It’s time for spring cleaning! (Which may or may not excite you depending on how you feel about cleaning.) But before you put on your gloves and pull out your bucket full of cleaners, be warned. Many of those well-known cleaners (and some “green” ones, too) can cause cancer, respiratory problems, and harm the environment (EWG).
Chronic lower respiratory disease is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. One way to prevent it is by avoiding chemical fumes and air pollutants in the home. — Medical News Today
The good news is, it’s really easy to replace all your chemically-laced cleaners with safer ones (see our list below). And you can do it all in one fell swoop and probably get free shipping, too. All you need to know is what ingredients to avoid and how to steer clear of bogus “green” marketing claims, which is not always an easy task.
Take, for example, this story in Remodelista, “13 Favorite All-Purpose Cleaners, Eco Edition.” They claim the companies on their list “ditch chemicals and harsh scents,” but The UnScented Company’s All-Purpose Cleaner contains a chemical (benzisothiazolone) banned for use in cosmetics in the EU and in toys in Denmark. Remodelista says Murchison-Hume is their “go-to for natural cleaning products” and yet their ingredients scored mostly C’s (their discontinued products received D’s, so C’s are an improvement) in the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning (see below), hardly a shining example of an eco-friendly cleaner. Another of Remodelista’s “favorites” is The Laundress. Their cleaning products received mostly F’s. Wouldn’t you want your cleaning products to score A’s, not C’s or F’s? Don’t be fooled by marketing claims or get sucked into paying a high price for high-end “green” products that aren’t very green.
So, how do you spot the cleanest companies? First, make sure the company is transparent about their ingredients. Next, see if they have any 3rd party verification or certification to back up their claims. Finally, look up their products in the EWG database. If the company isn’t listed, you can search individual ingredients to find their level of toxicity.
The non-profit and non-partisan Environmental Working Group (EWG) created a database to help consumers find cleaning products that are less polluting. They studied the ingredients in over 2,000 brand name products and gave them a grade from A-F based on how safe the ingredients are. Many of the well-known brands like Tide, Pine-Sol, Palmolive, and Ajax received scores of C’s, D’s, and F’s.
Every one of the companies on our list scored A’s. And almost all of them have a full line of cleaning products available though sites like Amazon or Vitacost. You can order individual items from different companies or buy everything you need from one. Whichever way you do it, spend ten minutes and replace all those filthy cleaning products under your sink. You’ll definitely breathe easier.
SAFE SPRING CLEANERS
Earth Friendly Ecos All Purpose Cleaner, Orange Plus 22 oz, $4.06, EWG GRADE: A
A majority women-owned company and Safer Choice certified (a voluntary program overseen by the US EPA that certifies that products are humane and environmentally safe). Ecos is not tested on animals, is vegan, biodegradable, and plant based, and doesn’t contain formaldehyde or dyes. Made in the USA.
Meliora All-Purpose Home Cleaner, $14.99 Bottle & 18 Refill Canister, 16 oz, EWG GRADE: A
Meliora (meh-lee-OR-ah) is Latin for better. The cleaner comes in a reusable glass bottle (no plastic!). It’s fragrance-free, dye-free, preservative-free, cruelty-free, vegan, and is biodegradable. Simply add warm water. Meliora is a Certified B Corp and is a member of 1% For the Planet—1% of their sales are donated to non-profit organizations that help the planet. It’s also MADE SAFE certified, which means all the ingredients are safe for human health.
Truce All-Purpose Cleaner, Peppermint, $10.49, 16 oz, EWG GRADE: A
Truce contains no parabens, no SLS (sodium laurel sulfate), no pthalates, and no GMOs. It’s cruelty free, biodegradable, hypoallergenic, BPA free, and made with essential oils. Just add water. They are fully transparent about their ingredients and explain why each one was chosen.
Aunt Fannie’s Cleaning Vinegar Spray, Sweet Mandarin, $4.59, 16 oz, EWG GRADE: A
Free from dyes, ammonia, formaldehyde, parabens, bleach, alcohols, ethers, petroleum solvents, synthetic fragrances, ethoxylates, SLS (sodium laurel sulfate), and SLES (sodium laurel ether sulfate). Never tested on animals.
Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner, $8.99, 16 oz, EWG GRADE: A
This concentrated hard-surface all-purpose cleaner is plant-based and made without any synthetic dyes, fragrances, or preservatives. It’s cruelty-free and biodegradable. Dr. Bronner’s is a Certified B Corporation, which means they meet “rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.”
NOT-AS-SAFE ALL-PURPOSE CLEANERS
Better Life, Clary Sage & Citrus, EWG GRADE: C
Lysol All Purpose Spray with Bleach, EWG GRADE: D
Legacy of Clean Kitchen All-Purpose Cleaner, EWG GRADE: D
Method All Purpose Cleaner, French Lavender, EWG GRADE: F
Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Basil Countertop Spray, EWG GRADE: C
Pine-Sol, Original, EWG GRADE: D
Seventh Generation, EWG GRADE: C
Simple Green All Purpose Cleaner, EWG GRADE: F
Ecover Zero Dish Soap, Fragrance Free, $4.68, 25 oz, EWG GRADE: A
No fragrance, dyes, or chlorine. It’s biodegradable, never tested on animals, non-toxic, and made with plant-based ingredients. The bottle is made with recycled plastic.
Biokleen Natural Dish Liquid Free & Clear, $3.99, 25 oz, EWG GRADE: A
A second generation family-owned company. All of Biokleen’s products are free of phosphates, chlorine, ammonia, petroleum solvents, alcohol, butyl, glycol ether, brighteners, artificial colors, and fragrance. None of their products are tested on animals. Made in the USA and committed to sustainability. They get 100% of their energy for manufacturing from wind power credits. All of their packaging is made with plastic that is recyclable and has a low risk of leaching.
NOT-AS-SAFE DISH SOAP
Ajax Dish Liquid, Orange, EWG GRADE: F
Cascade, EWG GRADE: D or F, depending on the product
Dawn, Lemon Essence, EWG GRADE: C
Mrs. Meyer’s Soaps, EWG GRADE: C
Palmolive, EWG GRADE: D or F, depending on the product
DISHWASHER PACKS AND GELS
Aspen Clean Dishwasher Packs, Unscented, $8.99, 20 packs EWG GRADE: A
Made with 100% cosmetic grade and vegan ingredients. Free of synthetic fragrances, dyes, chlorine, and phosphates. Pouches are made from 100% recyclable plastic and are fully biodegradable. Made in Canada. All their products scored A’s by EWG (always a good sign).
MORE SAFE DISHWASHER PACKS AND GELS
Better Life Dishwasher Gel, EWG GRADE: A
Earth Friendly Dishwasher Gel, Free & Clear, EWG GRADE: A
Nature Clean Dishwasher Pacs, EWG GRADE: A
Seventh Generation Dishwasher Packs, Free & Clear, EWG GRADE: A
LIQUID SOAP + MORE
Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Liquid Soap, Baby Mild, Unscented, $16.19, 32 oz, EWG GRADE: A
Made with USDA certified organic and certified fair trade ingredients. Packaged in a 100% post-consumer recycled bottle. Non-GMO Project certified, kosher certified, biodegradable, Leaping Bunny certified (never tested on animals), and certified vegan. Dr. Bronner’s soap can be used to clean just about anything from face and body to dishes, floors, pets, and laundry.
GLASS CLEANER — SKIP IT
Why add another cleanser to your line-up when it’s not necessary? Put a dab of Dr. Bronner’s or Ecover Dish Soap on a wet rag or sponge and wipe down glass or mirrors, then rinse with water and dry. You won’t have any streaks!
Greenshield Organic Free & Clear, $15.08, 100 oz, EWG GRADE: A
USDA Certified Organic, Leaping Bunny Certified (no animal testing), dye free, no GMOs, hypoallergenic, HE and standard washing machine safe, and packaged in a 100% recyclable bottle.
NOT-AS-SAFE LAUNDRY DETERGENT
Arm & Hammer Plus OxiClean, Cool Breeze, EWG GRADE: F
Caldrea, Basil Blue Sage, EWG GRADE: C
Gain 2X Ultra, Original Fresh, EWG GRADE: F
Kirkland Signature, Free & Clear, EWG GRADE: F
Mrs. Meyer’s, EWG GRADE: B – F, depending on the product
Puracy Free & Clear, EWG GRADE: F
The Laundress Whites Detergent, EWG GRADE: F
Tide, EWG GRADE: D’s & F’s
Woolite, EWG GRADE: D’s & F’s (for most products)
Aunt Fannie’s Cleaning Vinegar Wipes, Bright Lemon, $7.99, 35 wipes, EWG GRADE: A
Every one of Aunt Fannie’s cleaning products has earned an A rating from EWG. Non-toxic ingredients and never tested on animals.
Clean Well Natural Hand Sanitizing Wipes, Original Scent, $3.99, 40 wipes, not rated by EWG
Botanically-based sanitizer, alcohol free, biodegradable solution, never tested on animals, kid friendly formula, won’t sting cuts.
WOOD CLEANER/FURNITURE POLISH
Truce Wood Cleaner, $10.49, 16 oz, EWG SCRORE: A
No SLS, phthalates, phosphates, or parabens, toxin-free, non-GMO, cruelty free, made in the USA, biodegradable, BPA free, contains essential oils, and refills are available. They are committed to “giving back to our local community and supporting organizations that prioritize the health and welfare of those in need.”
NOT-AS-SAFE WOOD CLEANER
Pledge Furniture Spray, Lemon Clean, EWG GRADE: C
NOT-SO-SAFE TOILET BOWL CLEANER
Lysol, Citrus, EWG GRADE: F
Aunt Fannie’s Vinegar Wash Floor Cleaner, $9.99, 32 oz, EWG GRADE: A
Sulfate, paraben, CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), and triclosan free, not tested on animals, natural fragrance, made in the USA, vegan, pet/children friendly.
Simple Green Naturals Floor Care, $7.81, 24 oz, EWG GRADE: A
It’s got the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, is non-toxic, and contains no synthetic chemicals or carcinogenic phthalates. The packaging is 25% or more post-consumer content, recyclable PET plastic, and the label is printed with soy based ink.
NOT-AS-SAFE FLOOR CLEANERS
Amway Hardwood Floor Cleaner, EWG GRADE: F
Better Life Simply Floored, EWG GRADE: C
Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner, EWG GRADE: F
Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner, Free & Simple, EWG GRADE: C
Murchison-Hume Effortless Floor Cleaner, Original Fig, EWG Grade: C
Orange Glo Floor Cleaner, EWG GRADE: C
EWG recommends avoiding air fresheners, antibacterial products, fabric softeners and dryer sheets, as well as drain cleaners and oven cleaners because the ingredients aren’t safe (EWG).
Now that you’ve got the cleaning products, invest in some well-made cleaning accoutrements.
Amala Magic Sponge Cloth, $5.49, 3-pack, Thrive Market
Biodegradable, non-toxic, and dye, color, and additive free. One cloth holds 20 times its own weight in water. They’ll reduce your paper towel consumption dramatically.
Twist Scrub Sponges, $6.30, 3-Pack, Amazon
Dishwasher safe, made from plants with no added colors or chemicals, hand-sewn, dye-free, 100-percent biodegradable.
EcoJeannie Cleaning Cloth, $10.19, 4-pack, Amazon
Biodegradable cellulose sponge cloths.
BROOMS & DUST PANS
Redecker Dust Pan Set, $61.99, Amazon
Redecker Dust Pan and Brush, $40, Amazon
German Broom & Dust Pan, $139, Schoolhouse
Horse Hair Broom, $60, The Laundress
TreeLen Dustpan and Broom, $27.99, Amazon
O-Cedar Angler Angle Broom with Dustpan, $19.99, Amazon
Bristles are made from 80% recycled plastic. Made in the USA.
Wooden Dish Brush, $12, Freckled Hen Farmhouse
Round Wooden Dish Brush with Knob, $24, Freckled Hen Farmhouse
WOODEN TOILET BRUSH & STAND
Wooden Toilet Brush and Stand, $25.41, Archer Hard Goods
Norpro 24-inch Pure Lambs Wool Duster with Wood Handle, $13.39, Amazon
GM Royal Ostrich Feather Duster, $9.99, Amazon
O-Cedar Easy Wring Spin Mop and Bucket Floor Cleaning System, $29.98, Amazon
COMPOSTABLE & RECYCLABLE TRASH BAGS
Hippo Sak, Tall Kitchen Bags Made From Plants, $13.49, 45 count, Amazon
These bags are a USDA Certified 88% “biobased” product made from sugar cane. The bags are 100% recyclable and made in the USA. Hippo Sak also makes Recycled Tall Kitchen Bags Made with OceanBound Plastic, $13.49, 45 count, Amazon. These bags are made from recycled plastic collected on beaches in 3rd world countries before it enters the ocean.
UNNI 13 Gallon Compostable Tall Kitchen Trash Bags, $15.95, 50 count, Unni
Unni’s bags are 100% compostable and made from plants. They are Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) certified, which means they are compostable in commercial or municipal composting facilities in compliance with the US standard ASTM D6400. They are also certified safe for backyard composting.
Feature image Happycity21 @iStock