The Accidental Discovery Of The Kitchen Sponge

The kitchen sponge that we know now and use to wash the dishes, wasn’t invented until Otto Bayer discovered and produced polyurethane foam, affectionately called “Ester,” in the first half of the twentieth century.

Bayer and Ester

In 1937, German industrial chemist Otto Bayer (not related to the family that founded the Bayer Group) was the head of the research group that discovered the polyaddition for the synthesis of polyurethane out of poly-isocyanate and polyol. Although his basic idea of mixing small volumes of chemical substances together to obtain dry foam materials was seen as unrealistic then, he eventually succeeded synthesizing Ester.

Ten years later, Ester’s family expanded into customized materials that could be manufactured on the basis of Bayer’s invention. Until another case of serendipity happened…

The Kitchen Sponge We Know Now

As a result of several manufacturing variations of polyurethane foam, German scientists created a defective batch that had many air bubbles that resembled the porous skeleton of sea sponges (cue in: Spongebob Squarepants theme).

Fun Fact:

Wisps made of real sea sponges used to be what people in the Middle Ages use to help wash their bodies, while rags are used to wash the dishes.

This polyester sponge is an airy foam, but more chemically resistant, and was originally adopted by the mop industry. It was elastic and light and a perfect cleaning agent, which is why it was eventually made into utility and kitchen sponges.

However, the earliest polyurethane sponges were easily destroyed when used in dish washing due to their softness and fragility; but with technology, the sponges were designed to be more durable. These days, you find it in different shapes, sizes, and colors.


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