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Green Cleaning Products: What to Look For, What to Avoid

Updated on April 18, 2012

Clean and Green

Let's face it, cleaning isn't fun. Most of us keep a clean house because a clean home is a healthy home. Or is it? Unfortunately, many traditional cleaning products are loaded with toxins and chemicals than can harm our bodies and our environment.

Many common household cleaning products contain dangerous ingredients that can burn the skin, irritate the respiratory system, disrupt hormones and cause cancer, and some are fatal if swallowed.

And the effects of these ingredients aren't just limited to our own homes. Once washed down the drain, these products make their way into the waterways, where they pose a threat to all fish and wildlife they come into contact with, often interfering with reproduction and life cycles.

Labels to Look For

Search for products that have been certified by EcoLogo (in Canada, Europe and Asia) or Green Seal (in the U.S.). Products bearing these labels have been tested and analyzed for safety and effectiveness, and have ranked within the top 20 percent of all available products for safety.

However, just because a product doesn't have an EcoLogo or Green Seal label, that doesn't mean it's harmful. It just means you'll need to do some further investigation by reading labels and ingredient lists.

Look for 100% plant-based ingredients: active ingredients like tea tree oil, sodium borate, citrus oils, eucalyptus, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar and soy are good choices. Just don't be fooled by packaging terms like 'natural' or 'all-natural'; these labels aren't well-regulated and not all natural ingredients are safe.

Ingredients to Avoid

If you're trying to create a healthier home and a safer environment, these are the cleaning ingredients you'll want to avoid:

  • Ammonia
  • Chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite)
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Butyl cellosolve (butyl glycol, ethylene glycol, monobutyl)
  • Naptha
  • Phosphates
  • Fragrance
  • Sodium hydroxide (lye)
  • Sulfuric acid
  • Diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA)
  • Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs)
  • Alkylphenol ethoxylates (nonylphenol ethoxylates, octylphenol ethoxylates, nonoxynols, and octoxynols)
  • Ethanolamines (mono-, di-, and tri-ethanolamine)
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds (alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (ADBAC), benzalkonium chloride and didecyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride)
  • Sodium acid sulfate
  • Glycol ethers (2-butoxyethanol and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether)
  • Antibacterials (such as triclosan)
  • Disinfectants (such as chlorine bleach, alcohol, quaternary compounds, pine oil and ethyl alcohol)
  • Petroleum-based ingredients (such as formaldehyde)

Overwhelmed yet? Don't be. Remember, you don't have to read through long lists of ingredients every time you shop. Take the time to do some research upfront, and then just stick with the safest two or three products you find. As much as cleaning product manufacturers would love for you to think otherwise, you don't need an entire cabinet packed with different sprays, scrubs and liquids. Two or three cleaners is enough to take care of pretty much any room in your house.

Search for cleaning products online before heading to the store - many websites will include a full ingredient list, so you know what to look for and what to avoid when it's time to go shopping.


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