Are Eco-Friendly Cleaning Supplies Really Safer?

Posted by on Feb 28, 2016 in Green Living | 40 comments

EcoLogoAre the Eco-friendly cleaning supplies you buy safe enough to warrant extra cost? Probably not. Most commercial cleaners, including many carrying eco-friendly labels, contain hazardous ingredients believed to contribute to many of today’s diseases, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, ADHD, autism, and more.

You can trust any product showing the Green Seal (USA) and EcoLogo (Can). More about them later in the article.

Many ‘Eco-friendly’ terms used by manufacturers to promote their products are marketing words meant to mislead:

  • Green – Unless the product carries the EcoLogo and/or the Green Seal, the only thing the wording is good for is to make you think you’re buying a safe product;
  • NaturalOverused and totally meaningless – there is nothing regulating the use of this word;
  • Non-Toxic – Same overuse as ‘natural’ and just as meaningless;
  • Organic – Food and Herbs may receive Organic Certification – CLEANING SUPPLIES MAY NOT. Therefore the only purpose in applying organic to cleaning products is to mislead you;
  • Biodegradable – Worthless wording – Does it tell you how long it takes to decompose?
  • Eco-Friendly – When you saw Eco-friendly in the title, didn’t you think it meant products that were free from dangerous ingredients and safe for the environment? We’ve come to accept the term to mean that, but when it’s used on labels it’s misleading because it means zip – again, no regulation to govern use of this term. 
  • Finally, how about this one? A certain product states “they are the leader in high-quality, environmentally “safer cleaning products”. ” What exactly does that mean – safer than what?  

Look for the following certification seals to ensure the cleaning product you buy truly is green and safe for your family and the environment.

EcoLogo
 
EcoLogo was founded in 1988 by the Government of Canada. The Canadian EcoLogo (also known as Environmental Choice) helps you identify products and services that have been independently certified to meet strict environmental standards that reflect their entire life cycle — from manufacturing to disposal. EcoLogo standards are designed so that only the top 20% of products available on the market can achieve certification. More than 7,000 products — from paint to paper — carry this logo.

For more information, visit the Underwriters Laboratories website.

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Green Seal – A cleaning product that contains this seal has gone through a certification program to ensure it is green. Green Seal is a United States not-for-profit organization devoted to environmental standard setting, product certification and public education.

“Green Seal is a pioneer in promoting a sustainable economy. In 1989 there were no nonprofit environmental certification programs in the US. During this year, our founder had the foresight to recognize the need for a tool to help shoppers find truly green products. Green Seal was developed as a nonprofit to stand for absolute integrity. Over the years the reputation of the Green Seal brand has grown to symbolize environmental leadership, and it continues to represent proven-green products and services.”  Green Seal Products and Services

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The safest Eco-friendly cleaning supplies are still the ones you make yourself with vinegar, baking soda, lemons and lemon juice. They are also the least expensive of all cleaning solutions.

Home-made Eco-Friendly Cleaning Supplies:

eco-friendly cleaning suppliesBaking soda is a great all-purpose cleaner – it doesn’t scratch anything, naturally deodorizes and, combined with vinegar, does a superior job of keeping toilet bowls and drains clean and odour free. 

To use as an all-purpose cleaner: Dissolve 1/4 to 1/2 cup baking soda in 4 cups warm water.

For tougher jobs mix baking soda with water to make a non-runny paste and apply with a spatula or brush.

Vinegar can be used as a safe cleaner for glass, floors and bathroom fixtures. It deters mold and mildew. When lemon juice is added, it gives the vinegar some extra cleaning oomph.
  • All-Purpose Cleaner, mix together 1 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1 1/2 cup water – pour into spray bottle;
  • For a Tile/Vinyl Floor Cleaner, mix 3 cups vinegar, 1 cup lemon juice and 8-10 cups warm water;
  • For a Glass Cleaner, mix 1 cup vinegar to 4 cups water.

Note: According to a laminate floor installer, the safest way to clean laminate floors is with a spray bottle of clear water and a barely damp mop. You can’t get much safer or cheaper than that.

Commercial Eco-Friendly Cleaning Supplies:
There are times when the homemade products just aren’t strong enough to do the job. That’s when it’s good to know that you can buy commercial cleaning products that meet the EcoLogo and Clean Seal standards, such as the Sustainable Earth products by Staples:
  • Sustainable Earth by Staples, All Purpose Cleaner
  • Sustainable Earth by Staples, Glass Cleaner

Many of the eco-friendly cleaning supplies meant to clean our homes are actually polluting them. Know what the labels mean – don’t take a chance on your family’s health by being taken in by creative marketing terms that are absolutely meaningless.

Talk to you again next week,

Lenie

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40 Comments

  1. This is great information, Lenie. I like to use a few cleaning products. But I refer vinegar, water, and dish soap. I do know that cleaning my wood floors are hard without a wood cleaner like Bona. If I just use water and a mop, it creates streaks. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sabrina, I’ve never done any research on dish soap but it shouldn’t be to bad as long as it doesn’t have added scent. Just for curiosity’s sake I am going to look some of the more popular ones up and see what’s in them.
      I’ve never heard of Bona – is that for hardwood or laminate flooring?

      • Yes, it is what our wood installer person said to use for hardwood floors. It’s primarily for hardwood but they have other products too. It is really popular to help keep wood floors clean.

        As for the dish soap, it always needed to be scent free. I forgot to mention that, sorry. It works great for counters and sinks. and quick clean up area. I wouldn’t use it for floors though.

        • Sabrina, thanks for getting back to me. I can understand using a stronger cleaner on hardwood floors – they are solid wood; Laminate floors are a composite and should therefore be treated differently – the stronger stuff could damage them. 🙂

  2. Thanks Lenie for this information on eco-friendly cleaning products. I use vinegar and baking soda quite a bit, but when I am buying products I will look more carefully now. And look for the Ecologo when I am in Canada and the Green Seal when I am in the U.S.

    • Donna, I really do like the vinegar and baking soda solutions the best and most important, they don’t harm health, which to me is the number one reason. I’m always surprised though (and I don’t know why because anymore it’s the common thing) at the creative marketing. I find it is actually fraudulent – where is the truth in advertising?

  3. I feel motivated to make my own cleaning supplies using simple, natural (in the meaningful sense) and inexpensive way, after looking over the recipes you are kind enough to provide. Thank you for such wonderfully researched and useful information.

    • Michele, using these natural ingredients really do make a difference. I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in 2001 and the cleaning products I used were thought to be largely responsible. I used to love the way the house smelled after using orange scented cleaning supplies until I found out that the fragrance was almost the worst part of the cleaning products. Now I’m satisfied to know that the best scent of clean is no scent at all.

  4. Agree with you that most eco friendly cleaning supplies are probably not safer. Can’t help thinking of a Swedish teenager who went to the United States to study. She was chocked when she realised how many different products for cleaning American students used. As she said: “They could have used one product, such as the washing up liquid, for all the sufaces and all different rooms. But instead they had 5-10 different products.”

    • Catarina, that is so true. When you walk down the cleaning supplies aisle you have kitchen cleaners, bathroom cleaners, all purpose cleaners, etc. Some are powder, others are liquid and now we even have cleaning erasers, not to mention hundreds of different air fresheners. And of course, you can get any of that in any scent you want – unfortunately, quite often the scent is the most hazardous ingredient. Wild, isn’t it? When baking soda and vinegar, supported by a good all-purpose cleaner, is all you need.

  5. I was about to say I’ve been using Ecover products for at least a couple of decades now, mostly non-scented and promoted strongly as ec friendly. So I am now reading the labeling and seem to be seeing the same marketing speak “plant-based & mineral ingredients” which in reality means very little. Though I do see on the back they contain citric acid, salt and flower extracts for scent and a very short list of ingredients compared to some I have seen. Always worth reviewing what chemicals we put on our bodies and surround ourselves with. We become so blase about it all.
    Oddly Bicarb of soda (baking soda) is quite pricey here, I used to get tubs of it when I lived abroad but it’s simply not available like that here. Vinegar is an absolute winner, mainly white though as it’s less pongy 🙂
    Good tips, thanks

    • Rosalind, have you checked with a farm supply outfit for baking soda. Here farmers use it and you can get it from the Farm Supply in bulk at very little cost. I wasn’t sure what plant-based meant, since I hadn’t seen that term here before but according to the environmental watch dog sites I checked with, cleaning products having that on the label are ok but then Rotenone – a plant based pesticide – is non-selective – but is strong enough to kill fish and care must be taken in its use as it is toxic to humans. So go figure – what does it all mean? The more you research the subject, the scarier it gets.

  6. Interesting article.

    I use far too many cleaning products when I know full well that vinegar is a multi-purpose cleaner. Years ago, I came across a multi-purpose cleaner called Starlight or Starbright. It really did as it said on the label. I think it may have been discontinued as I have yet to see it on the shelves.

    I dislike buying 5/6 cleaners every time I do a shop. They each serve different purposes so it is difficult to eliminate any one.

    • Phoenicia, you are spending way to much on cleaners. Did you know that all those different cleaners you buy are basically the same thing and probably hazardous to use? When we bought our toilet the maintenance instructions actually said NOT to use harsh cleansers but to use vinegar?

  7. Aren’t marketing companies smart? They can just stick a generic term on a product and make it sound healthy. Thank you for the great list of homemade cleaning products. This is so helpful. I didn’t know that you could use vinegar alone to clean glass. I have a glass table that needs to be cleaned so I’m gonna give that a try right away!

    • Erica, I usually dilute the vinegar with water and pour it into a spray bottle but I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work straight-up. Another little tip, do the final polish with old crumpled up newspaper – I don’t know why it works but it does – gets rid of any leftover streaking.

  8. I do try to make my own cleaning products when possible, but your post really makes clear how meaningless language can be. It’s all presented in a positive light, but what does it really all mean? Your post goes a long way toward helping clearing up some of the confusion. It makes me laugh too since something could indeed be biodegradable… 500 years down the road or more.

    • Jeri, I chuckled right along with you – everything decomposes sometime but if they don’t state when it can mean anything – just as you said 500 years or more. Amazing how things can be twisted, isn’t it?

  9. Interpreting labelling is getting tougher and tougher. I have always suspected that many of thke seemingly environmentally friendly labels you mentioned are really all about marketing rather than actual contents. And of course about higher prices. The real answer here is that products which aren’t safe should simply be taken off the shelves.

    • Ken, I so agree with you that those products should be banned. We have tremendous health care costs and new diseases coming out all the time and yet no one does anything. It’s like smoking back in the 50’s and 60’s. The tobacco companies (and I’m sure governments) knew smoking was harmful but there was lots of money to be made so they kept on promoting. Now we’re paying the price with lung cancer being top of the list of fatal cancers.

  10. I must confess I’ve always been suspicious of pretty much anything with the terms you referenced above. I’m still not convinced all of the vegetables in the market are actually “organic”. I do use baking soda and vinegar and made a note of the labels you shared that we could trust. This is great information Lenie, thanks!

    • Marquita, the more research I do into labeling and ‘eco-friendly/organic’ words, the more I find that the consumer is being totally snookered. We pay more for things that sound good but actually harm us. I know my cleaning cupboard has very few supplies and I intend to keep it that way. So keep on cleaning with the baking soda and vinegar – you know that can’t hurt you and it’s cheap as well.

  11. Hi Lenie, wow so if that Honest Company started by Jessica alba that she has made tons and tons of money from doesn’t have that seal for the US its probably not eco friendly as they claim? I’ll think I’ll save my money and makes my own chemical free cleaning supplies. 🙂

  12. Happy, happy to read this today–I was just trying to figure out how to best clean our tile floors. i’ve tried this and that and been unhappy with them. The vinegar is a much better solution. And I did not know about the labeling, Lenie. Ew, how I hate being mislead by advertising! I’ll be looking for the USA symbol from now on.

    • Happy you’re happy – got those tiles sparkling yet? When we have truth in advertising and labeling standards you would think someone would put a stop to these deceptive practices, but the more research I do, the more ‘creative’ marketing terms I discover. 🙂

  13. I am unsure what the regulations are in Canada compared to the United States for these products. I am unsure if we have an enforcement agency here, that determines if something is eco-friendly.
    The best way to be sure it is, as you suggested, is to make your own.
    Isn’t baking soda a miracle product, seems like it can do anything.
    Thanks for sharing.

  14. Wow. That sucks about the misleading of the cleaning supplies. I may need to start making my own stuff as well.

  15. Eco-friendly cleaning supplies? I keep it simple: my cleaning armamentarium comprises a cylinder of Ajax scouring powder, a Chore Boy Golden Fleece Scrubbing Cloth, and lots of elbow grease. GANGWAY, grime, I’m coming for YOU…

    • Armamentarium huh? Think your big words are going to stump me? Think again. I once had a colleague who stated if you wanted to talk to Lenie you have to carry a dictionary”, haha. Anyway, replace your Ajax scouring powder with baking soda, the scrubbing cloth with your old t-shirts and keep the elbow grease. Simpler, cheaper and healthier.

  16. Oh wow! Really sad about the misleading information on cleaning products. I use too many cleaning products knowing fully well that vinegar does the job. Your post is an eye opener Lenie, thank you so much for sharing. I am printing off this post ASAP!

  17. Lenie – great information, as usual. A friend warned me off room fresheners quite some time ago. I didn’t know how bad they really are. Another product that we shouldn’t use is fabric softeners. The ingredients used in these are actually poisonous. Why do we need them anyway? My towels are coming out of the dryer just fine, thank you!

    • Jeannette, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in 2001 and fabric softeners were on the list of possible causes. That actually sparked my interest in knowing what is in the products we eat and use. Some of it is downright scary. Those air fresheners were also listed and actually anything with scent is hazardous. We have been so brainwashed into thinking that we need all these things when we really don’t, as you know.

      • Lenie — hope you’re OK now. I used perfume when I was very young, but over time I became allergic to scents. I wear scent-free cosmetics and if I sit next to someone wearing perfume my eyes water, my nose runs and my ears clog!

        • Jeannette, the CFS lingers and if I have errand or appointments where I have to leave the house for 2 or 3 days in a week, then I need another week to recover. That’s why for me there is no place like home.
          You know with the scent, I think when we were young most of it was made with pure essential oil and now they use the synthetic stuff which I believe is responsible for the allergies. Isn’t it awful when you sit on a bus or in a doctor’s office where you can’t get away and someone sits beside you literally doused in artificial scent? It’s too bad because I don’t know about you but I always felt a spritz of fragrance finished the grooming. Now what I do is make my own lavender talcum powder, made with lavender flower buds – no oils at all. It’s very subtle but still makes me feel ‘girly’.

  18. Hi,Lenie

    I agree with you many of the eco-friendly cleaning supplies are actually polluting them. I don’t take a chance on me and my family’s health so I use vinegar, lemon, baking soda, and dish washing liq as my cleansing supplies. Not just they are cheaper but also very effective.

    Thanks for the post!

    Stella Chiu

    • Hi Stella, have you ever walked down the cleaning supplies aisle in a grocery store? Isn’t it crazy how they seem to have special cleaners for everything from doorknobs to ceilings to floors. When we bought our woodstove, the directions said to use oven cleaner to keep the window clean – well, oven cleaner has to be one of the most toxic products around. Instead we use damp crumpled newspaper dipped in the cold ashes to clean the window. Works like a charm and no dangerous fumes.

      • Hi, Lenie

        When I walk down that aisle, sometimes I can smell the toxic fume. I withdraw immediately. Terrible!

        Stella

  19. Hi Lenie. Thanks for the info. I’m going to look for those logos the next time that I go to the store. Do you know how the EPA’s Safer Choice program compares to the two that you mentioned?

    • Ben, thanks for informing me about EPA safer choice. I didn’t know about it before but when I checked into it, it seems to be on par with the Green Seal and Ecologo products. Now you have me wondering how many other certification organizations there are. Time to dig a little deeper and find out. So thanks again. The more information we can share the better.