Cleaning Cloth Showdown: Only One is Great at Cleaning *and* Good for the Planet
When you’re stocking up your cleaning tool caddy, there are a lot of factors to consider. Among the most important questions to ask yourself: How well does this product work, and what is its long-term impact on the environment? That said, I know it can be tough to find reliable information on which to base your choices. Don’t worry. I’ve got you, starting with some of the most common cleaning tools out there.
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Three of the most ubiquitous cloths — microfiber, organic unbleached cotton, and sponge — have their own unique pros and cons when it comes to functionality and sustainability.
To learn more about how they compare, we talked with Azora Zoe Paknad, founder of Goldune, and Austin Miller, founder of the Seattle-based cleaning company Spruse Clean. Here’s what they had to say.
When it comes to cleaning effectiveness, Miller believes that microfiber reigns supreme. “They boast a heavy-weighted feel, and they’re designed to pick up as much debris as possible with minimal effort,” he says.
What about sustainability? Reusable microfiber (or really, any cloth option) is obviously a better choice than, say, disposable paper towels — and it’s possible to source microfiber from reclaimed materials like recycled plastic water bottles. But at the end of the day, Paknad believes microfiber is anything but earth friendly. Not only does it shed microplastics when laundered; it doesn’t biodegrade naturally, so it’ll end up in landfills.
“I don’t see the point in buying more fossil fuel-based fabrics for my home when I could reuse a natural fiber like a cut up tee I never wear or a compostable option like a sponge cloth,” says Paknad.
While she says she does her best to minimize plastics, she reserves poly or fossil fuel-based textiles in situations where natural fibers just don’t work for her. (“Hard to imagine having an awesome workout in a hemp pantsuit,” she says.)
Organic Unbleached Cotton Cloths
Unbleached cotton cloths are good to have around, Miller says, because they’re easy to launder. That said, because they’re not super absorbent, it might be tough to say, dry your dishes or wipe up a spill.
In terms of sustainability, organic unbleached cotton is middle of the road. Paknad says while cotton is friendlier to the earth than plastic, even organic cotton consumes significant resources. “We have a lot of fabric on earth, and I’m not positive we need to be making more cotton for cleaning cloths,” says Paknad. (One note: Recycled fabrics are a wonderful exception; Paknad loves these napkins, which you’d never know are made of recycled cotton.)
While organic cotton can technically biodegrade, it’s not necessarily compostable unless you know whether or not it’s dyed or treated. And while it can be recycled efficiently, Paknad says it’s worth noting our recycling infrastructure can’t handle the current volume of textiles that gets sent its way, which is why textiles keep piling up in landfills and causing an excess of emissions. “This is a solid second choice, but it is worth noting it’s not necessarily the most effective, or virtuous one, despite the halo effect of the word ‘organic,’” Paknad says.
Sponge cloths, aka Swedish dish cloths, are an ultra-versatile tool — Miller says they’re great for cleaning dishes, counters, and even floors if you’re skilled with a mop handle. “They’re multi-purpose with the perks of a washcloth but the versatility of a sponge, holding up to ten times more liquid than a normal cloth,” he says.
Goldune, Paknad’s business, is 100 percent team sponge cloth — they’ve been investing in making more behind the scenes. (“Right now Goldune carries around 10 different options from assorted brands, but we want to offer patterns, colors, sizes and aesthetics that we can’t find on the market as is, which is why we’re making our own,” she says.)
The biggest reason Paknad swoons over sponge cloths? They’re biodegradable in your home compost bin, can be machine washed and reused up to 300 times, and are as light and as air and efficient to ship. “To me, there’s no contest! The biodegradable, home-compostable and most affordable wins” she says.