Dirty habits: sponge scourer addiction

Following on from my previous post about single-use plastics, here’s a little kitchen sink drama for you (ok, it’s not really a drama but I thought it was better than trying to make a soap opera joke). It’s also timely for Plastic Free July.

I think it was when I was at university that I developed a fondness for sponge scourers. Perhaps fondness is the wrong word. A belief in sponge scourers would be more accurate, as in devotion. Once I’d discovered them, via introduction by a friend, I couldn’t understand why anyone would wash up or do the cleaning using anything else.

Consider the genius: one side is spongey for wiping or mopping things and the other is abrasive for scrubbing off nasties. As well as washing up they are also great for cleaning bathrooms, work surfaces and cooker tops – which was handy as I had a couple of housemates who seemed incapable of cooking without letting a pan boil over. They were also clueless (or thoughtless) about the idea of wiping up said spills soon after, so it invariably got burnt or dried on. The good ol’ sponge scourer though. He soon took care of it.


I left university 20 years ago and trying to work out how many sponge scourers I’ve bought, used and thrown into landfill in that time makes me feel terrible. As they are usually made of plastic (with the scouring side a mat of minute plastic fibres capable of shedding into the washing up water and out into the world during use) they don’t rot down. Every time someone discards one it just gets buried somewhere, or blown away perhaps to end up in the sea.

My conservative estimate is that I’m responsible for at least 240 sponge scourers dumped in landfill since I developed my habit, but that’s based on getting through one a month. It could be twice that because I didn’t take note of how long they lasted. I just kept buying them when they wore out – as they inevitably did – packets and packets of the things. The plastic from the packaging also going into landfill, or the sea.


As you can tell I am no longer devoted. But I do mourn the ability to thoroughly clean things so easily – which was at the root of my devotion to the sponge scourer and why it is not an easy habit to break. I spent weeks wondering how I might replace it and hours searching online for a plastic-free alternative. Eventually I found one. It’s called ‘Safix’ and is made of coconut fibre, also known as ‘coir’. I bought it from the Marine Conservation Society but various other online shops also seem to stock it.

It’s pretty good at scrubbing stuff but I’ll be honest, it doesn’t replace the function of the sponge. Happily I remembered how my Dad did the washing up and what he used. It’s true he too was a sometime user of the Scotchbrite – essentially a solo green scouring pad without its sponge – but mostly he employed the humble dishcloth (not to be confused with a tea towel, used for drying up after washing).

The humble dishcloth

I remembered that I used to use these too. A little rummaging unearthed a few in the airing cupboard and some in a box under the sink. They are a fine substitute for the sponge! My only concern is I don’t know what they are made of, they seem cotton-like but I can’t be certain. If/when the ones I have wear out I shall ensure the replacements are eco-friendly and from a sustainable source. The bottom line though: I have no need to buy any more sponge scourers. Hopefully now you’ve read this neither do you.

Other online stockists of plastic free scourers can be found here and here.

  • Please share your plastic free washing up tips in the comments.

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