I Tried Swedish Dishcloths and They Are Amazing

3 Swedish dishcloths sitting on a counter

Treehugger / Melissa Breyer

Durable yet biodegradable, these special dishcloths can replace paper towels, sponges, dish towels, microfiber cloths, and chamois.

In 1949, a genius Swedish engineer named Curt Lindquist created a miracle: A highly absorbent material made of plant-based cellulose and cotton. He turned this new material into dishcloths which have been available in Europe ever since, but haven't exactly been standard fare in the United States. But they are now gaining ground here and why it has taken so long is beyond me; they are a revelation.

I gave up paper towels years ago, yet miss them. I love microfiber cleaning cloths, but stopped buying them when I started cutting down on plastic and because of their eco problems. Sponges are classic, but in my mind they are like a whole ecosystem of bacteria that look like sinister, mischievous cartoon villains. I am left with a big drawer of cotton dish towels that I use for everything, and while it has been workable, it has not been ideal.

I had heard of Swedish dishcloths as a replacement for paper towels, but didn't see how they could be much better than my regular cotton dish towels. And to be honest, I thought they might be a gimmick for the green-leaning amongst us. But then the company Swedish Wholesale sent me a sample pack to take for a spin and I am really kind of gobsmacked – they perform really well and are incredibly versatile. The ones I got are seven by eight inches and start out stiff, but are soft once they are dampened. They are made in Europe, which means they aren't exactly a local product – but at four ounces for a compact pack of 10, they don't seem like the worst thing to cross the pond.

How can Swedish dishcloths be used?

In place of paper towels
They are capable of absorbing up to 20 times their weight in liquid, making them great for mopping up spills. They are also great for windows because they do not leave streaks.
Why they are better: One cloth can do the work of 17 rolls of paper towels. Paper makes up one quarter of our landfills; the math is simple here.

In place of sponges
They have the same properties of a sponge; they are absorbent but squeeze out super easily to absorb more. Plus they have some texture which makes them great for scrubbing.
Why they are better: They dry very quickly and thus don't have time to harbor bacteria, unlike sponges.

In place of cotton dish towels
If you're using cotton dish towels in place of paper towels, these are even better. They would not be able to actually dry dishes very well, but for cleaning dishes, wiping, and absorbing they are great.
Why they are better: Swedish dishcloths are both more absorbent and dry more quickly.

In place of microfiber cleaning cloths
When microfiber cleaning cloths came on the market they were seemingly fabulous for the eco-friendly minded because they made for quick and effective cleaning without the need for cleaning products.
Why they are better: Alas, microfiber cloths are made of plastic. They are not recyclable, and they likely shed their little microfiber selves into the ocean where they swarm and party with all the other microplastics.

In place of chamois
I don't have a car so I don't need a chamois for buffing, but apparently Swedish dishcloths make a great stand-in for chamois.
Why they are better: Swedish dishcloths are vegan friendly.

They are durable yet biodegradable

According to Swedish Wholesale, a pack of 10 (around $20) of their dishcloths will last an average user over one year for all of their cleaning needs. But the best part may be that they are completely biodegradable and can put in your backyard compost.

What are Swedish dishcloths made of and how do you wash them?

The ones I got are made of a blend of 70 percent biodegradable plant-based cellulose and 30 percent cotton.

After innocent spills and wiping up water, I just wash mine out in the sink and squeeze them well, then let them dry on the dish rack.

But for more intensive washing, they can go in the washing machine (for best results, no fabric softener and no dryer) or dishwasher! And each of them can be machine washed up to 50 times. You can also sanitize them in the microwave, just be sure they go in wet.

The company says that their dishcloths are much less likely to harbor bacteria compared to traditional dishcloths because of their unique composition, "they dry incredibly fast; there’s almost no time for bacteria and germs to grow on the surface (bacteria typically grow in moist environments)." They also note that they’re resistant to mold and mildew.

I have been using mine for about a month, and am curious to see how long the pack of 10 will last, but so far they have been great. I worried that they would just be something I would have to throw out at the end of their lives, but that they can be composted – and don't require industrial composting, which is key – makes a big difference. I will report back after more time has passed, but for now I can't imagine going back to everything else.