How To Make Unsponges – Zero Waste Dish Scrubbers

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I am always on the lookout for zero waste swaps for things that we use everyday. And even though I have a dishwasher, I do still sometimes have to use pan scrubbers and sponges to clean the dishes. So today I decided to show you how to make Unsponges – a reusable scrubbing or washing sponge that is so much better for the environment than a plastic sponge scrubber.

*This article has been updated, the original article was written in August 2019

How To Make Unsponges

 

How To Make Unsponges - Make your own kitchen sponges - a great alternative to plastic bacteria breeding sponges & scrubbers. A great zero waste kitchen swap. Upcycle old clothes, towels & bedding to make these padded scrubbing washing cloths that can be laundered with the rest of your wash. DIY unsponge tutorial with pictures. Pictorial guide to making sustainable recycled kitchen cleaner pads. Perfect for plastic free July. Environmentally friendly #unsponges #upcycling #sustainable #zerowaste

 

A few months ago I cleared out my little one’s cupboards, and found some brushed cotton/flannel bedding and muslin cloths from when she was a baby. Reluctant to just send these to landfill, I wanted to find some new ways to upcycle this cloth.

Firstly, I made a few reusable sanitary pads, as the flannel makes for a perfect absorbent wadding pad. See my tutorial here.

But I still ended up with some smaller offcuts. And I always end up with offcuts of cotton when making clothes. These are perfect for making some reusable wadded kitchen sponges – or unsponges.

 

What Are Unsponges?

 

Unsponges are the perfect alternative to plastic sponge scrubbers that you may have used in the past to clean your dirty pans and dishes. You know the thing I mean, a kitchen sponge with a scrubbing side and a sponge to hold.

They come in all shapes and sizes but they all have the same downside – they are made of plastic! 

Not only are they bad for the environment, but you have to keep throwing them away and using a new one. This is so bad for the environment. I wanted to find a way of making something that you could make from fabric scraps and that could be composted at the end of its use.

Plus, those plastic kitchen sponges harbour all sorts of nasty bacteria. I’d much prefer a scrubber that could be washed easily and be maintained until it wore out.

 

What You Will Need To Make Unsponges

  • Cotton Quilting Fabric – for the top – find this skulls fabric here  – or similar fabric here if you are in the U.S
  • Old Flannel Bedding – brushed cotton – or old thin towelling for the middle padding
  • Muslin, Waffle, or old thin towelling for the scrubbing side.
  • A rotary cutter, mat and quilting measure are a good idea for cutting out, but not essential
  • Scissors, pins and a sewing machine are essential.

My materials for unsponges

How To Make Them

Cut some rectangles of material to make up each unsponge. Mine measured 17cm by 14cm approx (7 inches by 5 inches)

Fabric Squares

I used 1 layer of cotton for the top, used 4 layers of flannel for the padding, and 1 layer of muslin for the scrubbing side. If you use an old tea-towel as padding you may only need 2 layers, or you may want a thicker pad, so use more layers.

Place the padding at the bottom, then pin the scrubbing and the topping layers on top – right sides together.

Unsponge layers

Sew a 1cm seam allowance all the way around, leaving a gap of about 5cm (2 inches) at one side. Backstitch at either side of this opening to give it some strength when turning.

Seam with turning gap

Trim the seam allowances by half and clip the corners, but don’t clip the stitching. Except in the area that will be turned.

Turn the pad inside out, so that the topper fabric and scrubbing fabrics are right side out. Push the corners out using a knitting needle or pen. Give the pad a good press. And push in the seam allowance at the opening, pressing this well so that it is fully inside.

Pressed pad

Seam allowance pressed inside

Now, sew around the pressed pad 5mm from the edge. This can be tricky, as the pad is bulky. I use the edge of my presser foot as a guide. This 5mm seam allowance will close the area created by the turning gap, and so you should be left with a pad that is closed all the way around. But I then also sew a second layer of stitching about 1cm inside the first. This just gives a bit more quilted and polished finish to the unsponge.

Sewing 5mm seam around pad edge

Quilting the pad

And there you have it! A finished unsponge.

How To Make Unsponges - Make your own kitchen sponges - a great alternative to plastic bacteria breeding sponges and scrubbers. A great zero waste kitchen swap. Upcycle old clothes, towels and bedding to make these padded scrubbing washing cloths that can be laundered with the rest of your wash. DIY unsponge tutorial with pictures. Pictorial guide to making these sustainable recycled kitchen swaps. Environmentally friendly #unsponges #kitchenswaps #upcycling #sustainable #zerowaste #environmentallyfriendly #kitchenunsponges #diyunsponge

These can be washed with a normal wash, and tumble dry or leave to air dry. Just a much better alternative to the horrible bacteria breeding plastic pan scrubbers and sponges.

How To Make Unsponges - Make your own kitchen sponges - a great alternative to plastic bacteria breeding sponges and scrubbers. A great zero waste kitchen swap. Upcycle old clothes, towels and bedding to make these padded scrubbing washing cloths that can be laundered with the rest of your wash. DIY unsponge tutorial with pictures. Pictorial guide to making these sustainable recycled kitchen swaps. Environmentally friendly #unsponges #kitchenswaps #upcycling #sustainable #zerowaste #environmentallyfriendly #kitchenunsponges #diyunsponge

When they are worn out or you feel they have come to the end of their use, cut them up and they can be composted. (provided you have used 100% cotton)

Prefer a more padded version? Then you can use a bio degradable padding such as Kapok – which comes from bushes.

Pad out the unsponges with Kapok after turning through the layers, then sew around the edge and quilt the pad in the centre slightly. Again, this sponge can be washed on a gentle cycle and can be composted once worn out.

Padding the unsponge with Kapok

But what if you need a heavy duty version?

Making Scrubbing Unsponges

Sometimes you just need a bit of extra scrubbing power for burnt on food. And the method above is easily modified to make something for times like this.

I make rag rugs using old cut up jersey clothing and burlap cloth. (see my post on rag rug making) Hessian or old coffee sacks are perfect for up cycling to make rag rugs. Or buy hessian here. (Or here in the U.S.A) But again you do tend to end up with small off cuts of sacking. And these can be used instead of the muslin or old tea towelling to make a slightly more abrasive version of the unsponge.

Heavy duty unsponge materials

Just cut the bottom layer in burlap instead of muslin/towelling. A good tip is to make your turning hole slightly larger for this type, as the stiff burlap layer can be harder to push through.

Again these are fully washable (wash with your normal laundry every 3-4 days depending on use), but let air dry instead of tumble drying. And again, once they wear out, cut up and compost.

How To Make Unsponges - Make your own kitchen sponges - a great alternative to plastic bacteria breeding sponges and scrubbers. A great zero waste kitchen swap. Upcycle old clothes, towels and bedding to make these padded scrubbing washing cloths that can be laundered with the rest of your wash. DIY unsponge tutorial with pictures. Pictorial guide to making these sustainable recycled kitchen swaps. Environmentally friendly #unsponges #kitchenswaps #upcycling #sustainable #zerowaste #environmentallyfriendly #kitchenunsponges #diyunsponge

 

Alternatively, I have seen scrubbing unsponges made using the net packaging from fruit. Cut a square of the net packaging and sew it in to the unsponge just like a layer of hessian. However, these are NOT compostable and it is uncertain whether the plastic produces micro plastic particles. So I have been a little reluctant to make these. Hessian is much more ecofriendly!

Got some burlap/hessian left?

Why not make these shower poufs?

Or if you have other towel scraps you could make your shampoo bars and soaps last longer with wash cloth soap pouches.

Need more ideas for using up all your old fabric scraps? Try this post here.

Another ecofriendly idea is these Reusable Straw Holders.

Looking for more kitchen zero waste swaps or bathroom zero waste swaps?

See how to make Reusable Kitchen Roll.

And please do pin this post for later.

How To Make Unsponges - Make your own kitchen sponges - a great alternative to plastic bacteria breeding sponges and scrubbers. A great zero waste kitchen swap. Upcycle old clothes, towels and bedding to make these padded scrubbing washing cloths that can be laundered with the rest of your wash. DIY unsponge tutorial with pictures. Pictorial guide to making these sustainable recycled kitchen swaps. Environmentally friendly #unsponges #kitchenswaps #upcycling #sustainable #zerowaste #environmentallyfriendly #kitchenunsponges #diyunsponge

How To Make Unsponges - Make your own kitchen sponges - an alternative to plastic bacteria breeding sponges & scrubbers. A zero waste kitchen swap. Upcycle old clothes, towels & bedding to make these padded scrubbing washing cloths that can be laundered with your wash. #DIY #unsponge #tutorial with pictures. Pictorial guide to making these #sustainable #recycled #kitchenswaps. #Environmentallyfriendly #unsponges #upcycling #zerowaste #plasticfree
 
 
 
 
 

44 Replies to “How To Make Unsponges – Zero Waste Dish Scrubbers”

    1. Jo Boyne says:

      Totally agree, gift ideas are always first in my head.

      Reply
    1. Jo Boyne says:

      And mine can be cut up & composted too when they are done, as they are 100% cotton.

      Reply
  1. Christy says:

    What a great idea! These look really simple so I’m sure I could make them, but it had never occurred to me I could make an alternative to sponges. I’ve got loads of old fabric I’ve been keeping without any real purpose but not wanting to throw it out, so I’m definitely going to give this a go. #KCACOLS

    Reply
    1. Jo Boyne says:

      They are so simple. And just a great way to use up the old scraps and fabric.

      Reply
    1. Jo Boyne says:

      Yes, all fabric that may otherwise have gone to waste.

      Reply
  2. Anne says:

    What a great idea, I’m sure I have all the fabric but I’m rubbish with the sewing machine, maybe I can get my daughter to help out? I’m always looking for alternatives too.
    #mmbc

    Reply
    1. Jo Boyne says:

      Thank you. As with anything practice helps, but certainly it is a great beginner project too.

      Reply
    1. Jo Boyne says:

      They are so easy! And just a little way to help reuse old fabrics.

      Reply
  3. sam says:

    I never knew about this, such a great idea and a fab way to recycle old material X #pocolo

    Reply
  4. Stephanie 139a says:

    These look great, I made some reusable kitchen towels with some pretty fabric and an old dressing gown, but could do with some smaller ones. Thanks for sharing with #PoCoLo

    Reply
    1. Jo Boyne says:

      These just feel slightly better and more substantial in use because they are padded. Thank you for reading.

      Reply
  5. Tracy Albiero says:

    These are great to use instead of sponges. I can see using Christmas material and leave little secret santa gifts at work. #KCACOLS

    Reply
  6. Jade says:

    Thanks for sharing this great idea. With really clear instructions too, its really great to have ideas how to reuse more items. #KCACOLS

    Reply
    1. Jo Boyne says:

      So far it has held up pretty well actually. The great thing about these is even when they are worn out, you can cut them up into fine pieces and compost them, as they are all natural cotton materials.

      Reply
  7. Elaine says:

    I am going to make these from scraps left over from making masks. Great idea!

    Reply
  8. Paula says:

    This is such a great idea! I’m thinking for the more difficult tasks like pots and pans, I could use a couple of layers of burlap, or crocheted twine, for the scrubbing side. I love finding a way to recycle scraps, and be able to compost them when their day is done. 🙂

    Reply
  9. Rosie says:

    I tried this and the instructions were super clear and helpful! The only thing I had trouble with was once you turn it right-side-out and go to sew….it was super hard to get the fabric under the presser foot to start. Any suggestions?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Jo Boyne says:

      My presser foot actually lifts even slightly higher when I push it up, so I can squeeze all the layers under it. It can be tricky I agree! Hope that helps.

      Reply
  10. Rolande says:

    Omg! LOL! When you mentioned making flannel sanitary pads it brought back memories. I made myself some about 12 years ago and they were so comfortable that I’d wished I’d made them sooner, especially since menopause kicked in two months later bahahaha! I used my scraps to make “pee wipes” to save toilet paper and the septic. These scrubbies are adorable! Going to make some as zero waste gifts! Thanks!

    Reply
  11. Mea Cadwell says:

    How are these in regards to getting a mildew smell? As thick as they are I figured they’d be difficult to fully dry out between uses.

    I’ve been using cotton mesh, cut into washcloth sizes and hemmed, which I throw in the dishwasher each time I run it. The holes are large enough that food particles don’t get stuck, it dries out rapidly and each one lasts for about a year before it’s time to toss it.

    But, I have a large stash of fabric pieces…

    Reply
    1. Jo Boyne says:

      I place mine on top of the faucet after use each time, and they do dry out quickly that way. If I do feel that they are a bit gunged up, I wash them. And my yellow burlap sponge is still in use a year after this post was written. Thank you for reading.

      Reply
      1. Mea Cadwell says:

        Thank you for letting me know. Methinks I’m going to give them a try. 🙂

        Reply
  12. Kris Lee says:

    So this is a great idea. Personally I haven’t ever used a sponge to wash dishes, I guess this is something that just wasn’t necessary as we always used a dish cloth. Normally these were squares of a towel like fabric about 6-8″ square, sometimes a waffle weave and most frequently made of cotton. These have been in use for decades probably over 100 years. So I don’t see the real need unless you are that into sponges. I still wash dishes the old fashioned way, growing up w/out a dishwasher that was the only way. I do have a dishwasher, but frequently I prefer washing by hand and knowing that the dishes will be clean when I get done and not wondering if the DW did its job.

    Reply
    1. Kris Lee says:

      One quick note to add to my original post. I place my dishcloth on a wire rack that is attached to the end of my cupboards to dry. It dries much better than putting it on the faucet, with no mildew smell and I can use it until it is really ready for washing. Sometimes more than 10 days….No haters here please, I won’t use it if it is dirty.

      Reply

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