Now that I'm spending a lot more quality time with my dishes, these sponges, Swedish dishcloths, brushes, scrapers, and detergent help me be considerably less gross. I hope.

By Kat Kinsman
October 09, 2020
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God, I love a new sponge, fresh, unsullied, and ready to cleanse. With the purchase of each scrubber comes the possibility that this one will be the magic wand that transubstantiates me into a tidy human. It's squishy little handheld hope for a better self, and can't we all use that right now? 

If you are a human American who is currently alive, you have almost certainly been spending a lot more time interacting with your dishes. I sure have, and while people like my beloved and infinitely neater-than-me husband find some sort of meditative pleasure in sink work, it's always been a source of stress for me. While we technically had a dishwasher when I was growing up, we never actually deployed it. (I was told it was inoperable, and yet the minute I went off to college, it was miraculously fixed) My very clever sister always managed some kind of excuse to get out of the work, so I was eternally on both scrubbing and drying duty and came to deeply resent it—plus the lined gloves made my hands itch and it took me some years to figure out that I had an actual allergy to both flocking material and clothing-grade latex. 

Credit: Amazon / Lodge

In my single days, I was a foul beast who often didn't bother with dishware at all, just endless paper towels and deli wax paper and enough takeout containers to craft a small and messy island, but then I met and married a civilized human and vowed to become—within reason—marginally less gross. It's an ongoing struggle (I should also mention that clinical depression and ADHD sure don't help with housework), but I've tried over the years to improve my relationship with dish-doing, and honestly, the purchase of each new sponge, brush, cloth, or accoutrement is an investment in the self I want to become. 

Here are some that I have found success in, and some to which I aspire.

My personal sponge and soap canon

Cascabella Sparkle Scrub Sponge 2-Pack, $4.99 at amazon.com

Scotch Brite Dobie Pads 12 Pack, $11.94 at amazon.com

I am eternally grateful to author and podcaster Jolie Kerr for her nonjudgmental Ask a Clean Person writings (including the book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag...and Other Things You Can't Ask Martha) and for introducing me to both sparkle sponges and Dobie pads. The former quite literally adds a sparkly, even joyful aesthetic note to the drudge while being respectful of your delicate surfaces, and the latter simply beasts the grime away. It turns baked-on cheese into a personal and achievable challenge rather than yet another moment of "yeeaaahhhh, I think this needs to soak for a little while while I watch another episode of The Office—oh hey, it's the one where Jim and Darryl are roommates and Stanley thinks Jim is an irredeemable child for soaking dishes rather than confronting the grime and it's all metaphorical and oh crap." Grab a multi-pack because Dobie pads won't scratch up your shower or bathtub and we're all still cleansing ourselves on occasion, right? Asking for a friend who is currently wearing my clothes for the third day in a row.

Lodge Chain Mail Scrubbing Pad, $19.95 at lodgecastiron.com

I take every possible opportunity to mention that I have a masters degree in metalsmithing mostly because I feel like I need to get my money's worth, but also because it means I legitimately have graduate-level experience in not being afraid to scrub the crap out of iron. People are so loudly fetishistic about the care and feeding of their cast iron skillets that it can feel daunting and off-putting, but I found an old rusty, muddy one in a shed behind my house and through persistence and brute force, she's now in daily rotation and I call her Thelma. These skillets are built to last a lifetime, and you really just need to keep them clean. There are various versions of this chain mail tool out there, but I figure that Lodge Cast Iron has been in the business for over a century, so they know what they're doing. Just wait for the pan to cool, run some water over it (and contrary to popular lore, using a few drops of soap won't cause the metal deities to cast you into hell), and get to it with this dishwasher-safe silicone pad, nested in a sheath of stainless steel rings, then dry it thoroughly. It obliterates the most offensive crud and you get to feel a teensy bit medieval.

Luffa Seeds, $4 at kitazawaseedco.com

Look, we have all gotten weird during this pandemic, taking on hobbies and fixations to pass the time while the world is aflame around us. I decided to grow sponges. Perhaps you knew that luffa / loofah puffs are a dried-out vegetable but maybe you didn't and that's OK. I'd been trying for years to get my luffa seeds to germinate and by some miracle, one finally did and now I spend hours staring at the 10-foot vines, willing them to flower. It may prove literally fruitless in the end, but just let me have this, man.

The Original Scrub Daddy, $6.99 at amazon.com

Scrub Daisy Dishwand Kit, $24.99 at amazon.com

I anthropomorphize nearly every object in my life and even moreso now that I'm being a responsible human, devoid of in-person, full-face time with anyone other than my husband and our dogs. I'm not above chatting with my Dobie pad, so it was a relief to come upon the seemly polyamorous Scrub Daddy family of products, which also includes a Scrub Mommy, Eraser Daddy, Scour Daddy, Big Daddy, a trio of limited edition Halloween heads (Frankenstein, a ghost, and a cunning little pumpkin), and a whole flower-shaped wand-and-sponge caddy, all bedecked with the most benign smiles. It's not just my pareidolia flaring up here—there are actual faces that you can put to hard work on all manner of kitchen surfaces and they take it all with a grin.

Scotch Brite Heavy Duty Scrub Sponge 6-Pack, $4.99 at amazon.com

Yes, you do want this scrub. It will get love from you—and give it back, too, in the form of  squeaky clean dishes of all materials. The particular genius of this O.G. sponge is that it's two tools in one—a thinner, abrasive top for especially nasty messes, and a soft, squishy bottom for objects that need a little more TLC. You could try talking or singing to this one, too, but that's none of my business.

Dawn Platinum Powerwash Dish Spray Starter Kit, $8.49 at amazon.com

I know I keep yammering on about the pandemic, but weirdly enough, it's been on my mind a lot, and it's really made me examine my sometimes wasteful use of products. I used to squeeze out a shameful amount of dish soap, but this innovative spray bottle and formula offers maximum coverage by far less product, and gets into pain-in-the-ass spaces like cheese graters and mesh sieves in a way that drippy liquid just can't. Plus, the top swivels off to attach to a refill container that uses much less storage space and plastic than a standard-sized bottle, just adding to my lazily-earned eco-smugness.

Meidong Upgrade Silicone Dishwashing Gloves, $12.99 at amazon.com

I'm allergic to the flocking in most gloves but these slip on itch-free and bonus—the fingers and palms are all nubbled with silicone protuberances that have proven so delightful to my dogs, I bought an extra pair for petting (and stealth grooming) purposes.

Sponges and tools to which I aspire

Skura Sponges Set of 4, $14.99 at amazon.com

The single best dish-doer I know swears by Skura sponges, and I have to take her word for it, or else she'll stop getting tipsy at my house, doing all the party dishes, and passing out on the couch. I may be a work-in-progress when it comes to housework, but I make mighty fine cocktails—and friends.

Wet It! Swedish Dishcloth: Llama and Chicken Set of 2, $13.44 at amazon.com

Wet It! Swedish Dishcloth: Farm-to-Table Set of 6, $36 at amazon.com

Wet It! Swedish Dishcloth: Lemon Round, $8.99 at amazon.com

Trendy Tripper Swedish Dishcloths: Dog, Owl, or Owl, $8.35 at amazon.com

The beauty of the Swedish dishcloth is that not only is it a porous, easy squeeze-out marvel that will lop your paper towel usage to all but nil—it's also cute as all get out. I stare at these cunning llamas, dogs, tomatoes, roosters and envision the tidy, twee person who is buried somewhere beneath the old hoodie and unexfoliated layers (seriously luffas, would you freaking grow already?!) of my quarantined skin. I long to live up to you, Scandi-chic retro owl towel.    

Soot Master Sponge, $9.75 at ungercleaning.com

No jokes here—24 years ago, my boss's apartment caught on fire and while no one was hurt, everything the family owned was covered in a thick layer of grime, and all these years later, I remember how this absolute brick of a sponge cut right through and helped bring back a sense of normalcy to their lives. It probably also works on fireplaces, let me know how that works out for you.  

OXO Good Grips Dish Squeegee, $5.99 at amazon.com

OXO Steel Soap Dispensing Palm Brush, $9.99 at amazon.com

Did you really think we were getting out of here sans OXO? Oh no indeed. Please don't tell sponges, but I do dabble with dish brushes and other accoutrement for various reasons—durability, utility, ease of cleaning (few things make me recoil as violently as a rank sponge)—and OXO has never let me down on that front. Though I have yet to squeegee or palm my dishes, the second my extant batch of scrubbers gets sent to sponge Valhalla, I'm absolutely investing in these.