The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

December 1, 2009

Scotch Brite Scrubbers: Dishwashing or Greenwashing?

Several months ago, while accompanying some friends on a shopping trip to Target, I came across a new product line that seemed at first glance to be a good sign: Scotch Brite “Greener Clean” products. I picked up a box of natural fiber non-scratch scour pads, biodegradable bamboo wipes, and a natural bamboo cleaning cloth. I didn’t read the fine print until I got home. Too bad.

All three products are packaged in recycled cardboard with no plastic packaging. Great. But the “natural fiber scour pad,” while containing 50% natural agave plant, is also 50% plastic. A phone call to 3M confirmed that. Because of the plastic, the pad is not biodegradable or compostable as I had originally assumed. (I’m not such a bad reader normally. Really!)

Scotch Brite scrubber

The bamboo products are not as green as you might think either.

Scotch Brite cloth and wipes

According to an FTC report this past summer, bamboo rayon is no different from any other rayon product. Its “manufacturing process uses toxic chemicals and results in the emission of hazardous air pollutants.” In addition, “the Commission charges that these rayon products are not biodegradable because they will not break down in a reasonably short time after customary disposal.” sheds light on all the steps involved in chemically processing bamboo into fabric. The article is truly eye-opening.

So, here’s what we use to wash dishes. Nothing is perfect, but we are doing the best we can.

Green Dishwashing

  • Rags made from old socks for very dirty jobs.
  • Skoy cloths for dishwashing and counter scrubbing (compostable at the end of its life.)
  • Coconut fiber bottle scrubber  (great for cleaning stainless steel bottles)
  • Copper pot scrubber
  • Bar soap for handwashing dishes.  Really.  After trying unsuccessfully to create liquid soap a while back, I finally realized there was no need to liquify it in the first place.  I just rub the cloth or scrubber over the soap and scrub away. I’ve seen the recipes for liquid dish soap made with grated soap and other ingredients.  Yeah, that’s not going to happen when bar soap works just fine.
  • Baking soda for extra scouring powder
  • Seventh Generation or Ecover powdered dishwasher detergent.
  • White vinegar for the dishwasher rinse cycle

What we don’t use:

  • Synthetic sponges
  • Plastic scrubbers
  • Plastic brushes
  • Dishwashing liquid in plastic bottles
  • Microfiber cloths.   They are plastic and will not biodegrade at the end of their lives.  Yes, they save many paper towels.  But why use a plastic product when natural fiber cloths already exist?

The point of this post is that all of us need to read labels and not automatically believe companies’ green claims.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the green and the greenwashed.  And sometimes we have to be willing to change when products we assumed to be green are proven to be otherwise.

What examples of greenwashing have you run into lately?

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Janine Mudaliar
7 years ago

Loofah, cut up, is good, too.

Carmen Melton
12 years ago

I don’t know if this has been covered, but does anyone have suggestions for a plastic-free toilet bowl brush that can hold up for many uses? Our old plastic ones did not make it onto the moving truck last month (still feeling guilty abou that, but what should one do with expired toilet scrubbers on moving day??). Anyway, I have held off on any new purchases until I find something that can at least be composted at the end of it’s life. But I don’t know how much longer I can take it! Hope to find a solution soon…

13 years ago

was looking for a recipe for liquid dish soap, and i figured i’d come to you first. just using a bar of soap if it works is not lazy, but in my opinion, brilliant. why make more work for no benefit? keep up the good work, and thanks for all the great tips that make my own quest for less plastic sooo much easier. i wish i could assign your blog to everyone i know. =)

Ben Hodges
13 years ago

We are a small company in the Philippines, dedicated to growing and making truely green washing up tools, no petro chemicals, hand made and fair trade, we come up against the green wash all the time and I drives me mad, ethical green companies then promote and sell these products, even the cellulose sponges consume huge amounts of energy and resources. Our products are barely processed using water, sunlight and human energy, nothing else. Take a look at the site for more details..We are trying to get a US distributor so not available in US yet.

13 years ago

I just got one of those sponges @ Target, thingking they were biodegradable too….I feel cheated. I will return it. Good thing I did not open it.. :) thanks for the post.

Lisa @ Retro Housewife Goes Green
13 years ago

My husband pointed those out awhile ago and I said “I doubt they are truly green.” I’m glad I didn’t buy them, it sucks that that is how my mine works lol.

I love Skoy cloths, I use them for cleaning the kitchen. I just use normal cotton dish clothes for hand washing dishes. It’s what I grew up using.

13 years ago

It does say “greener” on the package. I think if everyone were to buy these instead of the regular ole’ product, things would be a lot better. Let’s face it, most people are not going to use bar soap and a loofah to wash their dishes, but they may buy this product instead. I don’t like to call products likes these greenwashing, they are a better alternative than what is currently being offered. They may not be 100% green, but it is sometimes about baby steps.

13 years ago

I saw that scrubber too, but was somewhat wary of it when I looked closer, so I put it back. I’m glad I stayed away, but frustrated with the packaging – “Natural Fiber” wording and the look from the front that makes the true product make up invisible to the consumer. I wonder if the packaging was ever designed with the content information on the front, but was tossed for this one instead. I can’t imagine how many people are being mislead by it.

Beth Terry
13 years ago

So many questions. Let’s see if I have answers.

1) The bar soap I use is nothing special. Whatever I have on hand. Dr. Bronner’s bar soap. Or castile soap. The one we’re using now is something that came without any packaging. I might have bought it at the farmers market. I use it with a Skoy cloth and have not had problems with streaking or cloudiness.

2) Dr. Bronner’s doesn’t leave a white film on my dishes so maybe it is your water, Beany.

3) Blessed — I am not against liquid soap per se, but I don’t buy it since it comes in a plastic bottle. And bar soap works just fine.

4) Knutty Knitter — the only laundry powder I have found without a plastic scoop is Ecover. But have you tried soap nuts? Are they available in New Zealand?

5) Greeen Sheep & Mindful Momma –well, you guys are not alone. I bought it too. The part about it being 50% agave is on the back of the package. No where does it say what the other 50% is. I had to call to find out. :-(

Lara S.
13 years ago

I recently saw a Coca-Cola commercial saying they now recycle their bottles. The way they tried to make the company look green made me furious :(

Mindful Momma
13 years ago

50% plastic??!! That really pisses me off. I bought that scour pad too – and never even bothered to read the fine print – so thank you for tipping me off. I probably wouldn’t have bought it again anyway because it is so thin and flimsy that it’s hard to grip. Darn greenwashers!

greeen sheeep
13 years ago

Ugh, are you kidding me?! I just bought that sponge! Our dishwasher broke and we have resorted back to hand washing. I picked that one specifically for the lack of plastic and now you’re telling me that it is made of plastic? I even read the label! Apparently not very well. Doing the right thing should not be so difficult. I’ve tried making phone calls to companies before. It is difficult to get the answers you are looking for. The average Joe is not going to take the time to call. Why can’t companies just be up front and honest about their products? Consumers should be informed and left to make their own judgements from there. How can we make an informed decision when only given half the facts? Oy vey!

13 years ago

Given that I have someone in my household that doesn’t care a fig for the environment, I haven’t moved too environmentally friendly in the kitchen.

I don’t use sponges except for the ceramic stove-top cleaning sponge. Lasted me 3 years and counting! I have crocheted cotton wash rags that I use for cleaning up counters/cupboard fronts, dishes and so on. I have a green Scotch Brite scrubby for cleaning up really bad dishes. I also have this Pampered Chef plastic scrapper (7 or 8 years old?) that I use for scrapping caked on food. I still use a few paper towels for a couple of chores but use rags for most of the icky cleaning up.

I am intending on trying Borax/baking soda in my dishwasher when my powder has run out. I use Ivory liquid soap for the sink although I dilute it 50% with water.

I do the best I can given the make-up of my household. I think we use less disposable products than we have in the past.

knutty knitter
13 years ago

I decided to try a different laundry powder. Said it was eco and was in a cardboard box. Got it home and inside was a plastic bag and a plastic scoop! Will go back to the other one next time even if it is a little more expensive.

I got a few old brushes which were originally supposed to be for shoe polish I think. I washed them thoroughly and now use them to scrub pots, pans, potatoes etc. They are obviously pre plastic vintage and small enough to be useful (just a little larger than a nail brush but smaller than a proper scrubbing brush). Judging by progress so far I doubt I’ll ever need to buy a kitchen scrubber again – at least not for a very long time. I don’t think they had ever been used on shoes by the way.

viv in nz

13 years ago

Tracey and Eleanor are right: natural fibers are the way to go. Up until recently, people here in Spain used scrubbers made of esparto grass, but now, in a move to be “modern”, folks are going over to plastic :-(

I used scrubbers made of a fiber similar to esparto when I lived in the US and Mexico which worked great. It might be worth your while to visit a shop in a Latino neighborhood and ask for “estropajos de fibra”.

13 years ago

For greasy pans and plates, I wipe with a rag from an old shirt or t-shirt before using any soap. If, like me, you have old stained clothing and an inability to throw things away, it’s a good way of using up the clothes and reducing your detergent/soap use at the same time.

13 years ago

My big problem with greenwashing is when I go to grocery stores and they put the store brand of (usually) toilet paper or other green products right next to the recycled content toilet paper. Then they package them in green. And they’re cheaper which means people will grab them, thinking they’re alsomade of recycled content. Then when they get home they realize they’re not. This has only happened to me once when I was in a rush and it makes me mad that the stores will dupe people like this. Or maybe I’m the only one and I’m just dumb for not realizing.

But on another non-related note, sponges and loofahs can contain more bacteria than anywhere else in the house (including the toilet or keyboards). Even if you microwave them every night. Personally they gross me out and they’re disposable items. I’ve found that vinegar and baking soda can cut through any type of food on a plate. Yet again, I may be the only one who gets grossed out by sponges.

13 years ago

It makes me really sad to see corporations do this. People who are really trying to do the right thing buy those products and never know the truth. It’s just soooo wrong.

13 years ago

Thanks so much for your post! I *just* saw those Scotch-Brite products today at Target, and almost picked up the bamboo products, but thought better of straying from my shopping list (trying to be a little more mindful) I too was disappointed about the agave plant scrub item, but caught the error before getting finacially committed.

Thanks for the great blog; have enjoyed it for quite a while.

13 years ago

UGH yep, totally irks me.

my latest peeve- local coffee shops are touting their cups as “compostable” when they KNOW that our composting system doesn’t accept them… instead of pushing more aggressive byomug policies, they are misleading consumers in thinking they make the right choice.


when confronted they replied with: “but a petition takes a lot of organization”.


13 years ago

Tracey – even better, you can grow more loofas than you could possibly use for the same cost! They’re a gourd from the Chinese Okra plant (I don’t think it’s really an okra), and I’ve been told that chinese grocery stores in bigger cities should have the seeds for sale for a dollar or two (I get mine from a coworker’s wife in Texas, but that’s a long story) – the seeds are easily collected for the next year, and a single plant can produce TONS of loofas (even in a midwest growing season, it’s not tropical). I’ve heard a rumor you can eat the tastey gourds instead of letting them dry on the vine, but I’ve never tried it. I adore the idea that my garden can produce a superior product to Scotch Brite, virtually for free.

13 years ago

Hey Beth,

I use loofahs to scrub with.
They are squash cucumbery type vegetables that, when dried and peeled, form natural scrubbers.
They look a bit like sponges.
I buy a loofah for $1-$2 every two years.
They soften with use, then move to the bathroom for use on the body.
Finally, I compost them.

Blessings, Tracey

13 years ago

I am new to your site–found your blog while blog hopping and now can’t remember how i got here!–and really like the specific, concrete green suggestions in this post. But why are you anti-liquid dishwashing soap? Is it because it usually comes in a plastic bottle?

13 years ago

Beth, what bar soap do you use? I used Dr. Bronners for a long while but it leaves behind a white film on glass which is fine but aesthetically unpleasant. It may have something to do with my hard water…but thought I’d ask.

13 years ago

Hey Beth, cool post!

What kind of bar soap do you use? I’m really interested in keeping my dish washing solutions green, and have been using up some stuff in a plastic jar, but would like to switch to something better in the future. Does any old bar soap work or do you have to get something special to cut down on streaking, etc?

As far as greenwashed products, I went to an entire “green expo” in the town of Brookline a few months back, and pretty much every booth that wasn’t about getting new siding or a new roof was selling “eco friendly” products in plastic containers. There was even a booth selling “eco friendly” Clorox, whatever that means! I think a few car companies even had booths about their “eco friendly” cars, even though Boston, Brookline and Cambridge have an amazing mass transit system. It was the worst expo I’d ever been to. I was just going to get information on vermicomposting. There wasn’t even anybody there to talk about composting in general.