Almost every bottle in the cleaning products section now claims to be environmentally friendly, biodegradable, paraben free or just ‘green.’ You may want to cut down the levels of toxic chemicals used to clean your home for health reasons or to address your environmental beliefs. But how do you know what product claims are genuine, and which ones are clever marketing phrases that skirt around the real picture?
What to avoid
The most important issues associated with household cleaners include:
Health concerns — strong chemicals give a product cleaning power, but may also increase potential health risks. Always read the instructions to avoid over-exposure that may cause respiratory problems or skin irritation. Keep chemicals out of reach of children.
Ingredient disclosure — Ingredient lists rarely contain information about the percent composition of different ingredients. In addition, some disclosed ingredients are generic eg. ‘fragrance’ – making it impossible to tell whether it contains the chemical you or your child is allergic to.
Environmental concerns — Cleaning products are typically washed down the drain to be processed by sewage treatment systems and then discharged into surface waters. Some widely used cleaning agents (like alkylphenol ethoxylate surfactants) bio-degrade into persistent compounds that may pose ecological risks. Over two-thirds of the streams sampled by the US Geological Survey have detectable concentrations of persistent detergent metabolites (as well as disinfectants) that originated in cleaning products.
Waste reduction — Most cleaning products are now packaged in plastic bottles that can be recycled. However, many consumers dispose of these bottles as trash, adding to their community’s solid waste management challenges.
What to look for:
Look past the marketing slogans on the packaging and look for one of these logos, which show an independent organization has investigated the product’s ingredients, manufacturing process and disposal process and has deemed it to Each organization has a product finder on its website so you can check which products available to you are up to standard, and read information on the findings.
EcoLogo – Founded in 1988 by the Governmentof Canada but now recognized world- wide, EcoLogo is North America’s oldest and most widely known environmental leadership standard. EcoLogo contains 120 environmental standards and almost 7,000 certified products.
Greenseal – Green Seal standards provide leadership criteria for the development of many products, from home cleaning products to paints. Certification guarantees that products perform as well as conventional products. Ingredients are biodegradable and do not contain phthalates, heavy metals, or optical brighteners.
The Good Guide – Rates products and companies on their health, environmental and social performance. The 0 to 10 rating system is easy to follow, and you can search for products that match your priorities including fragrance-free, climate change, animal welfare and health.
Leaping Bunny – The Coalition for Consumer Informationon Cosmetics (CCIC) administers this cruelty-free standard. The internationally recognized Leaping Bunny logo appears on personal care and household products. They assure that no new animal testing is used in any phase of product development by the company, its laboratories, or it’s suppliers.
Make your own cleaning products
The best way to be sure that your products are not harmful to your family or your environment is to make your own!
• Check out our posts on using vinegar and baking soda around the house.
• For more ideas on homemade green cleaning products check out this printable recipe sheet from the David Suzuki Foundation.