Choosing green cleaning products makes for healthier home-keeping and greater peace of mind as you go about your cleaning chores. But finding the ingredients, formulas and applications that actually make a product people- and earth-friendly can be tricky if you don’t know what to look for.
Following are do’s and don’ts to remember as you shop for products that are truly clean and green.
- Phosphates: Traditionally used to increase a detergent’s effectiveness, phosphates cause problems when they reach waterways and spur algae overgrowth and deplete oxygen supplies for fish. Phosphates have been banned from all cleaning products except dishwashing detergents.
- Formaldehyde: This carcinogen is found in some household cleaners and disinfectants as a germicide, fungicide and bactericide.
- Chlorine: Besides being a big cause of ozone depletion, chlorine is responsible for more household poisonings annually than any other chemical.
- Ammonia: Though a natural ingredient and found in some cleaning products, ammonia can be unpleasant to breathe and is a particular irritant for those who are highly allergic or asthmatic.
- Alkylphenolethoxylates (APEs): These act as surfactants to help cleaning solutions spread more easily and penetrate solid surfaces. As dangerous endocrine disruptors, they contribute to many health concerns; choose products with plant-based surfactants instead.
- Ethylenediaminetetraacetic Acid (EDTA): This chemical builder tends to take up heavy metals and isn’t biodegradable.
- Degreasers: Degreasers usually contain petroleum distillates like kerosene, and can cause various kinds of neurological problems.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Often present in deodorizers, disinfectants and air fresheners, VOCs are released as airborne gases and adversely affect air quality.
- Products labeled with toxic hazard warnings: Even the slightest, shortest exposure to these can be harmful. Make sure you understand the different levels of risk as indicated in label warnings (these are based on threat to a 180-pound male as the exposure subject): “caution” means one ounce to a pint may be harmful or fatal, “warning” means one teaspoon to one ounce may be harmful or fatal, and “danger” signals that one taste to one teaspoon is fatal.
- Citrus or hydrogen-peroxide-based disinfectants and sanitizers: Used in place of traditional chlorine, these substances are effective and have much less potential to harm the environment.
- Natural cleaners: Baking soda, salt, vinegar, lemon juice, simple soap and plain-old water get the job done when combined with a little elbow grease. Make your own cleaning solutions and you won’t have to worry about reading labels.
- Products that can be diluted with cold water: Heating water requires energy that can lead to various environmental impacts, so go with cleaners that call for cold water.
- The Green Seal logo: Green Seal is an independent verification program granting the mark of environmental responsibility with their logo on products that meet stringent standards for safety, human health and all-around greenness.
- Biodegradable products: These will decompose into minerals, water and carbon dioxide, leaving no harmful traces in the environment after cleaning day has passed.
- Minimal, recyclable packaging: Green cleaning products don’t load landfills with excess wrappings and layers of packaging. You’ll find the recyclability of truly green packaging indicated on the product label.