By Elizah Leigh on September 12, 2012

Damp, stinky, chewed-up sponges don't need to meet the trashcan. Here are other ways to extend their usefulness.

There’s a certain point where that fresh, out-of-the-package sponge starts looking a little grungy. Depending on the cleaning job that you take on, an absorbable cellulose rectangle can go from slightly iffy to tattered relic in record time. Washing it vigorously with dish soap, sterilizing it in the microwave for 1 minute and running it through a complete laundry cycle — all worthwhile rescue attempts — may not be enough to restore a beaten and battered sponge to its former glory.

Sorry, little sponge, time to meet your new garbage can buddy. Oh, if only it were easy to drop it in and move on with your life, but no, that’s when the internal dialogue starts rearing its ugly head.

I really shouldn’t. I’ve only used my sponge for two weeks.

That seems too wasteful.

Then again, with so many nooks and crannies, this thing must be teeming with bacteria by now.

It’s not like a new sponge is all that expensive. Another plus: Since I use a planet-friendly brand, it’ll probably biodegrade in record time.

recycle sponges

Garbage is garbage, though. What is a conflicted eco-steward to do? Keep your old sponges out of the waste stream, at least for a little while longer, by trying out some of these tips:

Your old sponge is in relatively good condition, aside from some minor discoloration

  1. Hand-me-down shoes that children have not quite grown into can be temporarily modified by adding a small piece of sponge inside the toe region (just cut the piece with sharp scissors to customize the fit).
  2. Demote your sponge from kitchen duty to task-specific jobs, whether you use it exclusively in the bathroom, on floors or simply for pet cleaning needs.
  3. Reserve an old sponge for unexpected leaks or spills.
  4. Place the bottom of a small potted houseplant on top of a sponge, trace around it with a pen, cut the circle out and then use it as an absorbent coaster that will prevent surfaces from getting water stained.
  5. Engage your toddlers in some fun time by crafting a stackable, recycled sponge tower.
  6. Create summer-worthy sponge water bombs for the kiddies just by cutting and securing 1-inch-wide strips with durable thread. Another option is crafting a sponge sailboat for bath time or pool play.
  7. Fashion a multi-tiered bottlebrush that will successfully clean the hard-to-reach interior of glass containers merely by stacking 2-inch sponge squares together, stabbing them with a sharp bamboo skewer and finally securing the sharp ends with two recycled wine corks. If that sounds too complicated, just place an old sponge around a ruler with a few rubber bands for a quick and easy scrubbing wand.
  8. For a finger-painting upgrade, show your children how to make hand-cut stamps using sponge remnants. When they are done, dip the same sponge stamps in permanent fabric paint in order to dress up old kitchen towels.
  9. Apply paint inside paper stencils with old sponges.
  10. Make summertime two-wheeling a bit more comfy by strapping old sponges on your bicycle pedals. Whether you ride your bike with flip-flops or bare feet, it will end up being a breeze.
  11. Use small sponge squares to separate toes while working on your pedicure.
  12. Create a makeshift mini greenhouse by starting seeds on a damp sponge covered with a clear glass bowl.
  13. Prevent decorative objects from scuffing delicate surfaces by upgrading them with mini sponge “feet.”

Your sponge is a mangled eyesore

  1. Add it to your compost pile (only if it is made of biodegradable cellulose).
  2. Use it to apply shoe polish to scuffed footwear.
  3. Cut assorted sponges into confetti bits so they can be later used as shipping or cushioning storage material.
  4. When repotting houseplants, cut old sponges into smaller pieces in order to cover drainage holes. In a similar vein, add fully intact sponges to the bottom of pots when transplanting particularly thirsty varieties.
  5. Enhance the visual appeal of your home’s interior with faux painting, reserving individual sponges for each unique color.
  6. Dress up a gift with a festive, multicolored, sprinkle-studded letter-shaped sponge topper.
  7. Place an old sponge inside the bottom of an umbrella stand to absorb excess moisture.
  8. Garden tools are mucky already, so wrap those unsightly sponges around shovel and rake handles so your hands catch a cushioned break. (Be sure to secure them in place with zip ties or strong cord.)
  9. Grace your laundry or mudroom sink with a soap “coaster” to reduce goo accumulation.
  10. Discourage mice from infiltrating your home by saturating old sponges with peppermint oil and placing them in front of suspected entry points.
  11. Artists: rather than washing acrylic-dipped paintbrushes prematurely, keep them moist for next-day use by placing them in a plastic storage container lined with damp sponges. Top with a tight-fitting lid and you’re good to go!

About the author

Elizah Leigh is an eco-inspired wordsmith capable of captivating readers in just the right manner to facilitate subliminal greenlightenment. If it hasn’t yet happened to you, dear reader, don’t worry... it soon will. She believes that walking on the green side of life isn’t so much about random actions like recycling household materials and eschewing bottled water as it really should be about committing to long-term lifestyle changes that naturally become effortless the more frequently they are practiced — and believe it or not, if you’re looking at the world through green-colored glasses, it’s never a chore.

Working as an eco-journalist for a number of online venues, including Ecorazzi, WebEcoist, WebUrbanist and Causecast, this self-confessed eager greenie and knowledge hound has become deeply entrenched in the world of green living and makes a conscious effort at all times to practice exactly what she preaches. Elizah feels that no one is an "expert" in this field as long as they continue to keep an open mind by acquiring new eco-feathers in their cap — something that she aspires to do with each new article that she authors.

Extremely passionate about greening perspectives as well as lifestyles one carefully selected word at a time, this eco-writer feels privileged to add the 1-800-RECYCLING audience to her increasingly expanding network of green-minded readers. When she’s not tweeting her ever-lovin’ greenie heart out or adding new eco-themed articles to her portfolio, she can be found frolicking outside or shooting the breeze with her menagerie of impossibly needy geriatric felines.

As for what Elizah hopes to bring to 1-800-RECYCLING? Believe it or not, she is convinced that we are all capable of carving out individual and collective legacies in which caring enough about what we do while we walk this earth ensures that future generations enjoy the same basic privileges that we currently do. Can collections of carefully crafted environmentally themed words help facilitate this lofty plan for eco-friendly ah-ha! inspiration? Stranger things have been done to honor Mother Nature. For now, that’s her eager greenie goal, and she’s definitely sticking to it.

Learn more about Elizah Leigh


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