A green bath puff

A couple of months ago a friend of mine posted on Facebook that he was seeking ‘green’ alternatives to two common items: cotton buds and a bath puff. I decided to take up the challenge.

Cotton buds (Q-tips) are relatively straightforward to find in a more environmentally friendly form than the traditional plastic stem and bleached cotton tip, but bath puffs (also known as bath lilies) are not quite so easy. The standard ones that you buy in the supermarket or pharmacy are made of nylon; this means they are not at all absorbent and they are slightly rough but not too abrasive. Trying to find an exact green equivalent has, so far, proved impossible. However, I embarked on a bit of research to see if it was possible to create something that would at least do the job…

First, I wanted to discover if there were any patterns out there to knit such things. A quick search on the Ravelry website revealed lots of crochet patterns and a few ones to knit. So, I selected a knitting pattern that looked like it had potential and considered appropriate yarns. Various patterns suggested using ‘dish cloth cotton’ – a yarn type that seems to be widely available in the US but not in the UK.  The pattern that I had bought suggested a yarn made of 100% nettle fibre yarn that, again, I could not buy in the UK. Some searching of the interweb helped me to identify various potential alternative yarns and several sources for these. Of course, however a seller describes a yarn, until you are using it, you can’t really appreciate its properties, so this is where the experimentation (and associated expense began).

First, I found some organic cotton yarn in an e-bay auction. Although the colour was not what I would have preferred, I managed to put in a winning bid and so received a few balls of yarn to try out. I knitted it up to a slightly adapted version of the pattern I had bought and tried it out in the shower. And discovered that… cotton is remarkably absorbent. That’s why they make towels out of it. What I had created was, basically, a flannel (washcloth) on a string. In fact, it’s quite nice to wash with, but it’s not a replacement for the nylon version. In addition, the pattern that I used made something that even looked rather like a scrunched up flannel on a string!

Organic cotton (L) and Cotton/hemp (R) knitted bath puffs

I decided to try an alternative yarn. This time I tracked down some hemp and cotton blend yarn. I really wanted to test out the characteristics of the yarn, so I decided to stick to the same pattern as before. Once more unto the shower… a little more abrasion this time, but still really quite absorbent… and still looking rather like a scrunched up flannel on a string… and it takes an age to dry, so has the propensity to become smelly if you forget to hang it up in an airy place after use (also, as a result, no good for travelling).

So, next I thought that I would try to address the aesthetics. All the patterns that I could find that looked rather like the original nylon version were crocheted rather than knitted. The problem, then, was my inability to crochet! Not daunted, I decided that the time had come to learn! So, using some more of the organic cotton yarn I created… a brain:

Intelligent bathing?

Well, ok, the colour doesn’t help, but that aside it does look like both a brain and something you might use to wash with. And in fact it turns out to be lovely and soft, and fine to wash with, but not textured enough to provide an invigorating showering experience! And it stays soggy for a long time.

Nettle twine bath puff

I concluded that I had found a suitable pattern, but not a suitable yarn. Cotton and cotton blends seem to me to be too absorbent; anything with wool in is likely to turn into felt with all the soap and rubbing, and so I turned from yarn to what could best be described as twine. This tends to be made out of plant fibres, has a narrower gauge than knitting yarn and is often quite rough. The fact that it is thin means that any pattern designed for thicker yarn would have to be modified, but that is not an insurmountable problem. So, the latest incarnations are one in bamboo and one in nettle twine. Both are still more absorbent than nylon, but I think that this is a fact that I will simply have to accept with any natural fibre. The bamboo is quite silky, so not very abrasive (and the one I made was a bit on the small side). The nettle twine is better, with some texture, so this is the version that I have sent off to my friend… I await his verdict. The pattern needs some modification for use with the twine to make it a little more bulky (the one pictured is a bit loose) but I feel that I am homing in on a solution. I’ve also got some hemp twine to experiment with, although I think that might have a bit too much texture!

This does mean that our house is filling up with a wide variety of things to wash with – some more efficient than others – so if nothing else we should have no problems keeping clean for years to come!

February 2013: After further research, there is a new post here with more information on the crochet pattern and a yarn that seems to work!

October 2013: I now have bath puffs for sale… details to the right and more info and pictures here.

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12 Comments

  1. Very neat! Great post. I suddenly have an urge to go to the yarn store.

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  2. You should try a loofah sponge. They dry out pretty fast, but are about as soft as a wash cloth. You could probably cut one up and put it back together in more of a “lily” shape if you wanted to.

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  3. very impressed with such persistence in the quest to find an alternative! sounds like you now have a lifetime’s supply.

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  4. Great post but I think I’ll stick with a sponge.

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  5. Mallow

     /  March 18, 2013

    Could you share the pattern please? :3

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    Reply
  1. Laughing my socks off | The Snail of Happiness

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