coffee mug too. But it's probably the best use for Hershey's chocolate syrup that I could think of (since it's pretty awful stuff).

  • by Combuchan (123208) <sean&emvis,net> on Thursday January 25, 2007 @08:11AM (#17749890) Homepage
    from the article:

    But several experimenters evidently left out the crucial step of wetting the sponge.
    This was not mentioned at all in the original Reuter's article to begin with, but all other details (how long, power setting) were included. The bureau made the mistake, but instead of apologising, they chastise their readers.

    People read the original article and played dumb for a bit, temporarily throwing out conventional wisdom regarding non-food objects in the microwave as they followed Reuter's authoritative instructions.

    But, hey, this is slashdot and people don't play, rather, they are dumb, and we all have a good laugh at their misfortune while we're glad it was somebody else who ruined their microwave and not us.

    And yes, I did make a whole bunch of toxic smoke years ago by forgetting to put the bowl of water while nuking a CD. :P

  • I knew (Score:3, Informative)

    by kilodelta (843627) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @09:17AM (#17750390) Homepage
    Because microwave ovens work best by vibrating water molecules. As they vibrate friction causes them to turn to steam which is what sterilizes the sponge in the first place.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @09:52AM (#17750726) Journal
    When I first heard the experiment, I was thinking, "Finally! Eileen does not have hoard her sponges and search for sponge-worthy men!" Just zap and reuse! But these disasters are more Krameresque than Eileeny.
  • The Weird Thing... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RexRhino (769423) on Thursday January 25, 2007 @02:31PM (#17755626)
    The weird things isn't that people forgot to wet the sponge so it wouldn't catch on fire...

    The weird thing is that people are so afraid of bacteria that they are going be microwaving their sponges!! Not only that, I see they sell anti-bacteria material sponges pre-made at the store... and anti-bacterial soap... and anti-bacterial air-sprays (don't worry about lung cancer from breathing that crap!). Anti-bacterial teething rings... anti-bacterial towels... anti-bacterial shaving cream...

    When did people get paranoid about bacteria all of a sudden? You gotta admit, bacteria isn't a significant problem for most people in the industrialized world, even without all the extreme anti bacteria tactics people are using.

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein

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