Many of the drugs that control inflammatory forms of arthritis work by suppressing an overactive immune system, which attacks and damages joints and other organs. That’s a mixed blessing if you depend on these medications to function. On the one hand, these medications relieve pain and inflammation, and curb disease progression, but on the other, they can leave you vulnerable to infections from germs, including bacteria and viruses.

If you’re taking one of these medications – disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or  biologics – you need to give yourself the upper hand against germs. It’s prudent to take a few precautions when you’re engaged in activities that bring you into close contact with the kinds of bugs, called pathogens, that are most likely to make you sick.

Here’s what science has to say about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to steering clear of dangerous microbes.

Myth No. 1: You can sterilize a kitchen sponge by zapping it in the microwave. 

Not if you’re relying on radiation alone to do the job. According to Philip Tierno, PhD, director of microbiology and immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center and author of the book The Secret Life of Germs: What They Are, Why We Need Them, and How We Can Protect Ourselves Against Them (Atria, 2004), microwaves are unreliable germ killers because the appliances tend to have dead spots where their radiation doesn’t reach. Even if you use a turntable, it’s possible that bacteria and viruses lurking in a kitchen sponge, which is typically one of the most germ-laden surfaces in the entire house, could survive.

But Tierno says there is a more reliable way to sterilize a kitchen sponge using a microwave: Immerse the sponge in a microwave-safe dish of water, and zap for four minutes on high. The microwave will heat the water to 150 degrees F, a temperature that’s hot enough to kill any lurking nasties. (Be sure to let the sponge cool before you pick it up.) Alternatively, you can soak the sponge for a few minutes in a solution of 2-1/2 tablespoons of bleach (the volume of a shot glass) mixed with four cups of water, or pop the sponge into your dishwasher if it has a “sanitize” setting.

Myth No. 2: As long as you’ve sterilized your kitchen sponge, it’s okay to use it to wipe down the counters.        

If you use the dish sponge to wipe down counters, your kitchen probably only looks clean, says Elizabeth Scott, PhD, a microbiologist who is the co-director of the Center for Hygiene and Health in the Home and the Community at Simmons College in Boston, Mass.           

“In reality, what you’ve done (and I’ve tested this), is you end up spreading bacteria around your kitchen,” Scott says. She recommends reserving the sponge for dirty dishes and using recycled paper towels to clean up food spills on the counters. Clean up surface food particles and grease with a paper towel. Then throw it away. Follow the use of a cleaner with a disinfectant.