Tuesday, November 2, 2010

IN PRAISE OF THE SIMPLE DISHRAG


My inspiration
Last night I woke up from a dream. I’m not sure if it was a bad or good dream, but the last thing I remember in the dream was seeing a stack of old-fashion, red and white cotton dishrags. I reached for the stack, grabbed what must have been 5 or 6, felt a great sense of satisfaction, and then woke up. Now, I’m not someone to over-interpret dreams, but I think I know why it was so important to me to get hold of those dishrags. It has to do  with both my past and my present. I have a lot of good memories about sharing tasks in the kitchen with my Mom and my sister. We washed a lot of dishes together and enjoyed doing things as a team. Somehow the humble dishrag must have become a symbol of family closeness and teamwork. As to my present and future, I'm constantly looking for more eco-friendly products to use in my home. Dishrags don't contaminate the environment. They work well, last a long time, and can be washed and dried with the rest of the household linens.

Stop using plastic scrubbers
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I hadn't recently thought about the virtues of the tried-and-true cotton dishrag. I just hadn’t acted on it. So, here’s my “greener” living challenge to all of us (myself included) – stop using plastic scrubbers. There are several good reasons for doing it. First of all, we need to convince ourselves that that we do not need to buy those funky, green plastic things all the time. We save money when we use natural scrubbers, over and over again. But, more important, each time we say no to throwaway plastics in the home, we are doing our part to lower our carbon footprint.

You’ve also probably heard that the average kitchen plastic dish scrubber contains more bacteria than a toilet bowl. Ugh! So, what do most people do when they hear that? They go out and buy the same product, more often – not a good idea, at all. Think about those millions of times each week (or month) that people buy these little items. Yes, they’re cheap – a dollar gets you 6 or 8 in a pack (at the dollar-store). But they’re made from oil and end up as non-degradable plastic in our landfills and waterways.

Beyond that, any scrubber that has a label for anti-bacterial properties is likely to contain triclosan, a particularly toxic chemical (first used as a pesticide), or something equally damaging when concentrated in the environment. But, the good news is that there are alternatives to plastic and pesticide soaked scrubbers. And, that’s the theme of this post – stop the contamination! Get rid of those plastic dish scrubbers, once and for all, and make the pledge to use only natural scrubbers.

One option – the cellulose sponge
We can purchase scrubbers that are made from cellulose fiber. The cellulose should be sourced from plantation forests or recycled. Read the label carefully because some cellulose sponges are covered with polyester, another type of plastic. For hygiene, it’s best to try to let sponges dry out between uses. To sterilize them, soak them for a couple of minutes in boiling water, microwave them for a minute or two, or easiest of all, just put them in your automatic dishwasher whenever you wash dishes and turn on the hot-heat, drying cycle. While cellulose sponges are natural and non-contaminating, they tend to break down over a period of weeks and have to be replaced. So, they may not be your best buy.

A better option – dishrags
You may remember - or not - the old-fashioned dishrag. Back when everyone washed dishes by hand (pre 1960’s, I believe), it was the almost universal rule to have a stash of loosely woven, cotton dishrags. They worked well and lasted for months, if not years. It seemed that they would never be replaced with any other product. But, what happened? We stopped using them because (perhaps) it seemed more modern to buy another plastic product (like all the rest of the plastic that was filling up our homes). Or, they disappeared because the cost of cotton went up too high for manufacturers to produce and sell them for less than a dollar each.

Maybe we can’t find the cotton dishrags very easily any more (or at a price we want to pay), but we can certainly make our own. As a knitter, I like to try making things that are useful in the home. Knitting dishrags is for me a way to fight consumerism and a part of my commitment to a “greener” life. If you make the scrubber change, you’ll always want to have two rags at the sink, one for washing dishes and one for wiping down surfaces. So, if you wash linens once a week, you’ll need 14 rags – fewer are needed, of course, if you wash more frequently.

Easy pattern for a knitted dishrag
Here's an easy pattern for a dishrag that you can knit up in an hour (or maybe two hours, if it’s the first time you’ve tried to do something like this).

You'll need worsted weight, cotton yarn. Leftover yarn is great, if you have some. (Personally, I like dishrags made with the two-color sequence yarns.) Plan on using about an ounce or so of yarn.

Needles, according to your choice. I like a loose-knitted dishrag so I'm using a size #9. This will give a finished size of about 6” y 6”.

Starting
Cast on 4 stitches
Row 1 - Knit 4

Increasing
Row 2 - Knit 2, yarn over, knit across the row.

Repeating
Row 2 until you have 44 stitches.

Decreasing
Row 3 - Knit 1, knit 2 together, yarn over, knit 2 together, knit to the end of the row.

Repeating
Row 3 until you have 4 stitches left on the needle.

Finishing
Bind off. Weave in ends.

(Note: This is a great first-knit project for children. The same pattern can also be a coverlet for a little doll's bed - it all depends on how you look at it.)

Related Posts
ANOTHER DISHRAG-MAKING PROJECT

TRY SWAPPING TO SHRINK YOUR WASTEFUL HABITS (WITH OTHER BENEFITS, TOO.)
LIVING IT UP WITH LESS: DECORATION IN A SIMPLE HOME
COLOR THERAPY CAN HELP YOU REJECT CONSUMERISM
WHERE TP IS CONCERNED, OBSESSION WITH SOFTNESS = ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER
EMBRACE A SIMPLE HOME
CROCHET A ROUND RUG


2 comments:

Peggy~ said...

I'm so glad you finally mentioned sponges. A lot of people have told me they wouldn't have a sponge in their kitchen because they are so full of germs, but I can't seem to get away from them. I, unlike others, feel that dishrags get germy, too. I clean my sponges in the microwave now, but will try doing as you say and putting them in the dishwasher.
I love all the wonderful ideas I read in your posts! Thanks!
Peggy~

Anonymous said...

You have me remembering Garden Street, washing dishes and creating our version of dinner after school for our parents. They never complained about our lack of cooking expertise.
I did recreate Mother's kitchen in old doll house furniture on a shelf. I gave up on the doll house and gave it away. A shelf is as much room as I have in my little house.
You will see it when you are here.
love,
sis