Over the summer, my twitter feed was inundated with news about how terrible kitchen sponges are. I follow a lot of cooking sites plus a lot of environmental sites, so I was getting some mixed messages. The cooking sites wanted me to use more sponges, and the environmental sites wanted me to use less sponges! So I had to figure all this out for myself. I hope I can simplify it for you, too.
First of all, the germ news. We all know how our kitchen sponges can hold on to a lot of bacteria; after all, that's why they smell bad after a while. I always thought that microwaving a wet sponge for a minute would kill all of that. Some other folks I know put their sponges in the dishwasher to clean, or boil them. But the latest news is that those methods actually can make the sponges worse! It seems that this is because the bacteria are resistant and rapidly re-colonize the sponge, making it even more germy than it was in the first place. The solution? Change your sponge more often. The recommendation was at least once a week, more often would be better.
Which seems sensible. Sponges are fairly inexpensive, so why not buy more and change more often?
Here's why not: Conventional sponges are simply terrible for the environment. They contain plastic, dyes, and synthetic disinfectants. When you throw them away, they go into the landfill and never decompose. There are some sponges that are made with recycled material, and those are better, but they still won't decompose like something natural would.
So this sent me on a hunt for alternative ways of cleaning my dishes. After a lot of searching, I think I have found two products that will really help us stay clean and germ-free, as well as helping the environment.
First dish cloths. Pictured above are Swedish dish cloths, which are made of cellulose fibers, can be washed over and over again, and when they finally conk out, can be put in your compost bin, as the dyes and materials are biodegradable. Stock up and get a pile of them, use one for 1-2 days, throw it into your washing machine (or boil on the stove), and hang to dry (they cannot be put in a clothes dryer). The downside is that they are not cheap like sponges; however I think the fact that they are reusable for a very long time gives them the edge financially. I couldn't find any of these made Stateside, which is another drawback. I bought them directly from Tuliptree & Saga, which is a Scandinavian storefront, and ended up paying a little more in shipping. Skoy cloths can be obtained on Amazon. As you can see, you can find lots of fun designs, or just plain colors. The cloths are stiff upon arrival and after drying, but act just like a spongy cloth when wet. I have used them for a week now and like them very much. Yes, it takes a little more work to wash and dry them, but I think it's worth it to minimize our household impact on the environment.
Tom was on board with this totally (he is definitely more mindful of waste than I am), but his one request was to find a 'scrubby' sponge, something with some muscle, for pots with cooked-on food. After more research, I found these loofah sponges from Twist. These are really great, they dry fast, and can be composted as well. Since they cannot be washed, we'll be replacing these more often. I think next year I might grow my own loofah sponge gourds so that I can make our own supply. These seeds are on sale at Renee's right now!
Now, I am on a search for biodegradable cleaning wipes. I don't mind cleaning kitchen surfaces with one of these cloths and some environmentally-friendly cleaner (or my own Thieves Vinegar), but I get a little skeevy about cleaning the toilet with anything that I then reuse. Clorox makes a wipe that they claim is compostable, called Green Works, but the Environmental Working Group gave these a bad grade, apparently. If anyone has a suggestion for these, please let me know!