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15 Sustainable Alternatives to a Plastic Kitchen Sponge

Zero waste biodegradable and plastic free coconut dish sprubber scourer

[This article was originally posted in July 2019. It’s been edited to add my latest buy, a bottle brush and to update links].

You may be feeling sceptical about plastic-free dish sponges

(particularly if you don’t wash up straight after dinner).

Food coma anyone?

I’m definitely an I’ll-wash-the-dishes-if-you-roll-me-to-the-kitchen-and-give-me-a-chair-kinda-woman.

By the time you get to the dried-on-spaghetti pans and sauce covered plates, you need a sponge that knows what to do.

A tough-love scrubber that can hit the spot, you know?

Is it possible an eco-friendly dish brush, made from 100% natural materials, can get the job done?

By the time you’ve checked out the 13 sustainable sponges and scourers I’m about to share with you, there will be more than enough knowledge in your brain to come to a decision.

But first, I’m going to explain the three major problems with conventional washing up sponges.

[Photo by RitaE]

[Photo by RitaE]

The problem with conventional sponges

Basically, those (chemically-dyed) yellow and green sponges you may have been using your entire life are made out of plastic.

If you’re already clued up on plastic pollution (I assume that is why you are here), then you’ll already have guessed reason number 1.

1. Microplastics.

Every time you use that cheap, little sponge you are accidentally washing tiny particles of plastic into the sea.

This is because water filtration systems aren’t effective enough at filtering them out. The Chief Scientist for Ocean Conservation (George Leonard) estimates there are 1.4 million trillion microfibers in the ocean.

I don’t even want to know how many zeros that is.

The scariest part is that hazardous chemicals, such as pollution and pesticides, that are in the water are absorbed into the microfibers, making them highly toxic… which brings me to the next point.

2. Fish = food

These sneaky, little microplastics, which are barely visible to the naked eye, are swallowed by sea creatures. The toxic chemicals that have been absorbed eventually cause liver damage in fish, birds and other coastal wildlife.

Scientists have found microfibers in 114 types of fish - half of those are eaten by humans.

They are trying to work out what that means for our health, but studies of this nature take a very long time.

It’s enough to put you off your dinner, isn’t it?

sustainable alternatives to a plastic dish sponge

3. Landfill waste

These sponges are incredibly cheap and are often considered disposable. I’ve heard horror stories about people using a single sponge each day to avoid germs.

Sadly they are not biodegradable. I can’t even imagine how many synthetic sponges must be living inside landfills or polluting the oceans.

If you’re that person - we all have our eco-weaknesses so there’s no judgement here - luckily there are so many options nowadays that are biodegradable and kinder on the environment to produce. There are even naturally antibacterial options, and even sustainable sponges for those of you that LOVE plastic sponges.

4. Fossil fuels

Crude oil (and other fossil fuel) corporations are the biggest contributors to climate change. Oil is used to make plastic and other synthetic materials.

Not only is this catastrophic for the planet (look up BP’s ocean oil spill or the collateral damage of fracking for oil), but the greedy companies also cause their fair share of human rights abuses, like Shell, who are responsible for causing environmental genocide in Nigeria. Find out more about the current lawsuits against Shell here.

[Oil drilling rig. Photo by C.Morrison]

[Oil drilling rig. Photo by C.Morrison]

As part of my boycott against Amazon and a desire to support businesses that do not exploit their workers, use child labour, or avoid millions of taxes, the links on this list are from my ethical alternatives to Amazon list. 

(I also have a discount page with monthly promo codes). 

I chose two suppliers that often have sales on cleaning products but also stock a wide range of products so you can include any eco sponges as part of your monthly low waste consumable shop.

If you living in a different country and would prefer me to link to places you can buy closer to home, let me know what country in the comments and I will see what I can do.

This post contains affiliate links.

Twelve sustainable alternatives to your plastic dish sponge

1. Hemp scourer

Hemp is wonderfully sustainable for lots of reasons, the main being:

  • It naturally repels pests so no toxic pesticides are needed.

  • It doesn’t require much water or land to grow.

  • The plant returns nutrients into the soil.

Made from natural, wood-based cellulose and woven hemp fabric, there is no plastic in this sponge at all making it a perfect choice for a zero waste kitchen.

The hemp sponge can be cleaned in the dishwasher, view it here.

2. Heavy duty sponge

Cheap as chips, this sponge is the perfect switch for someone who likes the conventional dish sponge but wants a sustainable version.

Ecoforce take foam that other companies don’t use and turn it into recycled sponge scourers. It’s a sustainable choice because they are stopping more waste ending up in landfill.

View it here.

For £1.50, they also sell a similar pack of 3 scouring pads that are made from 100% recycled fibres. I tried these and they seemed exactly the same as the standard green plastic scourers, only they don’t hurt the planet.

[Photo by congerdesign]

[Photo by congerdesign]

3. Eco sponge

This is a new addition to my list for 2020. I haven’t tried it, but wanted to share it with those of you transitioning from conventional sponges as it is the most similar product I’ve found. It also has excellent reviews.

It has the familiar design of a sponge with a scouring pad on top. Rather than being made with fossil fuels, it has been created using recycled plastic bottles mixed with cellulose and plant fibres from the sisal plant (which don’t need pesticides).

You can get it in packs of 2 here.

(Photo by Manfred Richter)

(Photo by Manfred Richter)

4. Cellulose sponge

Maistic have designed a natural sponge made from 100% wood-based cellulose.

You have to be careful because greenwashing companies will label their cellulose sponge as “eco-friendly” and “natural” (unregulated words) but actually they’ve got hidden polyester fillings! It’s very naughty, but cheaper for them to produce and will shed microfibers.

Cellulose, made from wood fibers, has a much less toxic manufacturing process than synthetic materials. It’s an ideal product if you want an 100% plastic free option.

The only flaw is that it isn’t quite as hard-wearing as a synthetic sponge but I still got plenty of use out of mine. I found it perfect for washing windows and mirrors.

It’s so natural you can also use it on your body, or cut it up to create facial or make up sponges.

View it here.

USEFUL TIP - It lasts longer if you wash it in the dishwasher or boiling water, instead of in the washing machine - found that one out the hard way, doh.

Photo: Safix compostable scrub pad.

Photo: Safix compostable scrub pad.

5. Compostable Scrub Pad

If a scourer you can pop in your home compost is something that appeals to you, then the Safix scrub pad fits the bill.

It is made from coconut fibres and is 100% plastic-free. It is made from the hair of the coconut (binded by latex) and so doesn’t scratch at all.

As a lazy person who doesn’t wash up straight away, I did find it less effective than some of the other options, but I do know someone who likes it. Therefore I am of the opinion that if you are less lazy than me it could work for you.

I have now cut mine in half and repurposed it into a shampoo bar and soap bar holder.

View it here.

6. Coconut scourer

Commonly seen on sustainable Instagram accounts, this highly-rated naturally antibacterial scourer is made from coconut fibres wrapped around a metal wire.

These strong, fibrous strands, often called coconut husk or coir, are found on the outside of the hard inner shell of coconuts.

They are handmade in Sri Lanka, supporting local business and traditional skills. They also pay fair wages.

View it here.

Bamboo sustainable dish brush, eco friendly option for plastic sponges

7. Bamboo dish brush

This handheld bamboo dish brush is excellent (even my partner is a fan).

It has recycled plastic bristles, and washes plates and pans well.

I really like that it is easy to hold and it seems to have plenty of life left even though we’ve had it for months.

In my opinion, it’s a good option for people sceptical about the effectiveness of natural materials.

I keep it clean by regularly washing it in hot soapy water. You can sterilise it using boiling water.

View it here.

8. Natural bristles scrubbing brush

If recycled plastic isn’t your thing then this certified vegan dish brush has bristles made of plant fibres -which is pretty cool if you ask me.

It’s sustainable wooden handle is a different shape to the previous scrubber, but it still looks super easy to grip.

This product has clearly been designed for those times when you need a bit of elbow grease without damaging the brush.

I haven’t tried this brush yet, but I’m planning on using it once my current one (option 7) is done with.

What appeals to me is that it is suitable for home composting - I emailed Natural Collection (who are selling the product) and they contacted the company who confirmed it was compostable.

View it here.

Plant Fibre Dish Brush - sustainable alternatives to a washing up sponge

9. Plant Fibre Dish Brush

This one is my absolute favourite… (photo below)

I’m gonna be honest here, I originally bought this brush because it looked visually pleasing (I know… priorities).

I did intend to get it with the dish soap block as a plastic-free alternative to washing up liquid, however, I was told it didn’t work well in hard water areas (my water is VERY hard).

As I didn’t want to create unnecessary waste, I decided to stick to my Bio-D liquid which comes packaged in 100% recycled plastic.

The handle makes it convenient to wash up without getting your hands wet (if you’re a wuss like me), and the bristles are effective at getting in the nooks and crannies.

It is made from FSC certified wood and vegan, plant-derived bristles. Once they’ve finally worn out (I’ve been using mine about 3 months) you can take the head off the handle and replace it separately, saving yourself a bit of money. It is home compostable.

Buy it here.

Plant Fibre Dish Brush - sustainable alternatives to a washing up sponge

10. Recycled washing up brush

Not only do Ecoforce make sponges, they have designed a dish brush (with a handle - hooray) from recycled plastic.

This scrubber is suitable for:

  • people who are happy with their current setup but want to be more conscious of the environment.

  • people who dislike coconut scourers.

  • those looking for a budget option (cheaper than the plant-derived options).

You can also purchase replacement heads when needed to cut costs.

View it at Big Green Smile.
View it at Natural Collection.

11. Greener Dish Brush

This product is slightly different to the last brush because it has a second smaller scrubber on the top for harder to reach places.

It is made from a material known as “Eco-Flex” which Green Cleaners designed to reduce plastic waste in landfills. Eco-Flex is made from 50% recycled plastic and 50% wood pulp.

You have to appreciate a bit of creativity, huh?

I haven’t tried this one or the last one out but I wanted to try and cater for all budgets. Both products have excellent reviews.

View it here.

Coconut dish brush

Coconut dish brush

12. Washing up scraper

If you need a bit more oomph in the kitchen than an eco-friendly sponge can provide (that damn food coma), then there are a couple of options that may interest you.

LoofCo are selling coconut husk scrapers that remove dried on food from pans and trays without any synthetic materials or plastic.

It’s just a bonus that it has been handmade in Sri Lanka where employees are supported in their craft with fair wages.

View it here.

13. Pan & Soleplate Cleaner

A slightly unusual item - this non-toxic rubber block can remove stubborn burnt food and rust from your stainless steel pots and pans using water only.

I usually won’t recommend products by Ecozone, if I’m honest. I feel they are guilty of greenwashing. I have recommended this product today because I like that it doesn’t require chemicals. Some of the most toxic chemicals are used for the harder jobs so I want people to have an alternative option.

It can also be used on glass without scratching it, with one review claiming it was effective at cleaning her oven door without scratching it.

It can’t be used on non-stick pans though so be sure to follow instructions.

View it here.

Coconut dish brush

Coconut dish brush

14. Wood-based viscose dish cloth

I’ve given you a lot of jazzy options so I’m going to finish on a nice simple choice.

Because you can't go wrong with a dish cloth, am I right?

Unfortunately, the materials that conventional dish cloths are made from are unsustainable.

Even natural fabrics, like cotton, uses damaging levels of water that is leaving nearby communities with no access to clean water – not to mention it is the most pesticide intensive crop.

Maistic have created a cloth using wood based viscose which is more environmentally friendly than cotton or petroleum-derived fabrics like polyester.

Buy pack of 5
Buy pack of 8

15. Bamboo bottle/jar brushes