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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
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
And there you have it! A finished unsponge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
And please do pin this post for later.