You want to keep your home clean to protect your family from germs and diseases. As you stand in the cleaning aisle at the grocery store, a plethora of cleaning products confront you. Many are household cleaning staples from the last 50 years, others are recent innovations, and an increasing number claim to be “organic,” “ecofriendly,” or “green.”
After seeing all these allegedly organic options, you may wonder if all traditional cleaning products have remarkably harsh chemicals. Could their chemicals harm your family or the environment? But you pause before putting an organic alternative in your cart. You want to know it will clean as well as the non-organic version you’ve used for years.
Unfortunately, you may have hard time evaluating the labels on “green” cleaning products and their natural formulas while you stand in the grocery store aisle. Learn the ins, outs, and efficacy of green products in our analysis below.
What Makes a Cleaning Product “Organic”?
When a company claims that its cleaning product is organic or green, that term implies:
- The product is made from natural ingredients.
- The product is safer for the environment than inorganic alternatives.
Most consumers have these expectations when they shop for organic cleaners. Some consumers have even higher expectations, such as:
- No hidden ingredients
- Only biodegradable ingredients
- No corrosive effects
- No petro-chemicals or carcinogens
- No animal testing
Even with these consumer expectations, some companies apply green claims and organic labels to products that barely qualify. Right now, the EPA doesn’t regulate many of these terms closely. That leaves many consumers who want to buy organic cleaning products to make judgments on their own in the grocery aisle.
How Can You Evaluate Labels on Green Cleaning Products?
To avoid this dilemma and buy green cleaning products that fit the term, you just need to learn what to look for. You just need to know the difference between meaningful and meaningless terms and effective and ineffective green ingredients. Then you can buy organic cleaning products with confidence.
Cleaning Label Terms
As we noted above, the EPA doesn’t require companies to prove a product meets certain standards to use the words “green” or “organic” on its label. Other meaningless words, terms, and phrases include:
- 100% vegan
- Cruelty free
- Environmentally friendly
- Gray water safe
- No animal by-products
- No animal testing
- Septic tank safe
To be clear, products that use these words on their labels might still be organic or green. But don’t buy a product based on those words alone-no government or regulatory agency stands behind these terms to guarantee a product.
The EPA does monitor some terms, and independent agencies verify certain terms. So if you see these words on cleaning products, green or otherwise, you know they meet certain standards.
- Antibacterial: the active ingredient is a pesticide that passed safety and efficacy tests. The same standards apply to products labeled as “germicidal,” “mold and mildew resistant,” and “effective against E. coli and Staphylococcus.” Many experts don’t consider antibacterial products “organic.” (One exception-antibacterial dishwashing soap has the same classification as hand soap, so the regulation doesn’t apply.)
- Certified biodegradable: the product’s formula or its individual ingredients will break down at least 70% within 28 days when used according to directions. The product will also not harm the environment or aquatic life.
- Certified vegan: the product has no ingredients derived from animals or animal by-products and was not tested on animals. (In some cases, individual ingredients may have undergone animal testing.)
Cleaning Label Ingredients
Similar to the minimal regulation of cleaning label terms, the EPA does not require companies to disclose ingredients in cleaning products on labels. But you should avoid some ingredients. The Environmental Working Group, a national environmental health research group, recommends staying away from products with these ingredients listed:
- Oils derived from pine or citrus
- Alkylphenol ethoxylates
- Glycol ethers, such as 2-butoxyethanol
- Quaternary ammonium compounds, such as ADBAC
Instead, look for products with ingredients that sound more familiar and are easier to read. That’s not a fool-proof rule, but it’s easy to follow when you look over a label at the grocery store. Some of the best organic cleaning ingredients include:
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Citric acid
- Lactic acid
- Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
What Are Good Resources for Finding Effective Organic Cleaning Products?
The tips above can help you when you have to make a quick decision in the grocery store about whether to buy a certain cleaning product. But if you want to find the best organic cleaners, it helps to do research before you shop so you know exactly which products meet your standards.
Several organizations evaluate organic cleaning products and release the results of their tests to the public. They examine the “greenness” of a product’s individual ingredients and overall formula, as well as how effectively it cleans. Check out these websites for information about individual products:
Do you want to buy organic cleaning products for your home? Use these tips next time you stock up on cleaning supplies at the grocery store.