Grow Your Own Zero-Waste Sponges
By Andrea Kjorlaug
Have you ever thought about the number of plastic shower sponges, dishwashing sponges, and other plastic cleaning sponges you use and discard throughout the year? Even plastic that is properly disposed of can end up in landfills, which eventually ends up in our water. But did you know you can grow sponges, otherwise known as luffa gourds, to cut down on the amount of plastic waste you produce at home? Read on to learn all about these organic, zero-waste sponges.
What Is a Luffa Gourd?
Luffa, sometimes known as loofah, is a large, viny plant that is a member of the cucumber family. Luffa vines grow up to 30 feet long and produce large gourds up to 2 feet long. These gourds can be harvested for food in their earlier stages, or they can be left to mature and be harvested for sponges. Luffa, when harvested for food, is high in vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A, Vitamin B5, Manganese, and Potassium, and is a good source of fiber. It tastes like zucchini and can be prepared in many of the same ways.
When left on the vine to mature, the inside of the luffa forms tough, fibrous clusters that have a spongelike texture. They can be used in the shower, for dishes, and all your cleaning needs. Luffa gourds are 100% biodegradable after use, which means that they will completely break down and decompose. This makes them a great option for a zero-waste sponge.
How Are Luffa Gourds Beneficial?
Plastic shower sponges, commonly known as loofahs, are usually used for just a few weeks and then discarded in the trash; it’s the same way with plastic dish sponges and other plastic cleaning sponges. Plastic is not biodegradable, meaning that it will never completely decompose–even if it sits in a landfill for years and years. Instead, it breaks down into smaller parts, known as microplastics. Microplastics from landfills can leach into the ground, ending up in the groundwater and making their way into our water supply.
For an amazing, zero-waste replacement for plastic loofahs and cleaning sponges, think about growing (or purchasing) luffa gourds as a replacement. One luffa plant can grow up to 30 feet long and produce anywhere from 5-9 gourds. The gourds usually grow to 2 feet in length, and you can cut them to the size that you prefer. By growing just a few plants a year, you can replace your plastic household sponges with an amazing zero-waste option. Luffas can be used in many of the same ways as plastic sponges- in the shower, to wash dishes, and for cleaning nearly anything! They are 100% biodegradable and can be incorporated into your compost pile when you’re ready to discard them, making them a perfect zero-waste alternative.
Luffa plants produce beautiful, unique, yellow flowers that are great at attracting many types of pollinators. Luffa flowers are large, bright, and yellow, making them very attractive to bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, and even wasps. Honeybees seem to have a soft spot in their heart for these unique flowers; you can catch them napping inside of them in the early hours of the day. Since luffa flowers attract so many different types of pollinators into your garden, they can be very beneficial to your other plants.
Another great benefit of luffa gourds is the high yield that you can harvest from them. They can be harvested young to be consumed, or you can let them mature into sponges that you can use all year long. The gourds will grow up to 2 feet in length and you can cut them in half or fourths, whatever size fits your preference. They also produce 5 to 9 large gourds per vine, so you can have a year’s worth of sponges by just planting one or two vines.
How to Grow Luffa Gourds
Luffa gourds have a long growing season of 150 to 200 days, and they prefer a warm environment. This may make them unsuitable to grow in areas that have a colder climate or shorter growing seasons, so keep this in mind if you plan on planting luffas. Luffa vines can grow up to 30 feet long and need to be on a trellis, so be sure you have a very sturdy and large trellis if you plan on growing luffas. You’ll want enough space for them to grow, and the trellis needs to be very, very sturdy to support the heavy gourds once they start growing larger.
- Soak seeds for 24 hours before planting for faster germination.
- Sow seeds directly in the garden once all danger of frost has passed, and the soil is workable. (If you live in a cooler climate, consider starting your seeds off indoors to expand your growing season)
- Sow seeds 8 to 12 inches apart (the more space, the better) along a VERY STRONG fence or trellis. BE SURE TO PROVIDE A STRONG, SUPPORTIVE TRELLIS.
Care and Other Tips
- Luffas need at least 6 hours of full sun. The more sun you can provide them, the better.
- Luffas grow well in almost any type of soil, if it is well draining.
- Ensure your luffas get about an inch of water per week. It is usually a good practice to water once a week and avoid watering the vines and leaves.
- Luffa will grow well on its own without the use of fertilizers or other chemicals. If you want to add nutrients, consider adding organic matter or compost into your soil a few weeks before planting your luffa seeds.
- Leave your luffas on the vine to dry as long as possible but be sure to harvest them before the first frost. The frost can ruin your luffas and cause them to rot.
Luffas are ready to be harvested in the fall, or 150 to 200 days after being planted. Your luffa will be tan or brown and be very lightweight. The skin will feel crispy and hard, and if you shake it, you’ll hear the seeds rattling around. They should be left to dry out on the vine as long as possible but be sure to harvest them before the first frost.
Once harvested, soak your luffa in warm water until the skin peels off easily. This can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Remove the skin and shake out the seeds. Cut your luffa into the sizes or shapes that you prefer.
Many people clean their luffa sponges before use by soaking them in a water/bleach solution. This is up to you, as some people simply rinse them thoroughly before use.
Dry them well before storing them to ensure that they don’t grow mold or mildew.
Luffa sponges can be used as shower sponges, they can be used to wash dishes, or used to clean almost anything, from your bathtub to your car. The possibilities of the use of luffa sponges are endless, but best of all, they are an amazing zero-waste alternative to plastic sponges.