A loofah sponge probably conjures up images of rough, exfoliating bath fibers, but this vegetable is so much more than that. The loofah, or sponge gourd, is a product that most people buy at the beauty department, but it is possible to grow it at home.
Believe it or not, the loofah sponge comes from a climbing plant in the gourd family. (Better known as Cucurbitaceae, this family also includes summer and winter squash, pumpkin, watermelon, cucumber, melon, and hard-shelled squash). Loofahs can be grown from seed but they need a long season to become hardy sponges.
buy a loofah
Many stores sell natural loofah sponges, either in their original cylindrical shape or as scouring pads or washcloths. Whichever shape you choose, here’s what to look for:
The fibers should be slightly flexible when you squeeze them. When dry, the loofah fibers are quite stiff, but they should not crack.
Avoid packaging containing broken fibres.
Reject sponges that have black spots and/or musty smells.
The fiber is easy to cut, so you can buy large ones and divide them into several sponges, depending on what you want to use them for.
Have you ever used a loofah sponge? No problem.
Here’s how to incorporate one into your hygiene and cleaning habits. Be sure to use separate sponges for cleaning and bathing.
Wet your loofah sponge with lukewarm water to soften it, add a little soap or the natural cleanser of your choice, and exfoliate or rub in small circular motions. (A slight pressure is enough to remove dead cells).
Avoid very sensitive skin and uncomfortable places.
A good loofah sponge can be the perfect way to get the most out of a body wash or goat’s milk soap, whether commercial or homemade.
If you are making your own soap, you can place slices of clean, dry loofah sponge in your soap molds when you pour it. The result is attractive and useful soaps with built-in exfoliators.
Health and environmental benefits
The rounded and resistant fibers that make up the loofah sponge are perfect for exfoliating the skin in depth without damaging it. Incorporate exfoliation into your natural skincare routine for fresher, smoother, younger-looking skin.
Using a loofah sponge to gently exfoliate also helps:
removes accumulated oils and dirt particles that clog pores, allowing them to shrink and look smaller
Helps reduce breakouts, use acne home remedy
Removes dead skin cells, which can cause your skin to look uneven and your makeup to look masky, which accentuates wrinkles.
opens up the skin so it can absorb other skincare products faster and more completely.
New research suggests that loofah could also serve as a natural and more affordable material for treating wounds. Dried loofah even served as a skin substitute in an animal study, helping subjects heal during wound treatment.
Vegan and plastic-free
If scrubbing with something that was once a living animal (a natural sea sponge) scares you, loofah sponges could be your new all-natural, renewable sponge. Clean it up and throw it in your compost pile when it’s worn out!
Loofah Sponge Safety
Rinse your sponge with clear water after each use, wring it out as much as possible and hang it to dry. Do not let it dry in the shower, as the humidity will encourage the proliferation of bacteria. As with any other sponge or washcloth, the longer the sponge remains moist, the more bacteria and fungi are likely to settle there and start a (large) family.
If you’ve scrubbed your skin with your loofah sponge, you’re also adding trapped skin cells to the mix, giving those unwanted creatures breakfast in bed, so to speak. You wouldn’t use a washcloth for months without putting it in the washing machine once in a while, nor should you do it with a natural loofah sponge.
Once or twice a week, run your sponge through the dishwasher on high to sanitize it, or soak it in a diluted solution of pure essential oils for five minutes, rinse well, and hang to dry .
If you can hang it outside in the sun, that’s the best thing to do, because ultraviolet rays are very effective in killing germs. If your loofah is starting to get moldy or smell musty, it’s time to toss it in the compost and use a new one. Most people plan to replace the loofah they use for exfoliation every three to four weeks. If it’s still nice and smells great then, you can always replace it with another to scrub the floor or the car, but don’t play Russian roulette with your skin health.
How to grow your own loofah sponge?
One of the benefits of loofah sponges is that you can grow them yourself. For the price of a sponge, you can get a packet of seeds and grow an entire year if you have a garden with a sunny trellis or even a large planter.
The choice of seeds
Luffas are grown from seed, so that’s what you need to get started. Two closely related gourds, Luffa aegyptiaca (commonly called angular loofah, ridged loofah, Chinese okra, or garden gourd) and L. acutangula, sometimes called L. cylindrica (commonly called smooth loofah, Egyptian loofah, or rag gourd), are both sold under the name of loofah. When you buy a packet of ‘loofah’ seeds, it’s not always specified which one you’re getting. The two species are used quite interchangeably, so there is no need to dwell on the details.
Both are vigorous annual vines with showy yellow flowers. The appearance of the fruit depends a bit on the type you plant. Angled loofah fruits show longitudinal ridges separated by deep furrows. Smooth loofah fruits have only shallow creases along the length of the fruit. The fruits can measure 20 to 30 cm long when ripe. If you have a choice, smooth loofah is a better shape for sponges.
Plant Loofah Seeds
A loofah seed can take up to 150 or even 200 warm days to germinate, grow into a vine, flower, and produce a harvest-ready sponge. That’s why most gardeners start planting loofah seeds indoors in 6-inch pots about four to six weeks before the last likely spring frost. Gardeners in warm areas can plant the seeds directly in the ground or in an outdoor container once the weather is warm in late spring.
Soil temperature, not air temperature, should be at least 20 degrees to ensure good germination. Don’t wait too long or the seeds will rot instead of grow.
What Loofah Plants Need to Grow
Loofahs need full sun, lots of room to thrive (or a large trellis…a shed they can climb on will do).
A rich soil
A steady supply of water, but not soggy or waterlogged soil.
Germination can take up to 14 days, so be patient.
Before planting, soak the seeds overnight in a glass of water to speed up germination.
Plant three or four seeds a few inches apart in a group, pushing them an inch into the ground.
Space the groups
Once the plants have reached a height of 30 cm, cut off the least vigorous seedlings at ground level, leaving only one or two most vigorous seedlings to grow per group.
Caring for Loofah Vines
Control weeds by pulling them out or covering the area with organic mulch.
Water the plants deeply if it doesn’t rain for a few days or if the leaves are wilting.
Once the flowers start to appear, you may notice that some have tiny green gourds attached to them, and some do not. It’s normal: Squashes have male flowers and female flowers. The female flowers bear tiny gourds that will grow if the flower is pollinated. The male flowers only exist to create pollen and die.
If you have flowers with tiny gourds, but the gourds shrivel after the flower closes, you may not have enough bees or wild pollinators working on your vine. In this case, you can play bee by picking a male flower (without a small gourd underneath) that has just opened and rubbing its dusty, pollinated center against the sticky protuberance in the center of the female flowers that have opened this that day.
Harvesting Loofah Sponges
If you want to harvest sponges, you will need to leave the gourds on the vine for the entire season until the green skin turns yellow. Then they turn brown and begin to dry out. Gourds that mature lose weight, the skin dries out and separates from the inside, and they may even wiggle when you shake them. The longer a mature loofah stays on the vine, the more the fibers develop and the stronger they are. Squashes harvested too early have fine, fragile fibers that break and crumble when you try to peel and use them.
When a loofah squash is dry and the skin comes off or cracks when you squeeze it, you can pick and peel it immediately or store it in a dry place to do it later. If frost threatens, pick the ripest squash and peel them immediately. Split and peel as much of the skin as possible and shake out the seeds. (If the seeds are plump and the squash was very dry and ripe, save some to plant next spring). Soaking a partially peeled loofah overnight can help loosen stubborn bits of skin. Wash the sap from your sponge under running water or in a bucket of water. Let it dry completely before storing it.
Loofah sponges are popular natural exfoliants that come from a climbing plant. Also known as sponge gourd, loofah, or luffa, this plant can be grown at home from seed. Be sure to regularly wash your loofah sponge at a high temperature, dry it in a non-humid environment, and disinfect it regularly to avoid contamination. Replace the loofahs every three to four weeks. You can compost them.