Plastic-Free Sponges

So, you’ve now started using Raindrop's zero-plastic cleaners and you’re becoming part of the solution to the world’s plastic waste problem. That’s great news.

But wait a minute… What do you use to do all the wiping and scrubbing?  Chances are you do what millions of other people in the UK do and use the classic yellow and green kitchen sponge.

Problem is, according to Recycle Nation, these sponges are made with plastics, petroleum, bleach, sulfates and a whole range of other chemicals. They shed plastic microparticles when they're being used and can’t be recycled once they're finished with. When you throw them away, the synthetic materials they’re made from release dioxins formaldehyde and anti-bacterial properties, negatively impacting aquatic ecosystems.

So, the Raindrop team have been searching for something just as cheap and effective as the classic yellow-green sponge, without the plastic. We looked at how versatile they are, how well they soak up and scrub, and - importantly - how smelly they get! Here's what we found.

Loofah sponges

A loofah plastic-free cleaning sponge.
Loofah sponges are easy to find online and there's a range of different brands. They're made from a vegetable in the gourd family and have a long history - apparently the Egyptians used to use them. The plant is picked, dried and skinned, and made into handy-sized kitchen sponges, without the plastic.

 

Upsides

  • They're 100% plastic-free and completely biodegradable
  • They're one of the cheaper non-plastic options out there. We managed to get a pack of 12 from Amazon for £8.99, making them 75p each (though most are more expensive)
  • They're versatile; we've used them to wash the dishes, wipe up spills, wipe down surfaces and clean the shower.
  • They're as good as non-stick plastic sponges for scrubbing away ground-in dirt, and equally fine to use with non-stick cookware

Downsides

  • We're not sure if it's just the couple of types we tried, but they're quite difficult to use. They swell up when wet and it can be a bit like trying to wash up with a damp Shredded Wheat!
  • They can get quite smelly quite quickly and despite trying putting them in boiling water and the washing machine (didn’t work - they fell to bits), there's not much you can do about it.   

Coconut scrubbing pads

Coconut scrubbing sponge with zero plastic.

As the name suggests, these plastic-free sponges are made from coconut fibers.

Some are also reinforced with yarn, but you need to make sure it's cotton to stay plastic-free.

They're quite widely available, either online or in your local eco store.   

Upsides

  • They are plastic-free, non-toxic and completely biodegradable.
  • They are great for scrubbing. They pretty much-cleared anything we tried them on yet they're still non-scratch - even on non-stick pans.
  • They don't seem to get smelly at all, and on that level were better than anything we tried - even plastic kitchen sponges. This is because coconut fibre has natural anti-bacterial properties.

Downsides

  • They're strangely 'spiky' when new and tend to fall apart bit by bit quite quickly. They're still usable but look shabby.
  • They're really no use for mopping up spills.
  • They're relatively expensive for something that doesn’t last that long. The cheapest we could find was just under £2 per pad.

Wooden dish brush

An eco-friendly wooden scrubbing brush.

You've probably seen wooden dish brushes in your local sustainable supermarkets, and they're very easy to find online.

Ideally, they should be made from wood from sustainable sources and are recyclable themselves, as long as you make sure you buy one with natural bristles. 

 Upsides

  • They're cheap. Prices start at around a pound, though most are in the £2 to £3 range.
  • They're long-lasting. The one we've been using is still going strong after six months. Make sure though you don't let them stay wet - we've had reports of them going mouldy if you do.
  • They don’t get smelly. We haven't had to do anything with ours to remove odours other than give it a good rinse every now and then

Downsides

  • They're not very versatile. You can do most of your dish-washing with them but that's about it.

Hessian sponges

A hessian sponge for eco-friendly cleaning.

There are a number of brands - we've only tried one - and we're not quite sure what's the generic name for this type of product but essentially they're one side cotton or linen, and one side hessian (for scrubbing), often with a bamboo middle section for its anti-bacterial properties. They are completely plastic-free.

Upsides

  • They're pretty versatile; they do everything a plastic kitchen sponge does - from the kitchen to the bathroom and beyond. They can mop up spills and are good at scrubbing
  • They're not cheap but they seem to be good value. We paid £5 for ours which seems a lot, but they aren't designed to be disposable - you can just stick them in the washing machine when they get a bit dirty. We've done this a few times now and they're still going strong after a couple of months.
  • They look lovely and come in a range of designs and colours.

Downsides

  • They do take ages to dry out, so they can get smelly quite quickly
  • They're not quite as good at scrubbing as a plastic sponge or coconut fibre.

Cellulose scrubbing sponges 


These are made from a cellulose sponge side and a scrubbing side - just like your old plastic sponge. You have to be quite careful which ones you choose. A lot of them have polyester (recycled or otherwise) in the scrubbing part. Which is plastic, and defeats the object of switching sponges. The ones we tested use walnut fibre as a scrubber, so are completely plastic-free.  

Upsides

  • They're completely non-plastic and biodegradable.
  • They work just like a plastic sponge, and are just as versatile.
  • They scrub better than a plastic sponge, and are non-scratch - even on non-stick cookware
  • You can put them in the washing machine or dishwasher if they get a bit smelly, but only a few times - essentially they're a disposable product.

 Downsides

  • They're expensive. We paid £7.72 for two sponges, which was the lowest price we could find, and from what we've researched they need to be replaced at least every month.
  • You have to be a bit careful with them. As cellulose is an organic material it retains food particles and germs.

So there you have it. There are alternatives to plastic sponges and we're sure more will come onto the market as we all become more eco-aware. They all have their upsides and downsides - but so do plastic sponges. If you come across any other alternatives we'd love to hear from you and we can share them with the Raindrop community.

Start Cleaning The Eco Way

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