Rethinking cleaning cloths


I have been doing a lot of thinking this week about cleaning cloths. I have not used disposable cloths, including paper towels, for about twenty years now, so why should I be thinking about them now? There is a growing awareness, I believe, of the negative side effects of using cloth bags and cleaning cloths, namely, what happens once it’s time to discard them? Recycling facilities do not yet handle textiles, at least not in my part of the world, which has a very sophisticated recycling program. Although we buy fabric cloths with good intentions, and particularly in our quest to avoid using disposable products, how much thought do we give (I’m certainly speaking for myself here) about what happens to these cloths when it’s time to part with them? This question arose this week during my 30-Day Minimalism Game, where I decided it was time to get rid of some cotton cleaning cloths that had become too stained and nasty to keep. The problem: How do I dispose of them? I can’t give them to a charity, and they wouldn’t be of much use to animal shelters, for example, as the cloths are simply too worn out. The only option left was to dispose of them in the garbage. This gave me pause, especially as I noted that I would need to do this again with a few of my other cloths that are getting old. In my quest to more sustainable, am I generating too much waste? There are a number of studies that suggest that cotton bags and cloths may have a much larger carbon footprint than we might think, e.g., 1, 2, and 3.

I have no intention of giving up my cloth shopping and produce bags, as they last a long time and, unlike cleaning cloths, do not get stained and worn down as quickly. I have decided, however, to no longer buy any more cotton cleaning cloths (I would’t touch microfibre with a barge pole, let alone bare hands. I hate that dry, raspy feeling). I will use what I have, of course, until they fall apart, but I will replace them with a more sustainable option, namely, biodegradable cloths. I have used these cloths before, and I liked them very much, but stopped using them once I discovered a stash of cotton cleaning cloths in my mum’s cupboard that needed a good home. Biodegradable cloths are made from cellulose and wood fibres; they last for quite a long time, and can be placed in the compost at the end of their life. Examples follow below:

Mabu Cloths: These Canadian products are a classic and have been around for many years. I’ve used them many times. These products are a cult favourite amongst many people. As with most biodegradable cloths, they are very stiff when dry, but become soft once wet.

Skoy: This Swedish company makes cellulose cloths, which are compostable, as well as scrubbies, which are not. I use the scrubbies every day to help remove stuck on food, to clean the ceramic stove top, and so forth. The scrubbies are made from cotton. The cloths are thin and stiff, but soften easily when wet.

Ten & Co: Another Swedish cellulose cloth; although I don’t think it’s as well known as Skoy, this company gets slightly better reviews, and is on my list to try next.