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.
What to avoid in a cleaning product:
- 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.
What to look for in a green cleaning product instead:
- 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.
For additional insurance that you’re cleaning greenly, research product contents online via such sources as the Household Products Database and Toxnet. If you’re planning to outsource your chores, carefully vet cleaning services for green practices and credentials such as Green Seal’s GS-49 certification.
Finally, no matter how earth-friendly the products you choose, use them in a well-ventilated area and avoid long, drawn-out cleaning binges that can leave residues and scents hanging in the air. Regular maintenance with green cleaning products like simple soap and water diminishes the need for stronger products and keeps your home both clean and green!