Did you know that the word ‘loofah’ comes from the luffa plant? It’s a gourd in the cucumber family that, when dried out, was the original shower scrubber. In other words, your loofah started out all-natural, but then the industry careened towards synthetics like nylon, silicone, and plastic. Yuck.
While anything with a little friction makes for a perfectly good body exfoliator, do we need to add more waste to the planet when there are plenty of natural alternatives available? (And are they really alternatives when they were, in fact, the original?) On top of that, I pose this question: Is there anything more gross than an old plastic shower loofah?
It’s time to get back to nature and exfoliate ourselves the way Gaia intended. Here, then, are some of the best all-natural alternatives to synthetic scrubbers.
Sea sponges are plants that make for an ultra soft and gentle scrubdown with a powerful lather. To me, this is the best replacement for a synthetic loofah, though it’s noticeably less rough and exfoliating than other natural scrubbers. It’s the softest and squishiest, and those two distinctions go a long way in my scorebook. (Whether you sing the Spongebob theme song while you scrub is your business.)
They’re also extremely easy to clean. I just dip mine in piping hot water let it cool off in the dish drain, and then wring it dry. I’d suggest doing this every week or two on top of the routine showers, or any time you come home after a long time away—a few days or more—and plan to use it after it sat there idly accumulating bacteria. You can also soak it in a solution of warm water and baking soda for 10-20 minutes (use 1 teaspoon for every cup of water).
Made from the tuberous underground growth of the Asian konjac herb, this sponge boasts much of the softness of the sea sponge with a bit more exfoliating grit. It’s probably the best median natural scrubber—it’s often touted as being soft enough for washing babies.
It’s just as easy to cleanse as the sea sponge—in piping hot water or soaked in a baking soda solution—and should be dried upright (or hung up) instead of settled in a pool of its own moisture.
Some, like the second example below, even work as shaving sponges—use them with your favorite shaving cream to quickly build a gentle foam lather and lift your hairs away from the skin.
Here we are, back where it all began. The gourd-sourced natural loofah is still often derived from the actual luffa vegetable itself. When these large vine-dangling fruits are peeled open, they reveal the intricate webbing that we see in the dried-out, shower-ready loofahs.
While they have a somewhat sponge-like squish, gourd-derived scrubbers are better at exfoliating and worse at building lather. It’s just the thing when you really need some scrubbing power—maybe when caked in sunscreen and salt after a long beach day. (Do that an outdoor shower and you’re in heaven, right?)
Clean them every 1-2 weeks by soaking in a baking soda solution and let them dry upright in a well ventilated space.
When to Replace Your Natural Sponge or Loofah
The big advantage of an all-natural scrubber is that they bio-degrade, so you will need to replace them eventually. But with regular cleaning, you can use your sponges or loofahs for a couple months or more. Many brands tell you to cycle out at one month, but that’s playing it especially safe and fueling the capitalist greed of Big Natural Sponge. (Just kidding. Don’t think that’s a thing.) But really, use your best judgment, clean them regularly, replace them as needed, and check with the brand to see if you can compost them. It’s the circle of life.