Sponges are a convenient way to wash dishes and wipe up spills, but are they good for you or the environment? I've been detoxing my home and focusing on the soaps, now I've turned my attention to the actual wipe - not pretty!
It turns out they are neither good for our health or the planet. Firstly, they are a source of much waste. The sponges each household throws away in a year will take up landfill space for more than 52,000 years. Plastic based sponges cannot be recycled or composted.
Secondly, moist sponges are apparently the number one source of germs in your entire home - great places for salmonella, E.coli and staphylococcus - dirtier than your toilet or your bin. It's not enough to just wash sponges, they need to be sanitised too - boiling, zapping or soaking in vinegar.
The other problem with sponges is that they are disposable and full of chemicals. Even after they have been thrown away, the bacteria-killing triclosan that they’re impregnated with negatively impacts aquatic ecosystems. Triclosan, an antimicrobial agent (and pesticide) that has been linked to cancer, developmental toxicity and skin irritation.
Magic sponges - not compostable and create microplastic wasteWhite magic sponges are made from melamine foam. Melamine foam is made from the compound formaldehyde-melamine-
Standard foam sponges - not compostable and emit toxinsMost sponges are now made from synthetic and petrochemcial materials. Polyurethane, often used in sponges, can emit formaldehyde. They are not compostable.
Standard cellulose sponges are compostable but usually contain chemicals.The common kitchen sponge is made of cellulose fibre (eg: wood pulp), which is compostable, but it is typically soaked in chemicals to prevent bacterial growth.
What can you use instead?
- Grow your own sponges. Loofahs ( Luffa acutangula), a type of gourd grown in warmer climates (edible when young, leaves too). Once they are full size, harvest and soak them in a bucket for a few days until the skin starts to come away from the 'skeleton'. It's easy to remove at this point, and the seeds can be shaken out. Wash and dry the loofah in the sun and it's ready to be used as a bath or kitchen sponge.
- source 100% cellulose fibre sponges. These are completely biodegradable and can be fully composted. Some you can fine are made from hemp or bamboo.
- cotton rags
- crocheted dishcloths from natural fibres
Important maintenance of natural wiping cloths:
- After use, rinse with hot water, wring and hang to dry.
- At the end of the day, soak sponges and dishcloths in full strength vinegar for at least 5 minutes, preferably overnight. Other suggestions include boiling or microwaving them, but vinegar kills 99.6% of the bacteria. Pretty good really. No need for bleach, boiling or zapping.
- After a week or two, compost it.
Have you tried making or growing your own sponge growing, or do you compost your wipes? What's your sponge of choice?