Ever since going zero waste, there’s been one thing I truly haven’t missed in my kitchen. A sponge. Let me tell you, sponges are gross to me and they always skeeved me out. I hated touching them, especially when they were all wet and soggy. But the worst part isn’t my dislike for them – it’s the waste they produced. If you didn’t know, sponges are made from plastic, aka crude oil. If we’re going to solve the climate crisis, we need to get off fossil fuels, and that includes extracting crude oil to make plastic. Personally, I’ve made the switch to wooden dish scrubbers and brushes. But have you ever heard of unsponges? They’re a great alternative to conventional sponges as well. Here’s everything you need to know about unsponges – including what they are, how to make one, and where to buy some.
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Unsponges: What Are They + Where Can You Get One?
What material is a sponge made of?
Disposable sponges you see in stores are made from plastic, aka polyurethane. This is a petroleum-based product that’s mere production causes harm to our planet.
Crude oil is needed to make petroleum products, which is extracted from the earth unsustainably at an oil rig or drilling rig. Then it takes extra energy and resources to turn that oil into a plastic product.
If that wasn’t bad enough, plastic sponges are often wrapped in a thin plastic film packaging that’s hard to recycle. Plastic film isn’t recyclable via curbside in most places – you typically have to find a drop off location for it.
At the end of its life, a sponge cannot be recycled either. After being used, it is soiled and full of grime that would contaminate recycling facilities. Plus, it’s too small to be recycled.
For this reason, avoiding disposable sponges is the best option.
What is an unsponge?
Simply put, an unsponge is a reusable sponge made from terry cloth and cotton. They’re the zero waste alternatives to disposable dish sponges. You can make one yourself (aka, homemade) or buy it online.
However, it should be advised most unsponges do contain some sort of plastic – usually in the form of a plastic mesh. This helps their abrasive power, and typically it’s upcycled from a mesh produce bag, especially if it’s homemade. For good measure, I’ve included a few plastic-free unsponges in this post too (more on that later).
Similar to an actual sponge, you can use unsponges to wash dishes, clean sinks, and stoves. The main difference is you can toss them in the washing machine and reuse them on a consistent basis.
Whereas plastic sponges get gross after just a few uses, unsponges are very durable and can be washed and used for months, even years. Plus, depending on what materials they’re made from, you may be able to compost it at the end of its life. This is great for the environment and for your wallet.
How do you sew Unsponges?
I’m not a sewing expert, but below is a video that can help. To make an unsponge, you will need these materials:
- 2 coordinating fabrics
- tulle or mesh bag
- Unsponge patterns (like these)
- Standard sewing supplies
There are several tutorials you can find online with a simple google or Pinterest search, but I thought this one was fairly straight forward.
How do you make homemade dish scrubbers?
If you’re looking for something a little more abrasive, here’s how to make homemade dish scrubbers. These can be reused over and over again as well. The tutorial video is below.
What can I use instead of a sponge?
Beyond unsponges, there are several options you can use instead of a sponge. Here are some of my go-to favorites.
- Swedish dishcloths. These eco-friendly sponge alternatives are made with cellulose and cotton, and can absorb 20x their weight in liquid. They can be reused and washed several times and replace up 17 rolls of paper towels each. At the end of their life, you can compost them!
- Wooden dish brushes. My favorite and the one I personally use. The handle is made of sustainable German beech wood and the bristle of the brush is made of sisal (a Mexican plant agave with large fleshy leaves). The head is replaceable and compostable.
- Compostable sponge. Tiny Yellow Bungalow sells a few of these – they’re adorable and made from biodegradable plant-based cellulose. Just add water and it expands! At the end of its life, toss it in the compost heap.
- Loofah scrubber. These compostable loofah scrubbers are also from Tiny Yellow Bungalow, and they come in so many cute forms like flowers, mushrooms and veggies. Each is also made using 100% natural vegetable dye coloring.
- Saucepan brush. This is a smaller version of a wooden dish brush. I have one and love to use it to buff out food stuck on plates and pans. It’s also 100% compostable at the end of its life.
- Bamboo pot scrubbers. These are the BEST at getting off burnt-on food. I sometimes find myself using my nail to get something off, but these are a game changer – so no dirty nails for me anymore. Best of all, it’s made from bamboo, a renewable resource.
How do you wash reusable sponges?
It’s pretty simple to wash reusable sponges. You can actually wash them alongside your dishes in the dishwasher. Just place it in the top rack (no dryer heat setting) and avoid washing them with knives and forks.
You can also clean them in a washer machine on a light setting with dish towels and like colors. Make sure to tumble dry low or air dry. Don’t use any fabric softener, as this will only lessen the unsponge’s ability to absorb water over time.
Zero Waste Unsponges: Where to find them?
Okay, now comes the fun part! Lets talk about where to find unsponges if you’re not the best at DIYs and don’t have access to a sewing machine.
Etsy is one of my favorite places to find unsponges. They’re handmade and you’re supporting small businesses so what’s not to love? All the unsponges I list here are from them. There’s something for everyone!
- Made from cotton, terry cloth, mesh, and foam
- Recycled materials
- Measures 5 X 4 inches
- Choose from 1-10 pack
- Made from cotton
- Measures 4″ x 5.5″
- Choose between single or 3-pack
- Made from polyester mesh, cotton quilt OR cotton flannel, and terry cloth
- Measures 5.5 x 4 x 1
- Add-on loop option available
- Made from jute burlap, cotton towel, cotton mesh, cotton waffle texture
- Biodegradable + compostable at end of life
- Measures 4 1/2″ x 3″
- Single or 4-pack option
- Made from natural burlap, 100% cotton, kapok, cotton waffle
- Ships from Canada
- Biodegradable + compostable at end of life
- Measures 3.5”x5”
- Single or 3-set option
So, what do you think of these unsponges? Would you give any of them a shot?
For more tips on washing the dishes, check out these zero waste dish soap options.
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