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Zero Waste: Kitchen Scrubbers

kitchen-scrubber
Personalised, practical and sustainable. Photo by Maude Farrugia

Produced using plastics and metals, today’s store-bought kitchen scourers can be notoriously bad for the environment. But by repurposing everyday household waste, you can very easily make your own

These homemade kitchen scrubbers pose a two-pronged attack in the war on dishes. They have a coarse side, which is perfect for scrubbing off tough baked-on stains, and a soft side which is suitable for wiping up spills or wiping down benches. And best of all, they can be made using items you’re likely to have lying around the house, making them a great addition to your zero-waste arsenal.

Why Make Your Own?

As cleaning companies love to remind us, grubby kitchen cloths are a haven for germs and bacteria. In fact, according to research, your average wet dishcloth has up to six times more bacteria on it than the inside door handle of your toilet. Allowing your cloths to dry out between dishwashing sessions minimises this issue. In much the same way that dry compost doesn’t break down anywhere near as quickly or effectively as moist compost, a dry dishcloth will also slow down how quickly bacteria can multiply. And that’s why these kitchen scrubbers include a hanging loop so you can hang them up on your sink to dry between washes.

And if you make more than one at the same time, you can keep a bunch of cloths rotating through your laundry too, breaking the bacteria build-up more often. And, unlike plastic sponges and metal scourers, these sturdy little homemade scrubbers are completely washable, so not only can you keep them cleaner and more hygienic, but you’re reducing waste at the same time.

The other advantage of making your own means you can add a splash of colour to your kitchen sink, too. Choose funky prints or give your favourite worn-out shirt a second life as a kitchen scrubber!

using-clips
Clips can make the process easier. Photo by Maude Farrugia

Choosing Your Materials

There are plenty of options when it comes to the materials for making these scrubbing cloths, but all of them can be upcycled from rags, fabric scraps and waste from around your home. Essentially you want something abrasive for the scrubbing side, an absorbent material for the centre and something soft and absorbent for the wiping side.

If you want serious scrubbing power, using the netting from oranges or onion bags is a great option. You can also try scraps of tulle or garden netting. The advantage of this is you’re reusing products which would otherwise end up in landfill, while the disadvantage of this is that you can’t compost it at the other end of its life.

If you’d prefer your homemade scrubbers to be 100-percent compostable, you’ll need to opt for an abrasive natural material like hessian, coarse cotton or linen. They may not be as abrasive as the plastic scraps mentioned, but they’ll be able to break down in your compost and be completely zero-waste.

For this reason, it’s better to only use natural materials for the inner absorbent layer, but also most plastic-based fabrics are somewhat hydrophobic. Materials such as cotton (old cloth nappies are perfect), linen and hemp, however, are naturally absorbent. You can make this inner layer as thick or as thin as you want, depending on how many layers you choose to use, which will be dependent on your personal preferences.

The thread you use can also have an impact on how your cloth functions. Cotton thread is biodegradable, however polyester thread is far more hard-wearing.

What You’ll Need

Once you’ve chosen the fabrics for your three different layers and decided which thread you’re going to use, it’s time to start the construction process. You can hand-sew these kitchen scrubbers, but using a sewing machine – even a pedal-powered one – will make the job far quicker and easier, especially if you’re wanting to make more than one. It’s a good idea to make a bunch of these scrubbers at once, not only to keep them cleaner due to higher rotation when they’re in use, but it’s a good way to experiment with different thicknesses and materials and see what will work best for your household’s needs.

You will also need pins, pegs or sewing clips, a ruler and a good pair of sewing scissors. Also grab yourself a few lengths of edging, string or bias-tape – this can be anything really – that you can use to make the hanging loops later in the process.

fabrics
stitching
layers

Clockwise from top The more inner layers you include, the more absorbent your scrubber will be; When layering your fabrics, ensure the two outside layers are next to each other; Plastic fruit bags make an effective abrasive layer. Photos by Maude Farrugia

Getting Started

The first step is to cut rectangular shapes from your chosen materials. Any size will work, but we’ve worked out that rectangles measuring 17 cm x 21 cm will produce a good-sized scrubber that will fit well in the palm of your hand. If you’re keen to make a production line, cut out a bunch of different rectangles and get experimenting.

Start assembling your scrubber by placing the inner fabric layer down on a flat surface. This is followed by your abrasive layer facing up, and then you top with your softer, wiping layer of fabric facing down. Now pin or clip the corners in place.

Stitching Together

To stitch your scrubber together, start by sewing down one of the long edges, then across the bottom short edge and then up the other long edge. Backstitch to keep in place. At this point, turn your cloth inside out, ensuring your abrasive layer and soft layer form the two outer layers, while the absorbent layer is on the inside.

Tuck the raw edges in at the top towards each other and clip or pin to secure. Now’s the time to make your hanging loop by simply cutting your edging or string to the desired length, folding it in half and tucking the raw ends inside the cavity, leaving the loop you just formed exposed. Pin or clip in place. Stitch this edge down, using a few rows of stitching to make it extra secure. If this end is really bulky, you might need to adjust your sewing machine to avoid breaking a needle.

Once it’s assembled, run a few lines of stitching across the cloth to make it stronger and to keep the layers of the scrubber together. This can be a straight stitch, wavy lines or any pattern you please!

natural-fabrics
Using natural fabrics will allow you to compost them once they’ve reached the end of their life. Photo by Maude Farrugia

Fabric guide

THE DOS AND DON’TS OF CHOOSING YOUR LAYERS

DO: ABSORBENT LAYER
Flanellette
Muslin
Terry towelling
Bamboo fabric


DO: ABRASIVE LAYER
Upcycled onion bags
Hessian
Canvas
Tulle

DON’T: HYDROPHOBIC FABRICS
Synthetic materials
Cotton sateen

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