Everything You Need to Know about Ayate Washcloths: what it is, how to use it, and how to care for it

At VOLVERde, we're reconnecting with our ancestral traditions of sustainability. One tradition that holds a special place in our hearts is the use of an agave fiber washcloth, known as ayate, for bathing and showering. Our grandmother used an ayate for showering and even for cleaning. 

As more people are turning to eco-friendly alternatives to plastic loofahs, ayates are seeing a resurgence. We're here to break down everything you need to know about what an ayate washcloth is, the benefits, how to use it, and how to care for it.

What is an Ayate?

Ayate is a general term used to describe the indigenous tradition of loosely woven items such as cloths, bags, and nets made from plant fibers, typically from the agave plant. Ayate washcloths have been used in bathing rituals for thousands of years by indigenous cultures in Mexico and surrounding countries. 

Close up of an Agave Fiber Washcloth (Ayate Exfoliating Washcloth) with a view of agave weave.

Agave has over 200 different species – it is most commonly known as the plant from which tequila and mezcal are produced. Ayate washcloths are made from the lechugilla species of agave, and its fibers are often known as ixtle. Ixtle fibers have been used for centuries in Mexico.  

What is lechugilla, an agave plant from mexico

Traditionally, ayate cloths were used by indigenous communities for various purposes, including personal hygiene, exfoliation, and household cleaning.

Ayate fibers are white, long, and stiff, but they soften when wet. They are fast drying and mold-resistant, making them a better alternative to plastic loofahs and washcloths. Ayates are also great at exfoliating to remove dead skin cells and in promoting blood circulation.

Agave Fiber Washcloth (Ayate Exfoliating Washcloth) made from compostable agave fibers held by a hand.

How is Ayate made?

The ayate crafting tradition is intricate, labor intensive and has been passed down over generations. The process of making just one ayate washcloth can take weeks.

First, leaves are carefully cut from the agave lechugilla plant. Artisans are careful to cut from more mature plants, to ensure younger plants can thrive. Other times artisans partner with mezcal distilleries to use their discarded agave leaves. Rather than discarding the agave leaves that aren't useful in the mezcal or tequila making process, the fibers can are reused by artisans to avoid waste.

The agave fibers are cooked and pounded into fibrous strands. They are then softened under rocks for up to a week. One by one each fiber is scraped and washed to remove any remaining debris. The fibers are soaked in a natural lime solution and hung out in the sun to dry. Once dry, they're hand woven or crocheted into squares to make the ayate washcloth. 

Despite its rich heritage and long tradition, ayate washcloth production has dwindled over time. They've been replaced by the convenience of plastic loofahs and plastic sponges, to the detriment of the planet and artisanal traditions.

There are still a handful of families in Central Mexico that continue the ayate crafting tradition. We partner with a cooperative that makes ayates the traditional way, hand-spun using sustainably sourced ixtle fibers. We partner with them using fair trade principles.

Environmental Benefits of Using an Ayate Washcloth

Unlike plastic loofahs that contribute to environmental pollution and microplastics, ayate washcloths are a zero-waste bathing option that also preserve a long-held cultural tradition. By using an ayate washcloth, you’ll spare our planet from more plastic pollution and prevent microplastics from contaminating our waterways. 

Since they are made from 100% agave fibers and not treated with any chemicals, these ayate washcloths are fully biodegradable and compostable. You can compost them at home in either your compost bin or garden. 

Agave fiber home goods and cleaning products
 VOLVERde's Agave Collection features compostable, artisanal home goods made from sustainably sourced agave. 

Benefits of Using an Ayate

Ayate washcloths provide other benefits, beyond reducing your plastic footprint. These are the top 3 benefits of switching to an ayate washcloth:

  1. Gentle Exfoliation. An Ayate Washcloth provides a gentle yet effective exfoliation experience for your skin. Unlike harsh chemical exfoliants or plastic luffas, the natural agave fibers of an Ayate Washcloth gently wash away dead skin cells, leaving your skin feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
  2. Boosts CirculationWhen you use an Ayate Washcloth, you're not just cleansing your skin; you're also stimulating circulation. The texture of the Ayate Washcloth promotes blood flow and helps improve overall circulation. 
  3. Flexible. One of our favorite features of an Ayate Washcloth is its flexibility. Unlike rigid scrubbing tools, an Ayate Washcloth conforms to your body, allowing you to precisely target specific areas. Whether it's behind the ears, or any other part of your body that needs attention, an Ayate can adapt to provide thorough cleansing and exfoliation exactly where you need it most.

How Do You Use an Ayate Washcloth?

Before your first use, we recommend soaking the ayate in hot water for 5 - 10 minutes to soften the fibers. The ayate cloth will soften and shrink when wet. 

Use in the shower with your favorite bath and body soap for a zero-waste bathing experience. Rub the soap on the wet ayate to work up a lather. You can also pour body wash directly onto the wet ayate. Once you have a lather going, cleanse skin as you would with a loofah or sponge. 

Once you're done using the ayate cloth, rinse off the soap and hang dry. Allow the ayate to dry in between uses. It is designed to dry quickly. You can also place the ayate in the sun to dry and disinfect it. 

Ayates can be hand washed using mild soapy water as needed. 


How to Care for your Ayate Washcloth?

Ayate washcloths can last anywhere from 3 - 6 months with proper care. You can compost it at the end of life or when it starts changing colors. This is longer than plastic loofahs, which need replacement every month!

The key to extending the life of your ayate washcloth is to allow it to fully dry in between uses and not let it sit in water for extended periods of time. You can hang it dry or let it sit in the sun to fully dry. 

Due to the antibacterial properties of agave fiber, your ayate washcloth doesn't need to be washed in the washing machine. 

We hope this answers all your questions about ayate waschloths. Did we miss any of your questions? Leave it in the comments section and we'll get back to you.

Con mucho amor,

A + M

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