Luffa Sponges and Their Sustainability: How Green Are They, Really?
Luffa sponges often find a place in our bathrooms and kitchens. On one hand, they have great exfoliating properties, helping in cleaning ourselves properly. On the other, they make great kitchen sponges. However, we rarely think of where they came from and about their impact on our health and environment.
What Is a Luffa Sponge?
Luffa sponges are not the ones made from plastic mesh, but not sea sponges either (those are animal organism). Instead, luffa is a plant that’s not only environmentally friendly, but also a vegan product that you can grow on your own.
Here at Green & Growing, we promote green living, and cultivating your own luffas can be a small step in the right direction. If you harvest the luffa before maturity, you can cook it and eat it just like you would zucchini.
In addition to cleaning and eating, luffas also have other uses. Some people use them in the manufacturing of mats, insoles, and slippers. In Paraguay, for example, a green project has found a way to mix luffa with plastic waste to design inexpensive panels for building houses.
Growing Luffa Gourds
Luffas (also spelled “loofas”) are sometimes called “vegetable sponges” and their name originates in the Arabic word “luff” for this plant. You can grow luffa gourds for their fibrous tissue skeleton, which people use as a baths sponge. But as we said before, the young fruits can also be cooked as squash or used as alternative for cucumber in salads.
Luffas are in the same family as cucumber, squash and other gourds, which is visible in the way their leaves and vines look alike. The fruits look like an overgrown zucchini or cucumber, usually reaching a length of 2 feet. They keep their green color until they become fully ripe.
Luffa gourds require quite a long season to ripen completely, but a little care goes a long way. While the plant can weather harsher conditions, you should protect it from frost by starting the seeds indoors. Growing luffa gourds in winter is possible, but do not plant them outside at first.
The seeds might take up to 2 weeks to sprout but you can accelerate germination by pre-soaking them in warm water for 48 hours beforehand. As soon as the soil has warmed – somewhere around the end of May – you can set transplants out. Give the plants enough room to grow by planting one to three plants in a hill. A 6-feet distance between hills is recommended.
Know that luffas need a trellis; otherwise, the plant’s vines will quickly overrun your garden. Conserve moisture and control weeds by mulching mid-summer with grass clippings and/or compost. You’ll know the gourds are ripe when the stems turn yellow.
Ripe fruit make the best luffa sponges. If your full-size fruits are still green, you need to allow them to ripen; green fruit produce soft, fine-textured sponges that won’t last.
How to Make Luffa Sponges
Whether you grow the gourds yourself or you buy some ripen gourds, here are two techniques that will help you make a sponge that will last. Pro tip: Take your time and do not skip any of the steps if you want a sturdy sponge.
- Allow the ripe gourd to dry for around 2 weeks. When the fruit’s skin has hardened and turned a brown color, it’s time to cut out the larger end of the squash and clear the seeds. Let the gourd soak overnight in water, then peel off the skin. A second round of drying in the sun is in order.
- Another method is to allow the ripe gourds to soak in lukewarm water for several days. This will allow the skin to come off easily. All you have to do then is to rinse out the interior of the gourd with water to remove all pulp and seeds. Cleaned gourds will require a week of drying in the sun.
Facts about Luffa Sponges
- Don’t throw away the seeds you get during the preparation of the luffa sponge. Save and dry them so you’ll never have to buy them again. Refrigerate or freeze them for best results.
- If you allow the luffa to dry completely between uses, it will last you a good couple of months. Should you grow and prepare them yourselves, you can have plenty gourds to turn into sponges all year round.
- Some are worried that luffas harbor bacteria. However, you can prevent rubbing yesterday’s bacteria on yourself today by drying the luffa sponge after each use. Also, clean it by rubbing it under running water or put it in the dishwasher for a more thorough wash.
- If your luffa looks or feels dirty, or if it starts to fall apart, simply compost it and grow another one.
- Because bacteria are at home in wet environment, luffas can encourage fungal organisms. In exceptional cases, they may even lead to skin infections. That’s why you should make sure your loofahs are clean, and you replace them fairly regularly.
Tips for Good Luffa Care
Dry it daily. You should rinse your loofah very well after each use. Then hang it in a cool place to dry – preferably not in the shower. Also, don’t use for cleaning right after shaving; the potential bacteria it harbors can easily enter your skin through nicks and cuts.
Use the luffa about twice a week, not more often. And when you do use it, keep it away from your face and private parts. In general, it’s better to not scrub the parts that are most vulnerable to infection.
Weekly luffa cleanse is mandatory. Regardless of the kind of luffa you are using, you should thoroughly clean it at least once a week. Soak it in a diluted bleach solution for about 5 minutes and then rinse.
Replace it regularly. Natural luffas should be replaced every three to four weeks. The plastic mesh ones can last for about two months. Should your luffa develop a musty or mildewy odor, that’s a sign you should get rid of it ASAP.