Cellulose is the primary structural fiber in a plant's cell walls. This organic compound is in almost all plants and is likely one of the most abundant fibers on the planet. Cellulose has many uses, including making sponges and cellulose wipes or dishcloths. Take a look at how they're made, how and why they're used, and their advantages and disadvantages.
Why Use Cellulose Sponges?
Manufactured cellulose sponges are some of the most common cleaning sponges available. The tiny holes in cellulose sponges are meant to absorb and hold liquid while you use them. They can last through some reasonably tough cleaning jobs. A cellulose wipe is another version of a flatter cellulose sponge. You can use these rectangular flat sponges in place of paper towels or for dusting and polishing. They are reusable for up to six months when properly cared for and are biodegradable.
You can use cellulose sponges and wipes to clean a multitude of surfaces:
- Kitchen countertops
- Kitchen sinks
- Bathroom countertops and sinks
- Showers and tubs
What Is a Cellulose Sponge?
Cellulose sponges are made primarily from wood fibers. Although manufactured, they’re much more eco-friendly than plastic sponges since they go through a less toxic manufacturing process and degrade in landfills.
How Are Cellulose Sponges Made?
Cellulose sponges are primarily made from wood pulp. Other common materials used in cellulose sponges include hemp fibers, sodium sulfate crystals, and softeners. These sponges are soft inside their sealed packaging because they are usually treated with a soap that keeps them pliable. This treatment also keeps bacteria from growing inside the package before purchase. Rinse your sponges thoroughly before you first use them.
Cellulose sponges work well on bathroom surfaces, countertops, dishes, and everyday spills. To tell them apart for their intended use, you can assign one brightly colored sponge to one task and another for another use.
These sponges come in fun shapes to fit your hand grip in rectangles, curvy shapes, or ovals. You can also cut them into smaller sizes to provide more uses for each sponge.
You also have the option to purchase cellulose sponges with a scouring side. The two-sided option gives you more cleaning power. However, most manufacturers make the scouring pad side from plastic or polyurethane. Some eco-conscious brands have developed a scouring pad made of coconut husks and other natural materials, so your sponge will remain 100% biodegradable. Your best option for the planet is 100% cellulose or plant products; it's more eco-friendly and has no poly-anything.
Cellulose sponges are pricier than plastic sponges. Even though they are more expensive than plastic sponges, they are generally an inexpensive item and should be tossed if you cannot entirely remove dirt particles or they get grimy.
Cellulose sponges tend to trap residue and bacteria, making them difficult to rinse out fully. This drawback shortens the life of the sponge and causes it to break down or smell.
Never use cellulose sponges to wipe up a raw egg spill or raw meat juices. In cases where food bacteria transfer is a concern, a disposable paper towel is a better option.
Proper Care for Cellulose Sponges
If you keep it clean, you can reuse a cellulose sponge or wipe for up to six months. Although with frequent care and rougher use, your sponge may only last about a month. To make them last, rinse sponges thoroughly after each use. Allow them to dry completely open to the air.
Several methods for killing bacteria in the sponge:
- Bleach: Soak the sponge in a mixture of one part bleach to nine parts water for two minutes. Wring it out, then air dry.
- Vinegar: Soak the sponge in full-strength vinegar for five minutes, then rinse and air dry.
- Dishwasher: You can also run sponges through a cycle in the dishwasher on the top rack.
- Microwave: A wet sponge can go in a microwave for 30 seconds. Make sure it's wet; it can catch on fire and burn in the microwave if it's too dry.
Also, use different sponges for different tasks. For example, the sponge you use for cleaning up countertop spills should be separate from the sponge used for washing dishes. The sponge used for bathroom countertops should be kept in the bathroom, while you should store the sponge for the kitchen in the kitchen.
Throw away any sponges that remain dirty or start to smell. They are signs of bacteria, germs, yeast, and mold build-up. Those organisms can pass on to your dishes and food.
Sponges made from 100% cellulose or 100% plant products can go in the recycle or compost bin. However, sponges with polyfill additives or two-sided sponges with an attached plastic scouring pad are not recyclable or compostable. They must go in the regular garbage can. Unfortunately, most "poly" products may take thousands of years to degrade versus plant-based products that can transform into compost in about a year. To aid decomposition, cut the sponge into small pieces before adding it to your compost pile.
The Regulation of Cellulose Biosynthesis in Plants. NIH National Library of Medicine.
Faulkner, Nicholas and Peterson, Judy Monroe. Biodegradability and You. Rosen Central, 2018.
Gerba, Charles et al. A Comparison of Urethane and Cellulose Sponges as Cleaning Tools in Household Kitchens. Food Protection Trends, vol 37, no. 3, pp. 170–175, International Association for Food Protection, 2017.
Wolde T, Bacha K. Microbiological Safety of Kitchen Sponges Used in Food Establishments. Int J Food Sci., vol. 2016, 2016. doi:10.1155/2016/1659784