Self Sufficient Washing Up?
Regular readers will know we are trying to make all aspects of life here as self sufficient as possible. Even the really mundane bits like household cleaning are trying to be carried out as greenly and cheaply as possible. But no we haven’t found a way to wash up self sufficiently. We still rely on commercial cleaning tools such as bought scourers and cloths. But I think we are improving as I have at last found an effective alternative to the humble washing up sponge.
One of the last green (ish) cleaning switch-overs here as been to finally switch my environmentally unfriendly addiction to synthetic washing up sponges. We always used long lasting metal scourers for pans, and washing up brushes for jars and so on. But we still used synthetic sponges for the bulk of the washing up. The scourers and brushes extended the life of a Casa DirtyBoots sponge but nevertheless we still got through far too many of them. And, though they are cheap the costs do add up. I reckon we spent at least $20 a year just on sponges! That is madness surely?
What are Synthetic Sponges Made Of?
Synthetic sponge is usually made of cellulose wood fibres or polyurethane foam. Oh, plus an assortment of bleaches, sulphates and other mysterious chemicals.
Most of the information available indicates cellulose wood fibre sponges are relatively ‘green’ as there are no harmful bi-products created in their production and any waste (offcuts etc) are recycled back into the next batch of sponge.
The polyurethane sponges though are not so harmless. Their manufacture relies on hydrocarbons (helping to deplete the ozone layer) plus they may give off formaldehyde. And, when incinerated the sponges may break down emitting dioxins and other cancer provoking nasties.
Most annoyingly it is very hard to tell what a sponge is made of, particularly if it is of the ‘scrub sponge type’ with a tough top coat laminated onto it. I guess if the manufacturers do not want to advertise the composition its unlikely to be that good for the environment.
And, though we reused synthetic sponges, being allocated ever dirtier jobs the older they got, eventually they were thrown into landfill. A few sponges were recycled into plant pot drainage and soil savers but not enough.
Green Alternatives for the Washing Up
There are alternatives. Old-fashioned string wash cloths are washable and eventually compostable. My experience of using them in the past is that they are really effective too. But I have to admit I am no knitter so for now this isn’t an option.
We are currently in a ‘half way’ Eco house. Around two months ago I bought one new Microfiber Cleaning Cloth. Then I cut it into four washing up cloths. Each is used for a day then put in the laundry basket. As we always do at least two loads of laundry a week we always have plenty of clean cloths available for washing the dishes.
The cloths are actually more efficient at washing up because their texture means they clean with little washing liquid or effort. And, after two months of continual use and cycles through the laundry the microfiber wash cloths show no sign of deterioration.
You can (I since realised) buy specific Microfiber Dishcloths but my way is cheaper (if slightly tattier looking).
What are Microfiber Cloths Made Of?
Microfiber cloths are made of polyester and poly-amide which doesn’t sound that green. Even the famous E-cloth made by TAD Green Inc is still made of these two materials. There are products which include bamboo fiber which sounds great (if you can afford it) but the bamboo is joined by polyester and poly-amide too. So the string wash cloth option would definitely be a more environmentally friendly way to wash dishes. I think I should learn to knit.
But, I’m being practical and for now microfiber cloths are a more sustainable way of washing up. For me, the best ‘green’ thing about using microfibre dishcloths is that they last for such a long time, and you need less washing up liquid.
It’s only a very small step. But after too many years to mention buying, using and throwing away washing up sponges it feels good to know we don’t need them anymore.
I know that using natural fibre brushes with wooden handles, would be much more ‘green’ but to be honest I don’t find brushes all that brilliant for all the washing up. We need to be practical – I have been spoilt by the cleaning efficiency of synthetic sponges I am afraid.
So my imperfect approach is to use brushes or metal scourers where I feel they work best, and microfiber cloth squares for all the rest. Both have very long lives and extend the lifespan of my cloths.
Green Washing Up Liquid?
I admit to failing to make a homemade washing up liquid that I really like.
Sometimes we use soft soap or homemade liquid soap with lemon juice to cut through the grease. They do work but I still cannot give up my washing up liquid because, on the whole, I find them more effective and less wasteful. We always seem to need a lot more of the homemade recipes than the commercial ones. I will keep trying to get more self sufficient with the washing up, but so far, am only half way there.
What do you use to do your washing up? And, have you found a really effective alternative to washing up liquid?
For a more self sufficient future
I tend to use Ecover washing up liquid – is there a good web site for comparing the environmental impacts of different products?
Farctum – I can’t think of one off-hand but the self sufficientish forum has lots of helpful discussion on such things. Generally washing up liquids aren’t too bad – they’re probably the ‘best’ standard cleaning products you can get.
We have been using luffa’s in the kitchen, bathroom and most importantly to wash eggs for years. We grow these each year from the seeds from the year before. They are terrific, very durable and machine washable. A good luffa will last for at least a year and usually much longer.
Great idea! We were thinking of having go at growing luffas, but I hadn’t thought of using them for cleaning stuff rather than people!
I dig it man. Every little bit helps makes this earth a little more self sufficient and last a little longer. I especially like the microfiber products. They may last a little longer yes, but they also don’t leave lint or dust behind like a cotton cloth will.
Ordinary SAND is good for cleaning grease off metalware such as pots and pans ( don’t try it on the inside of non-stick pans). Just rub a handfull over the pan with a cloth. Works quite well in my experience.
On my travels in India I ended up staying / living with Sadhus in their temples. We would all help gather food stuffs, some bought or donated, and cook up over the ever-burning temple fire. As always a heap of washing up was left and the junior Sadhu would be called to his duties. He would take away the pots and a bowlful of Shiva’s holy ashes from the pure-fed wood fire. So began his easy job of scrubbing the pots. He’d simply swill some water into the pans and add a handful of ash. Because the ash soaks and drops to the bottom of the pan it can be clumped together and rubbed against the rough stuck on food, where its abrasive properties come to work. Further to this, ash, when wetted, begins to form lye – an alkali – which helps to cut through and break down the plentiful ghee grease. Once scrubbed the pans are rinsed out with clean water and boy are they clean :O) No pollutants, but of course the same old elbow grease is required.