When we embarked on our journey towards a less plastic household, and well, less plastic lifestyle in general, one of the first things we noticed was how full of plastic our kitchen was - and still is, but we are definitely making important changes, and this is what matters the most. From the fridge to food containers to rubbish bins, everything seemed to be made in plastic. And when it came to cleaning products and tools, it got even worse.
This realisation really shook us, and when we set out to find more eco friendly cleaning alternatives, our first swap was looking for eco friendly sponges: after much investigation we found that the best eco friendly washing up sponge is one made with natural, organically grown materials, locally produced to lower its carbon footprint and that can be composted at the end of life.
There are a lot of environmentally friendly cleaning products available on the market, so when we started researching for eco-cleaning sponges we were very clear we wanted something that was not just plastic free, but was also good quality and therefore could last for a long time. Getting rid of plastic was a priority to us, but we were also looking for products that could also tick the box of being able to be added to our backdoor garden compost at the end of life.
Also, in recent years we have seen quite a few mentions in the press regarding how normal plastic sponges can foster bacteria and the subsequent advice to change them monthly, or even more often than that. However, these types of scientific snippets taken out of context when reported are quite misleading in my opinion.
The first one I see here is sustainability: imagine if every single family in the world changed their washing up sponge once a week or every two! The environmental cost of such behaviours would be unfathomable, with millions of perfectly usable sponges ending up in landfills at a constant rate.
The second issue, perhaps one that has less impact on the environment but is still very important for our health, is that not all the bacteria these articles talk about are dangerous for human health. Healthy exposure to good bacteria (meaning generally harmless to human life) is actually very important to boost our immune system. Obviously we need to make sure we take good precautions to sanitise our cleaning products, eco-friendly or not, to minimise any danger, but the idea of getting rid of things on a weekly basis is absolutely nonsensical and environmentally apocalyptical.
So if you are looking to make a change and get your kitchen to become more environmentally friendly, here is a list of our best eco-friendly washing up substitutes:
1. First, start with what you already have in your kitchen
Before you start ditching all our plastic brushes and sponges, please remember that the best way to really make a difference when it comes to landfill waste is to actually use all the existing plastic that already lives in your kitchen as much as possible. I know, it sounds great and definitely very satisfying to fill all your kitchen drawers and cupboards with lovely eco-friendly washing-up sponges and cleaning products, but please make sure you buy them only after whatever you already own has reached the end of its purposed life.
However, once you are done using everything you already have in your kitchen, here is our pick of best sponges and cleaning brushes to make your kitchen 100% plastic-free and eco-friendly.
2. ORGANIC COTTON AND HESSIAN FIBRE CLEANING PADS
I always like to have a sponge or a cloth that can be used for pretty much anything in the kitchen. My husband says I look like one of those old school maids going around the house with a tea towel hanging over my shoulder, ready to wipe a table from the latest water spilt, to lift very hot lids of boiling soup pots or just to clean little messy faces after a meal!
So when I found this scrubby, It soon became a favourite of mine. The fact that you can use each side for a completely different purpose is definitely my favourite feature of these eco friendly washing up sponges (or un-sponges, as some people call them).
One side is made of rough hessian fabric, a woven material derived from it both for scrubbing really dirty pots and pans. It is made with the skin of jute and sisal plants, and it works great as a pot scrubber. The other side is made of organic cotton; I particularly like these ones as they come in some lovely fun colours and cute designs, which make the cleaning that much bit more pleasant!
But the best feature of these lovely sponges is probably the inner layer, made with organic bamboo fabric. Bamboo has been known for centuries for his antibacterial properties, so it protects the inside of the sponge from growing bacteria and mould.
How to use:
- Wet with water and use together with your chosen eco washing up liquid or bar.
- Remember to rinse your sponge between use to get rid of excess dirt and grease, and let it air dry for better hygiene and longevity.
- You can periodically machine wash it with your laundry to guarantee extra care and cleanliness, but I would recommend to put it in a washing cotton mesh bag first as the rough hessian side may adhere to your clothes and ruin them.
- Use it, reuse it, and reuse it again.. and again and again!
- And when you can’t squeeze any more life juice out of it, just pop it in your compost, and feel good about yourself: you have just saved another sponge from ending up in a landfill!
3. COCONUT FIBRE DISH BRUSH
I was getting so fed up with all the different plastic brushes and scrubs in my under-the-sink cupboard, I just felt terribly buying these products made entirely of plastic, and as if that wasn’t enough, these usually come wrapped in plastic too. It really made me feel so guilty about all that waste, so when I found a substitute that was completely made with natural materials, and that was 100% compostable and widely recyclable, the step to make the swap just came as natural as anything.
The thing I like the most about this particular brush is that it is multi-purpose, perfect for just removing food leftovers from plates and pans, but also strong enough to tackle grease and food residues difficult to remove, and even burnt stains on your cassarole pots.
The head of this brush is made of coir, in other words, coconut fibre, a natural and incredibly sturdy material extracted from the outer shell of a coconut. This incredibly strong fibre is then tightly wrapped around a stainless steel wire in the shape of a slightly oval loop, which allows flexibility to reach even the most stubborn stains. The handle is made of wood, lacquered with natural biodegradable varnish to prevent mould on the wood.
How to use:
- Wet the coconut head and apply the eco liquid detergent you usually use to do your washing up.
- When I first started using this brush, I noticed some fibres came off loose, but I soon found out this is completely normal and due to an excess of fibre woven around the steel skeleton holding the head together. This quickly stopped after just a couple uses.
- My recommendation when using this brush is to make sure to rinse it properly and to keep in a dry spot, ideally in a standing position to facilitate the drying process.
4. COCONUT BOTTLE BRUSH (ALSO GREAT FOR GLASS)
This brush is basically the eco- sister to the previously mentioned round brush, but it differs in shape and use: the head of this one is very thin and elongated, which makes it perfect for cleaning the inside of bottles, thin glasses, vases and other similar items.
The stainless steel wire makes it very easy to adapt the shape of the brush to the desired width or shape of what you need to clean. It is also great for mums that need an eco-brush to clean your baby bottles in a sustainable way, as well as giving a good wash to your toddler’s drinking cups!
I usually use it to clean my reusable water bottle after a session at the gym, and it’s an invaluable tool to wash my daughter’s sippy cups after her drink of milk or orange juice at breakfast.
How to use:
- Exactly as you would with a plastic bottlebrush, but with the massive advantage that this will not end up polluting our planet.
- When all the coconut fibres are completely worn out - which will take a very long time to happen, as the material is incredibly sturdy and long-lasting – just compost it or put it in your compostable bin for your council to collect and properly dispose of it.
5. WOODEN DISH BRUSH WITH SISAL FIBRES AND REUSABLE HEAD
Another eco friendly variation of a dish brush, this type is particularly good for rinsing plates and non-stick cookware, as well as ceramic pots. This is because the head is made of sisal fibres, from the Agave sisalana plant, which is originally from Mexico but it is now widely cultivated around the world for his environmentally friendly nature. This material is very soft and therefore very gentle on delicate surfaces that tend to scratch easily.
This material biodegrades fully and as the plant is incredibly resistant to parasites, it is grown without the use of pesticides or other chemical substances. The handle is made of natural beech wood, and the stainless steel wire connecting the head to the long, bendy handle makes it very flexible and easy to use.
But the best thing about this particular brush is that the head can be removed after it reaches the end of its life (meaning, all the sisal brushes are completely worn out), and instead of getting rid of all the brush, all I had to do was to get a new head while still using the same handle over and over again. I have had mine for more than a year now and I can’t believe I am still using the same brush after all this time!
How to use:
- As it is made entirely of natural, untreated materials I don’t recommend putting it in the dishwasher as this could just damage the wood.
- Just rinse it with water to remove residues and let it dry before using it again. Remember, don’t leave it sitting in water by the sink, as this will shorten its useful life.
- To change the brush head, simply pull the handle and hold the head until the U-shape clip slides out, then replace the eco brush head by sliding it back into the U-shaped clip.
6. NATURAL LOOFAH
Natural Loofahs (or Luffas) are just the most awesome things ever! They are basically giant dried cucumbers that can become wonderful scrubbers, and they are perfect for the shower, but also for the kitchen. I just love the idea of washing the pots where I cooked my veggies with another vegetable!
What I usually do is, I get a normal size loofa and cut it in smaller sections, that are perfect for cleaning flat surfaces such as plates, chopping boards and even dirty cutlery. I also found this great video on how to add soap directly to a small loofah, this also makes a really fun, eco presents for children and adults alike, and a cool gift for zero waste Christmas and birthday parties.
How to use:
- Just like a normal sponge, but this is so much cooler.
- You can even grow your own loofah and make your personal eco-friendly washing up sponges from scratch, it doesn’t get more zero-waste than this!
There are so many eco-friendly alternatives to get a sustainable eco washing up sponge or brush, my advice is to make sure that all the materials are sustainably sourced and grown, and made with natural biodegradable materials. One very important feature that sometimes is forgotten is when you choose a good quality product, this will usually last a lot longer than a cheap shabby version, reducing waste and really doing something concrete for our planet and its sustainability.
What is your favourite eco friendly washing up sponge?