In the latest installment of our “How Gross?” series, we’re tackling the highest-trafficked item in your freezer besides the ice cream: your ice cube trays.
Although it’s tempting to believe the ultracold temps of your freezer will keep the nasties at bay, that isn’t exactly how things work. Indeed those cute frozen cubes can become hazardous hosts of bacteria. And those icky germs can hitch a ride into your favorite cold beverage the next time you drop a few into a glass.
Here’s everything you need to know about how foul your ice cube trays really are, plus expert tips for keeping them a little cleaner.
New ice cube trays: How germ-ridden are they?
It’s no surprise that store-bought items come with a whole slew of germs. But the exact details of what those germs are—and how sick they can make you—might be worse than you initially thought.
“An ice tray naturally picks up the germs around the store,” says Jeff Stripp, chief revenue officer of cleaning solutions provider Zogics.
So when you buy that tray, you bring the harmful bacteria home with you. The bacteria is often antibiotic-resistant or can cause strep and staph infections, Stripp explains.
Translation? Wash those trays thoroughly before filling them up for your next cocktail party.
Bacteria can (and do) survive the freezer
Probably one of the most shocking realizations for nonscientists is that some bacteria can survive the arctic temps of your freezer.
“Bacteria such as listeria, salmonella, and E. coli can all survive in minus temperatures,” says C.T. Price, CEO of Life Grows Green. For this reason, the Food and Drug Administration recommends keeping your freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower—to slow the growth of any unwanted bacteria.
And regularly washing the trays in between fill-ups is also critical in keeping your ice-consuming household healthy and virus-free.
“If you’re freezing anything other than water, such as juice, I recommend washing the trays after every use,” Price says.
How to deep-clean your ice cube trays
We’re confident that you have a whole arsenal of cleaning supplies at your disposal. But sometimes the best solution is the simplest one.
“Buy dishwasher-safe ice cube trays whenever possible,” says Price. “The more convenient cleaning something is, the more likely we are to do it.”
If you already have a collection of non-dishwasher silicon trays, washing them regularly by hand is a great option. While soap and warm water will work fine, you might want to consider swapping out your scented dish soap for baking soda. Silicon readily absorbs smells and flavors from whatever it comes in contact with, so a scent-free cleaning solution is probably best.
Maintain your ice cube trays
As with anything, regular cleaning and maintenance are the best way to ensure your ice cube trays don’t build up a colony of harmful bacteria.
“Ice trays are best treated like any other dish and should be washed after every use,” says Price. “If you take only three ice cubes, don’t refill it! Instead, keep consuming the ice until all the cubes are used, then empty the tray and wash it.”
Or you might consider investing in a larger ice holder where you can empty full trays of ice. This will make it easier to wash the trays regularly without ever running out of ice.
Last but not least? Be wary of cross-contamination. Clean your hands before handling your ice cube trays. That simple step will go a long way in keeping them primed for your next beverage and protect you from nasties that might be tempted to join your dinner party.