Gone, gone, gone

For the first time in the history of this blog I have removed a post – well two actually.

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Organic cotton bath puff

Many moons ago I was interested in environmentally friendly alternatives to nylon bath puffs (scrubbies). I wrote a number of posts on the subject and explored a range of fibres to use. At the time, I was delighted to discover how well reclaimed acrylic yarn worked and I wrote a post about it. At the time, and with the information I had to hand, it seemed like a great way to use something that would otherwise simply be thrown out (yarn unravelled from old knitwear). Now, it turns out it was not such a good idea. Just like making fleece fabrics from recycled plastic bottles, which we all thought at the time was a great way to use waste, new information has made me think again. Using manmade fibres in bath puffs will add to microfibre contamination of water unless there is a fine filter on the bath/shower outlet, which seems unlikely. So, the two posts that mentioned using acrylic yarn for this purpose have been removed to prevent encouraging anyone else to try it.

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Soap and a flannel (the latter made by a friend)

It’s still easy enough to make bath puffs or cloths with natural fibres – cotton, hemp, nettle, or even wool, depending on the texture you desire. However, I like Kate‘s recent suggestion (see the comments in this post) about using loofahs if you want something with a rougher texture for washing yourself or your pots. If I spot some seeds, I may well have a go at growing my own – now that really would be a green solution. However, since starting to use bar soap, I’ve had no need for a bath puff. My favourite soap to use after swimming (ginger and lime) has little bits of ground ginger root in it and these provide all the exfoliation I need – naturally and biodegradably. I have also made myself (or been gifted) several cotton wash cloths/flannels and these are especially useful when travelling or when water is limited.

The moral of the story is that we do the best we can with the knowledge that we have at any given time, but that it’s important not to get stuck in a rut (or get defensive) and to make changes when new information comes to light. Have you had to revise your thinking on anything recently?

The eco bath puff collection

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while will know about my search for a green bath puff and the various trials I have conducted with patterns and yarns. It’s not been easy and I have finally had to accept that it is impossible, using natural materials, to recreate the qualities of nylon exhibited by the standard bath puffs you can buy in supermarkets and chemists (drug stores) for a few  pounds (dollars). For example, none of the fibres I have tested produce the amount of lather that you get from a nylon puff* and all of them are much more absorbent, being more like a spherical flannel (wash cloth) in some cases.

However, if you wish to tread more lightly on the planet, sometimes you have to adapt… and I now have a range of bath puffs that have different characteristics and suit different people. All of the puffs I have made use recycled, upcycled, waste or organically produced fibres and are I make them by hand, so certainly have less impact on the earth than the commercial nylon versions. They are all crocheted by me… a skill I have learned specifically because of this project, but which I’m now using to make all sorts of other things. So, what sort of puffs have I made? The following is a list of fibres used, their source and characteristics.

Acrylic: all the acrylic yarn that I use is either reclaimed from previous projects (e.g. unravelled jumpers) or is left over from completed or abandoned projects (usually not mine!). Acrylic bath puffs are the least absorbent of any that I make, although they still hold a lot more water than a nylon puff and so take longer to dry. They have a slight abrasiveness that increases with use. They produce some lather, but this depends on the soap/shower gel you use and how hard or soft your water is. This is the sort of puff I take with me when I am travelling.

Organic cotton: So far, this has had to be purchased new, and is relatively expensive. However, it does make up into a lovely soft and gentle puff – ideal for delicate skin. You don’t get much lather and it is very absorbent so takes quite a long time to dry: you need to think of this version as a type of wash cloth. I have used two different yarns for these puffs so far: Debbie Bliss Ecoaran (in shocking pink) and Twilley’s Sincere Organic Cotton (in a pinky-beige).

Recycled cotton and acrylic: This yarn (Sirdar’s Simply Recycled Cotton- Rich), made of 51% recycled cotton and 49% acrylic, combines qualities of the two yarns described above: the softness of cotton and the reduced absorbency of acrylic. I like the principle of using a recycled fibre (from t-shirt manufacturing), but sadly the acrylic doesn’t seem to be recycled. I’ve made these in a terracotta colour and  in green (how appropriate!).

Upcycled wool: Whilst not to everyone’s taste, this is the fibre I prefer my bath puff to be made of.  The sort of wool has an effect on how abrasive these puffs are, but all wool tends to be a little bit ‘scratchy’. I use wool collected from unravelled jumpers or left-overs, so it’s rare that I know the brand or type of wool. They tend to shed some fine fibres to begin with, but this soon stops. After a couple of months of use, the wool starts to felt, but this makes them even nicer to use. I’ve made these in green and purple so far… my bath puff here at home is a purple one made from wool from an old cardigan.

So, these are my basic fibres, but I have experimented with adding a thread of hemp fibre to one of the organic cotton puffs to make it a little more abrasive, as exfoliation seems to be a requirement for some folks. And here they are:

A bowl of bath puffs!

A bowl of bath puffs!

So, if you’d like one, contact me (thesnailofhappiness@talktalk.net) – for UK customers, they are £10 each including delivery, if you’re further afield, I’ll have to check the postage.

-oOo-

* Although using GreenPeople shower gel helps a lot!

Green bath puff 3… I can’t believe there’s another sequel

A woolly washball (Jacob wool, awaiting decoration) and a woolly bath puff

A woolly washball (Jacob wool, awaiting decoration) and a woolly bath puff

When I started this business with the bath puffs, I had no idea that it would come to occupy so much of my time and my blog… but that’s life isn’t it: you take a small step and it leads you down a very long path! ‘The road goes ever on and on’ as JRR Tolkien wrote.

Early on in my quest for the green bath puff I dismissed  sheep’s wool as a fibre because of its propensity to felt. However, over the months I have learned more about wool, its properties and the way it is processed. I’ve also come round to the idea that felt might be a desirable material to wash with for some people (yes – I know some people can’t stand it on their skin, but they do seem to be in the minority). Anyway, in terms of the ethics of knitting/crochet yarns, unless you want to avoid animal products, there is a great deal to recommend wool, especially for those of us who live in the UK where few plant fibres for yarn are produced, but where we have lots of sheep.

When you buy wool yarns or garments, the label often says that they are machine-washable: this means that they shouldn’t felt when agitated in a washing machine at a warm temperature. Sometimes the label says ‘Superwash’ but this just means they have been through a patented process; there are other techniques to facilitate machine-washability. On investigation, I have found that the process required to stop wool felting and, thus, make it machine-washable,  is to either remove the scales on the wool by stripping them off with acid, or coating the wool with a polymer. Neither of these approaches sound particularly environmentally friendly to me, but the acid can’t be too strong otherwise it would completely dissolve the wool and I’m not sure about the use of a polymer. The Natural Fibre Company have an interesting little piece about Superwash wool that suggests that the fibres from some sheep breeds (and other species) are difficult to felt anyway, so can be washed without the need for pre-treatment. I feel that these might be worth investigating in the future.  Again, however, I return to the idea of upcycled yarn because I have some I can experiment with…

Inspired by the woolly wash balls (I’ve just made one from Jacob sheep wool that’s lovely) I decided to make a wool bath puff. Using some wool that used to be a cardigan* and that I know was sold as being machine-washable, I produced yet another prototype, which I tried out this morning. It was nice to use and produced some lather (although I was using Green People Aloe shower gel, which is very concentrated)… it’s hanging up in the bathroom now to see how long it takes to dry – it can’t be as long as 100% cotton! I suspect that it will felt after a while, but perhaps that doesn’t matter.

And, finally, for the time being on bath puffs, I notice the large number of searches arriving here on my site from people who want a pattern for a knitted bath puff (as I did originally). I am guessing that, unlike me, many people are not prepared to put aside their prejudice against knitting and learn to crochet. So, over the next week or two, I’m going to design a knitting pattern… watch this space!

-oOo-

* You might also recognise it in the snails at the top of the page.

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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