Before the smiling Scrub Daddy sponge was a staple in millions of American kitchens, it was rejected by a Fortune 500 company.
Scrub Daddy inventor Aaron Krause, 45, sold his first company, which made buffing pads, to 3M in 2008. He tried to include the now-ubiquitous dish sponge he had invented, which was marketed as a “hand scrubber.”
“They carved [the sponge] out of the deal, and left it with me because it was so worthless,” Krause told Fortune in a recent YouTube interview. The circular yellow sponge sat in a box, untouched, for three years.
Then in 2011, Krause’s wife, Stephanie, asked him to clean the their moldy lawn furniture. He found his rejected product in a box labeled “scrap,” and was amazed at how it left the surface of the grimy chairs sparkling clean.
“I knew right away this was destined to be the best dishwashing tool in the world,” Krause said.
After a successful pitch on Shark Tank, Krause’s once-rejected product has spawned a cleaning empire. Scrub Daddy boasted $220 million in sales in 2023, Krause said, and is now planning for a global expansion.
When Krause was a 10-year-old living in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, he created his first invention—a rope and pulley system to help him turn off bedroom lights from the comfort of his bed.
“That was the first time I realized I could come up with a crazy idea, build something, and change my world,” he said. “From then, I literally started looking at the world completely different.”
This ambitious spirit followed Krause through high school and college. To earn his own money, he would clean and wash cars in the neighborhood.
Krause enrolled at Syracuse University in 1988, and graduated with a degree in psychology. He rejected the idea of a “real” job, and instead opted to start his own car-washing business—a decision that devastated his parents.
“My mom was crying,” Krause remembers. “My grandma said, ‘Just disown him!’ And my dad said, ‘Son, you have until the end of the summer to make it a real business and get it out of my garage.’”
But Krause’s business grew, inspiring his first big product, a buffing pad for polishing cars.
In 1995, Krause sold his car washing business and turned his focus to a new venture: Dedication To Detail, a buffing pad manufacturer. 3M bought the company, and Krause stayed on as a developer and consultant.
New life for Scrub Daddy
After finding the Scrub Daddy was just as useful for washing dishes as it was for lawn furniture, Krause took his invention to his coworkers at 3M.
“They said, ‘Oh, you’re crazy. It’s a wasted product,” Krause said. But the entrepreneur knew he could win over the naysayers if they could just see his product in action. He gave each co-worker a sponge to test, and quickly won them over.
Krause invested $150,000 to patent his invention and began selling it at his friend’s chain of local grocery stores.
“He came to me after a couple of days and said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it. We normally sell two or three sponges a day, you’re selling 200 to 300 in one of my stores. You need to go to every one of my stores and do that,’” Krause remembers.
Krause would go on to sell his product on a website and QVC, where he became a fan favorite. This bolstered his confidence enough to try on his favorite show—ABC’s Shark Tank.
Krause filled out an application online and in three months received a call from Shark Tank producers. In October 2012, Krause was featured on season four, where he left with a $200,000 investment and 20% equity stake deal with entrepreneur and judge Lori Greiner.
After the episode aired, Krause said Scrub Daddy crossed a million dollars in sales within 24 hours. Today, Scrub Daddy is considered one of the most successful products in the show’s history.
Scrub Daddy moved its headquarters to Pennsauken, New Jersey in 2021. Their newest facility features a television studio, a warehouse, a koi pond, and a store for customers.
Krause is still inventing, working with his in-house engineering department to tap into various sectors of cleaning.
“We make sponges, but why don’t we make mops? Why don’t we make toilet cleaning products? Why don’t we make barbecue brushes?” Krause explains. “We’re in the cleaning business now. We’re not just making sponges.”
In 2014, the company introduced Scrub Mommy – a hybrid between the original Scrub Daddy and a traditional sponge. Krause said the company is now launching two or three products every year.
In March 2023, Scrub Daddy entered a partnership with global consumer goods company Unilever. This collaboration helped Scrub Daddy enter international markets with co-branded products. Krause also plans to expand his sponge empire to Europe in the near future.