Sponges are one of the most popular cleaning tools in homes across the world, but they are also one of the most common sea creatures you’ll find along coastal reefs. With that being said, are the cleaning sponges we use in our homes actually alive?
Cleaning sponges are not alive and are usually manmade. Natural cleaning sponges, such as sea sponges, are made from mature pieces of living sponge. However, once removed from the ocean, the sponge is no longer alive.
Since sponges are a popular cleaning item, it is essential that you know the benefits of what you are using and its disadvantages. Let’s talk about several curious myths, and facts, surrounding the humble cleaning sponge!
Sponge Myth: Cleaning Sponges Are Alive
When the term “sponge” comes to mind, you probably picture a porous yellow rectangle that has seen better days. Sponges have a long history of being used as cleaning tool—even as far back as the Holy Roman Empire!
While we do still use natural sponges harvested from the ocean, they are no longer alive by the time you receive them. Once the sponge is harvested, they are processed in a way which “kills” the sponge—although sponges are an incredibly simple form of life, and it is a far cry from killing a fish or other animal.
If Natural Sponges are Sea Sponges, Why Aren’t They Alive?
If you use a natural sponge to clean with, don’t worry. You are not using a live organism to clean your bathtub. Although a natural sponge is made from a sea sponge, there is a long process to ensure that they are ready for cleaning products and household use.
Here are some facts and explanation about the harvesting of sea sponges:
- Sea sponges are found on rocks or ocean beds.
- Using a sharp blade, they are cut away from the sponge’s part attached to the surface.
- There is enough sponge left to allow the sponge to grow back.
- This manner of harvesting is not only sustainable but also helps the population.
Once the sponge has been harvested, it is cleaned on the boat to remove any lifeforms in the sponge. After they are cleaned, they are covered with wet sacks on boat decks, which helps to release gases necessary to remove their skin.
They will often then be hung up to dry on the boat’s deck or at their final destination on land.
Sponge Myth: Synthetic Sponges are the Best Cleaners
The sponges that you are used to now are actually a product of Du Pont. In the 1950s, they created the first nylon sponge, which changed the sponge industry. These are known as Cellulose Sponges. There are absolutely no remnants of a sea sponge with these synthetic sponges and entirely human-made from wood fibers.
Although synthetic sponges are incredibly popular, they are not all they are made out to be.
As with anything, the sponges have both their advantages and disadvantages. Due to their material, you can use synthetic sponges on quite a few different surfaces and with different solutions.
Here is what you need to know about synthetic sponges.
- Cellulose sponges are less toxic and biodegradable.
- Much more affordable and easier to find in stores.
- Cellulose sponges are made from wood fibers.
- Come in different types for different needs.
- They are often coated with triclosan, which is a harmful pesticide.
- Attract and breed bacteria.
- Humanmade in a factory from plastics.
- Tend to trap dirt and debris due to their makeup.
- Do not last as long as a natural sponge.
Although synthetic sponges are must more popular, they are not as environmentally friendly as people may think they are. While they are easily found and more affordable, chances are you are going to have to replace it sooner than you may think.
Sponge Myth: Natural Sponges Hurt the Environment
For others, a natural cleaning sponge is the best option. While they are typically more expensive and may be harder to find, they are actually a greener alternative to the traditional cleaning sponge and they also tend to last longer.
Here are more advantages and disadvantages of natural sponges.
- Use natural enzymes to reduce bacteria build-up.
- Better for the environment.
- Tend to last longer than synthetic sponges.
- They are incredibly absorbent.
- Due to their porous nature, they do not trap debris or dirt.
- It may be harder to find, depending on where you live.
- Are harvested from sea creatures.
- Tend to be more expensive than synthetic sponges.
- May not perform as well as an abrasive synthetic sponge.
Considering that natural sponges are often more effective, most people choose them over synthetic sponges because they are much friendlier to the environment in production and sales. If you are focused on protecting your home and family from bacteria, a natural sponge may be worth the splurge.
Sponge Fact: Sponges Do Harbor Bacteria
Sponges are the ideal environment for many forms of bacteria to grow. They are often kept in warm places, constantly wet, and come in contact with different kinds of dirt and surfaces. Some of the most common types of bacteria that could be living on your sponge are:
- E. coli
Something to consider when purchasing your next sponge is that natural sponges do not harbor as many bacteria as a synthetic or humanmade sponge. Many natural sponges have enzymes that inhibit bacteria from actually being able to survive in the sponge.
Sponge Myth: All Sponges Are Created Equal
The truth is not all sponges are created equal. There are roughly five main types of sponges that are all idea for different tasks. While the most common type of sponge is a cellulose or an abrasive sponge, other sponge types have distinct uses that can help make your cleaning job easier.
Every sponge has its own specific use. For example, you would not want to use an abrasive sponge for a dry sponge job. If you plan on picking up a sponge for a particular project, take the time to do your research to figure out which is best for you and your needs.
Here are the most popular types of sponges on the market right now:
- Cellulose Sponges are ideal for the majority of household cleaning jobs.
- Abrasive Sponges are great for hard to remove debris, and cleaning dishes.
- Compressed Cellulose Sponges can do gentle cleaning tasks, but are also great for skin and face.
- Natural Sponges ideal for cleaning up household messes and when you need a large amount of water.
- Dry Sponges most often used to clean fireplaces, fabrics, and even to clean walls.
Sponge Fact: Sponges Degrade Over Time
Depending on the type of sponge you pick up, you are eventually going to have to replace it. Most synthetic sponges will eventually wear out or become too dirty to use without tossing them. These are not biodegradable and often end up in landfills or oceans.
Cellulose sponges are more environmentally friendly since they are made of wood fibers, but if your sponge features an abrasive option, that is likely to remain.
One option is to choose natural sponges. These are not only made from plant and animal fibers, but they perform just as well and are biodegradable. They also do not harbor as much bacteria or debris which means you are going to have to replace them less often.
Cleaning Sponges: Myths Busted
Although sponge has become a universal term, a natural sponge and a synthetic sponge could not be more different. Now that you know the advantages and disadvantages of synthetic and natural sponges, you can decide which is best for you and your family.
Although the sponge in your kitchen sink is not alive, it could actually be harboring bacteria, mold, or mildew that are dangerous to your family and home without proper care. Instead of a synthetic or human-made sponge, using a natural sponge can inhibit those bacteria from forming and growing.
While a natural sponge may be a better option for some, there are still safer alternatives when using a synthetic sponge for cleaning. Just make sure that you take care of whatever you choose.