With so many varieties available, it can be difficult to know which version is best.

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If you're curious about how natural cleaning products work or why baking soda is such a powerful ingredient, you've come to the right place. We'll explain the science behind some of the most popular cleaning methods and tools, so you can you clean smarter—not harder. Follow along with Clean Science to see which technique we break down next.

Sponges have changed quite a bit over the years. Between the materials used (like recycled and organic options) to the lowered price points (which allow you to toss old ones when they start to deteriorate), these cleaning staples have definitely been upgraded—so much, in fact, that there are now many different types on the market. With all of the options available, it can be difficult to know that you're using the best of the best. To determine which sponge type reigns supreme, we tapped Lauren Simonelli, a cleaning expert and the co-founder of ThreeMain, for her opinion on the current crop.

soap suds sponge cleaning kitchen sink
Credit: Getty / PredragImages

General Cleaning

If you're tackling a general cleaning task, like wiping down the surfaces in your home, Simonelli says you can't go wrong with a traditional two-sided scrubbing sponge; they normally come with an abrasive side, which is better for scrubbing away tougher messes like grease and grime, and a softer, more absorbent side, which is perfect for soaking up excess water or spills. "A two-in-one allows for convenient cleaning and covers most of your bases," she explains. You can normally find these iterations in a reasonably priced multi-pack—scoop up this AIDEA six-sponge set ($3.95, amazon.com) for under $5—which makes it easy to toss and replace them when they begin to show signs of wear and tear.

Specialized Tasks

For more specialized tasks, Simonelli says that the average two-sided sponge may not be the best choice, especially if you're dealing with surfaces that scratch easily (think stainless steel appliances); in those situations, you're better off using a microfiber cloth. "That being said, heavy-duty jobs, like scrubbing a label off a jar or removing scum from a shower or stuck on stains, often require something more durable than a standard household sponge," she shares. "For these tasks, reach for a steel wool or plastic pot scrubber." These old-school cleaners are easy to find and definitely get the job done—but they aren't environmentally friendly. If you want to shop sustainably, opt for alternatives to steel wool and plastic scrubbers, says Simonelli, like the Public Goods Walnut Scouring Pads ($2.95 for four, publicgoods.com). "These types of sponges can handle a variety of surfaces—even cast iron," adds Simonelli.

Alternative Options

Because household sponges are often harmful to the environment (Simonelli says they are made with toxins and dyes and are often held together with glue), she recommends opting for natural options in general, like ThreeMain's Eco Dish Sponges ($9.99 for three, threemain.com). "Cellulose, or plant-based sponges made from natural sources like loofah plants, not only have the cleaning power of a traditional sponge, but they are often biodegradable or compostable," she says. "It's an easy, sustainable swap to make in your home."

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