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Published on February 25th, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans


Alternative Cleaning Cloths

Conventional household sponges are a complicated business. Ironically, these items are useful for cleaning but if the sponges themselves are not kept clean, they actually facilitate the travel of pathogens. Bacteria-laden sponges can pose health risks to you and your family.

On a similarly unhealthy note, materials used to make sponges impact the environment in a negative way, as many sponges are made of ester or melamine (a petroleum-derivative), which are not biodegradable materials.

Let’s plunge into a few sponge-sanitizing suggestions and take a look at some alternatives to the traditional sponge.

Natural Sponges

Spore-Collecting Sponges

Sanitizing Your Sponges

Sponges can hold a frightening amount of bacteria after a few uses. Get rid of the millions of nasty microbes by giving your sponges a weekly hot bath.

  • A thorough wash in hot water with a capful or two of vinegar helps with the odors as well as the bacteria.
  • Just boiling the sponges for a few minutes in the same mixture will work.
  • If a microwave is handy, wash sponges and then zap them while still wet for a minute and the heat will effectively get rid of the bad germs.

Sponge Alternatives

Alternatives to the conventional sponge are widely available…

  • Look for sponges made of natural cellulose, which ranks as biodegradable since they’re made from cotton or tree fibers. It’s ecologically “imperfect” but it’s still made from sustainable resources, depending on where and how the constituents are harvested. (Natural sponges are dramatic and functional but sponge fisheries are undeniably unsustainable.)
  • For personal bathing sponges, consider growing your own loofah, a vegetable that dries out into a super-sustainable exfoliant! Check out for step-by-step instructions and photos.
  • If you live somewhere in a climate that supports coconut trees, the coir fibers from coconuts make excellent eco-friendly scrubbers.
  • Microfiber cleaning cloths are a good alternative. Though these are made from resource-intensive, non-renewable products of nylon and polyester, they last for quite some time and can help to lighten your home’s energy impact.
  • Use what you already have—the old familiar torn-up recycled t-shirt rag can certainly do the trick as well.

Eco Product Picks

For stylish, plant-based sponges that support efforts to lower environmental impact, check your local health foods store for brand names like:

The Westerly Natural Market and Natural Value Web sites also provide some eco-friendly options.

Microfiber Cleaning Cloth

Microfiber Cleaning Cloths

Microfiber is an incredibly durable material made from nylon and polyester… which are definitely not the most planet-friendly materials out there! That point duly noted, microfiber cleaning cloths can be some of the most earth-friendly cloths you can use, if you stretch them to maximum capacity…

The Merits of Microfiber

Microfiber is ideal for wiping down surfaces, as it is lint-free and it holds dirt until the fabric is washed in hot water. The dirt from one cleaning does not smear onto the next surface thanks to the construction of the fibers. Here’s how it works:

  • Microfiber’s nylon and polyester fibers are twisted together and then split apart so that each individual fiber is the thickness of 1/100th of a human hair. This gives microfiber the incredible amount of surface area to grab dust.
  • The tiny spaces between the fibers confine the dust and the static charge that holds it all together.
  • Fragile electronics and computer equipment, as well as eyeglasses, cameras, binoculars and other personal items can be cleaned with gentle but thorough microfiber.

High-quality microfiber
cleaning cloths typically have the potential to last 600 washings! This number equals about 2 years worth of wiping, dusting, and general household use. Imagine the number of paper towels and napkins spared from the landfill! Though microfiber cloths are more expensive initially, the ecological savings are invaluable.

Microfiber products come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, all for different uses.

  • Mops made of microfiber make cleaning floors with water and cleaner a lot easier. Make sure that no chemicals come into contact with the microfiber—the combination can wear down the fibers and render the cloth useless.
  • Absorbent microfiber towels and cleaning cloths of all sizes are available to use for drying and wiping down surfaces. Floor pads can collect dust and grime and scouring cloths get to tough messes quickly.

Cleaning Microfiber Products

After using microfiber cleaning cloths, the trapped dust and dirt will be visible on your cloth. When washing the cloths in hot water, either by machine or by hand, make sure that no lint-producing clothes or towels are in the same load.

Though microfiber is a lint-free fabric, it’s dust-attracting properties also attract lint, which unlike dust and dirt, can be left on other surfaces like mirrors and windows.

Where to Find It

Microfiber cloths are easy to find:

  • In addition to online retailers, most home supply shops, hardware stores, and natural grocery stores carry household-cleaning microfiber cloths.
  • Computer supply stores provide cloths sized for electronic equipment.
  • Camera supply stores carry cloths for smaller items.

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