The Natural Fiber You Need in Your Home

Coir from the humble coconut is the hardy workhorse of our homes.

coir husks

Nikhil Guhagarkar / Getty Images

Back in the ‘80s, during every summer vacation spent in Mumbai, my cousins and I would troop off to Juhu Beach, a wide swath of shoreline flanking the Arabian Sea. Six of us, along with an adult or two, would clamber into our sturdy Ambassador, fashioned after the Morris Oxford Series III, squished like sardines. After a few hours of squelching in the sand and water, we’d return to my grandparents' home, tanned and salty.

Before we entered, we had to scrape our rubber slippers against the thick, prickly coir mat parked outside the door, till the last grain of sand (and a whole lot of rubber) was sloughed off. My grandmother, a stickler for cleanliness, used to line the path from the mat at the door to the tub with newspapers. We skinny, scraggly children, slippers in our hand, would scramble to the bathroom, self and shoes emerging scrupulously clean.

Coir is the fiber that comes from the husk of the coconut fruit from the Cocos nucifera tree. With a coastline stretching over 7,500 kilometers (4,660 miles), India has been blessed with ample coconut, used copiously for its oil, water, milk, meat, husk, and shell. It’s an inescapable part of our lives.

Every day a fresh coconut is deposited at my doorstep, and I savor its sweet water and flesh. We use organic cold-pressed coconut oil at home for cooking occasionally, as well as oiling our hair and skin. We decorate the home with bowls and tea light holders made from the hard nut. And last but not least, the house is peppered with mats, strings, and cleaning products made from durable coir. (The brown fiber comes from mature coconuts, while soft white fiber comes from green coconuts soaked for nearly 10 months.)

Over a decade ago, the Food and Agricultural Organization had declared a year dedicated to the International Year of Natural Fibres, with coir being one of the plant fibers listed. Coir is biodegradable, and yet resistant to microbes and salt water. Its versatility is due to the high concentration of lignin, a complex biopolymer and abundant part of plants, that results in a strong fiber with multiple uses. From mattresses and fertilizer to cleaning brushes and ropes, this scratchy and hardy natural filament fits well into contemporary lifestyles.  

The Foot Mat

coir door mat

Thomas Faull / Getty Images

Fast forward four decades from our Juhu Beach trips, our home—and almost every other I visit—always has a hardy coir mat outside that handles wear and tear with nary a dent. Prickly underfoot, thick coir mats have been an essential part of keeping our homes clean for decades—and with good reason.

A study by microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor at the University of Arizona, says shoes are carriers of bugs, with an average of 421,000 units of bacteria stuck on the outside of a shoe and around 2,887 inside. When I come home, I wipe my shoes thoroughly on the coir mat, remove the clogs at the entrance, and slide my feet into oversized flip-flops to schlep around the house in comfort. It’s a habit ingrained in me now.

The Kitchen and Washroom Kit

Nylon and plastic scrubbers are pretty commonly used in kitchens and for cleaning, but there are options made from coir, too. It’s possible to buy brushes to clean, swab, and scour in an eco-friendly way. (I buy mine from here.) So whether you want to clean a bottle, swab your floors, or wash your sink, you can get a coir-based substitute. But be warned, the natural fiber has a tendency to shed a little, but that should not stop you from using it. Keep it clean and dry. Wash it out and leave it in the sun to become crispy again.


If you don’t want to use typical garden pots made from plastic, terracotta, or ceramic, you can opt for those made from coir. These eco-friendly options are completely biodegradable and look pretty. Plus, you can plant the entire pot in the soil.

coir fiber pots

ISAREE K TIMMS / Getty Images

Where I draw the line personally with coir-based products is with respect to my skin, owing to how coarse and harsh the fiber can be—though some brave souls can try a nail or body brush with bristles made from coconut fiber. On every other count, however, coir is crowned king.

View Article Sources
  1. "Study Reveals High Bacteria Levels on Footwear." Cleaning Industry Research Institute, 2008.