Growing up, colorful loofahs made from plastic mesh were a shower staple. But while they’re pretty, the material doesn’t exactly make them eco-friendly. That’s where natural loofahs come in. Made from the luffa plant—yes, a plant!—they’re completely natural and 100 percent biodegradable and compostable. And, better yet, you can learn how to grow a loofah in your own garden.
Growing your own bath sponge sounds too good to be true, but it’s totally possible. Loofahs—also called luffas or loofas—belong to the gourd family. While the luffa plant can be eaten when harvested early, waiting it out will give you an eco-friendly sponge. Amy, the gardener behind the Instagram account @chicksandveg, learned how to grow her own loofahs last year and has been sharing her tips ever since.
“Luffa refers to two species of gourd: Luffa aegyptiaca (the ridged or angled luffa) and L. acutangular (the smooth luffa, which I grow),” she said on Instagram. “Both species are used pretty much interchangeably and both belong to the Cucurbitaceae or gourd family. Luffas are annual vines and product fruits (Luffas) and beautiful yellow flowers.”
Because they’re gourds, they’re related to things like cucumbers, melons, squash, and watermelon. In fact, they actually look like zucchini when they’re growing. If you let a luffa completely dry out after reaching maturity, you’ll be able to remove the skin and harvest your very own natural loofah sponge.
How to Grow a Loofah
Want to learn how to grow a loofah? Amy shared her entire process on Instagram, from germinating the seeds to removing the dried skin. Because while you can buy a natural loofah at the store, growing one yourself is so much more satisfying.
1. Get Some Seeds
First, find some seeds. You can find them online, or you can check greenhouses, farmers’ markets, and garden stores in your area.
2. Germinate Your Seeds
Next, germinate your seeds. Amy says you can speed up the process with the snipping method. “Snip the end off—the round, non-pinched end—and wrap the seed in a wet paper towel. Then place it somewhere dark and warm,” she says. “Then leave it for a few days to germinate.”
3. Plant Your Seeds
Once your seeds have tiny roots, you can plant them in small pots. Put a small hole in the soil, and place your seed in it with the root pointing down. Lightly cover the seed so it’s no longer exposed. Water, put it in a warm and sunny spot—like a windowsill—then wait.
4. Repot, If Necessary
Once a luffa plant has outgrown its pot—with roots coming out of the bottom of the pot—transfer it to a slightly bigger pot and keep it in a warm and sunny spot.
5. Plant in Your Garden
Once it’s nice enough outside—aka no more frost!—you can plant the seeds in your garden, just like you’d plant any other squash or gourd. If you have a greenhouse, even better: That’s where Amy grows hers, and she says they love the heat. If space is an issue, no worries: “You could try a South-facing wall or even indoors,” she says.
6. Harvest Your Luffas
Your luffas are almost ready to harvest once you notice they’ve stopped growing and the vine starts to die. While Amy says you can leave them on the vine to dry in warmer climates, she decided to cut hers off and dry them indoors where she could keep a closer eye on them. That also ensures pests don’t get to them before you do.
7. Dry Out Your Luffas
The drying process can be long. (Amy says it took 4 to 6 weeks for hers to completely dry out.) Once a luffa has completely dried and feels a little crispy, it’s time to peel the skin off. What you’re left with is a natural loofah you can use in the shower, as a kitchen sponge, and beyond.