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Natural sustainable alternatives to Kitchen Dish Sponges

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

yellow kitchen sponge plastics-based
What dirty secrets does this sponge hold?

“What’s all the fuss?” asked my mom when I insisted that she throw away her favourite “non-scratch”, “antibacterial” kitchen sponge.

What’s the fuss indeed. Why is there so much interest in this unassuming piece of cleaning tool that we usually buy as an afterthought?

I did some reading and here’s what I found :

1. Traditional sponges are not biodegradable

Parts of traditional sponges (usually, the green scrubby bits or in some cases, the entire netted parts or padding) are made from polyester, nylon, or some other petroleum-based product. Because they are plastic-based, they are not breathable and start to grow mould, smell and break apart after a while. In the meantime, they are shedding micro-plastics into our waters every time we wash our dishes and we (and our marine life) are ingesting those particles. When we finally dispose of them, since they are not biodegradable, they will sit in our landfills for hundreds & hundreds of years.

2. Traditional sponges are not exactly sanitary

Ironically, kitchen sponges are even less sanitary than your toilet bowl. In fact, scientists have recommended that you sanitise them daily, and throw them away weekly - that’s 52 sponges thrown away a year! There are articles about sponge cleaning hacks e.g. soaking them in chlorine bleach, microwaving them etc but I honestly don’t feel good about any of these options so have not tried.

3. They are chemically-laden

Synthetic sponges typically contain chemicals to repel bacteria & odours. Sponges that claim to be ‘antibacterial’ or ‘odour-free’ are usually soaked in Triclosan - which is an antibacterial, anti-fungal agent classified as a pesticide. These chemicals cannot be removed by water treatment plants and hence flow into our waters, contaminating them & harming our water ecosystems.

So now that I’ve made my mom get rid of her kitchen sponges, what other alternatives are there for a greener, more sustainable way to wash her dishes?

Tawashi scrubber, kitchen sponge alternative
Tawashi Scrub Brush (Amazon)

Tawashi Scrub Brush

Originating from Japan as a vegetable brush (for scouring dirt off those carrots!), this is a stiff brush made from coconut husks. The bristles are durable & work very well to easily scrub off encrusted bits of food in cast iron pans, and dinner dishes. Con : it may scratch some surfaces of fine china or glassware, and I would be a bit careful with non-stick surfaces.

handmade crochet cotton wash cloths
Hand crocheted wash cloths (Lion Brand Yarn)

Dish Rags / Wash cloths

These are the ultimate multi-purpose cloths - they are thin, machine washable, dry quickly and can be frequently laundered & dried to keep bacteria away. You can purchase commercially available ones or you can simply cut up your old towels, clothes, aprons etc, serge the ends to keep them from fraying and use them. Tip - do stick to natural fibres such as cotton, linen or hemp. Con : using a dish cloth to do the dishes does get some getting used to.

Loofah Sponges

These 100% plant-based sponges come from the loufa plant - some even come in a full-sized so you can chop it up to the shape / size that you need! Biodegradable, compostable, and a natural alternative.

Reusable Sponges

For those who are used to the thickness of a sponge, here are some eco-friendly, reusable sponge alternatives.

Some are sewn with an outer covering like cotton, terry cloth, or jute or padded with cotton flannel to give it the sponge-like feel.

Others are hand crocheted or knitted using natural fibres, e.g. my popular Super Squishy Hemp Sponge which is handmade entirely of 100% pure hemp twine that is naturally anti-bacterial & biodegradable.

Best of all, reusable sponges can be washed and dried regularly to keep bacteria away. Con : it may not scrub off blackened food-encrusted bits very well; so personally I use a combination of a hemp sponge and a metal coil scrubber (which I plan to upgrade to a tawashi brush when it wears out!)

To end, non-traditional sponges may take some getting used to, after all, they are made from a different natural material than synthetic sponges and may not have that familiar ‘spongy’ feeling. Some alternatives may produce less lather, or may require more “elbow power” to clean dishes; but as with all changes, an open mind and some time will ease the transition process.


Most kitchen sponges are made of cellulose (natural fibres). However, the scrubby part is typically made of polyester or nylon. These materials are neither recyclable nor biodegradable and are made from nonrenewables such as oil and gas. Nuff said. Those sponges have a huge carbon footprint, and will sit in your landfill for centuries. Instead of contributing 52 sponges to your landfill every year, or bathing your sponge in intoxicating amounts bleach, how can you keep your kitchen clean without adding to landfills or using toxic chemicals?

(Extracted from :




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