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Material ID: 1355


Loofahs are sometimes thought to be derived from ocean-dwelling animals, like natural sponges, but they are actually the fibrous skeleton of the fruit from a cucumber-like vine that grows in China, Japan, Malaysia, India and the Middle East. These loofah (a.k.a. luffa or loofa) plants are part of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae) making them relatives of cucumbers, watermelons and pumpkins. When a loofah fruit dries out and is peeled, you are left with its fibrous interior, which can be used as a sponge.

Loofah gourds were used as a food and medicine in China as far back as 500AD, but the usefulness of the fibrous tissue inside the gourd as a sponge wasn’t recorded until it was written about by Portuguese explorers in the 1600s, and loofahs were not grown commercially until the 1800s in Japan. Because of their fibrous skeletal network, loofahs were found to be very useful as oil and water filters in marine steam engines and diesel engines. Before World War Two, the US Navy imported almost all their loofahs from Japan. When that supply was cut off after Pearl Harbour, cellulose sponges, Turkish toweling, coke and Spanish moss were explored as alternatives, but for different reasons none could quite do the job. Loofah production was stimulated in other parts of the world but, in general, the sponges grown in other countries were not as good quality as the Japanese loofahs. Loofahs were also used by the US navy as sponges used in surgical operations and to clean the windshields of jeeps, and as shock and sound absorbers in helmets and armoured vehicles. In consumer applications loofahs have found use as pot holders, table mats for hot plates, door mats and bathroom rugs, and when opened up and flattened, as insoles, the soles of sandals and as gloves




Library Details




In Library


Wooden Shelves


Object, Textile, Foam, Tube

Handling guidance

Wash hands after handling.

Date entered collection

Tuesday 24th December, 2019