It’s officially spring, which means it’s time to get cleaning. But with rising concern about the chemicals in conventional cleaning products, many people are turning to “green” alternatives. But where do you start?
Watch out for these ingredients on the label
First, look at the conventional cleaners in your closet. You might want to toss them if they have the wrong ingredients.
Lindsay Dellasega, franchisee owner of ECOMAIDS in Portland, OR, says to avoid common ingredients such as petroleum products, sodium lauryl sulfate, phosphates, ammonia, carcinogens, and chlorine if you’re looking to go green.
“Also, trust your nose. Many volatile chemicals ‘off gas’ and seem harsh to the nose or are masked with heavy perfumes,” Dellasega said. “This should be a warning!”
Johanna Congleton, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization, recommends avoiding asthmagens, which are substances that may cause asthma in otherwise healthy, nonasthmatic people. These include sodium hypochlorite, or bleach, and quaternary ammonium compounds, she said. Common forms of these compounds are alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, benzalkonium chloride, and didecyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride.
Also, Congleton says to avoid products with the chemical triclosan, which is a common disinfectant ingredient. Triclosan “has been linked to endocrine disruption and is toxic to the environment,” she said. The FDA, meanwhile, says triclosan “is not currently known to be hazardous to humans. But several scientific studies have come out since the last time FDA reviewed this ingredient that merit further review.” The federal agency is currently “engaged in an ongoing scientific and regulatory review of this ingredient.”
Don’t be fooled by packaging. A product can call itself “natural” and come in a green-and-brown recycled cardboard box but still be full of chemicals. Look for the USDA’s “Certified Organic” seal instead.
And remember—the advice to avoid things you can’t pronounce won’t necessarily protect you.
“Most people can pronounce ‘bleach’ and ‘ammonia,’ but these can cause respiratory irritation and are categorized as asthmagens,” says Congleton.
Air fresheners aren’t cleaners—and they’re not so fresh
Plug-in and canned air fresheners might smell nice, but there’s usually nothing green about them—and they’re not cleaning products, either.
“If it says ‘fragrance’ on the back, it’s a fragrance,” says Amanda Fig, owner of The Purple Fig, a green cleaning company based in Austin, TX. Look for dedicated cleaning products that use natural scented oils such as eucalyptus or peppermint, and avoid chemical substitutes.
“[Companies] engineer these products so your house smells clean for longer. But just because it smells like lemons doesn’t mean it’s lemons,” says Fig.
If you want to create a pleasant aroma in your house, Fig suggests getting your favorite scented oil, dabbing it on a couple of sheets of toilet paper and using a vacuum to suck them up. While you’re vacuuming, the scent will be dispersed.
Experts’ green product recommendations
According to Fig, Bio-Clean products are a solid choice. She says the company’s all-purpose cleaner is eco-friendly and suitable for most jobs. She even washes her cleaning rags in it after she uses its in-house cleaner. And if you’re looking to scrub away fat and oil stains on your stove, Fig says to check out the degreaser, which is made with soy and citric acid.
The Environmental Working Group also reviews and rates more than 2,000 popular household cleaning products, based on the safety of their ingredients and the information they disclose about their contents.
Here are some of the most highly rated products on its list, sorted by room:
DIY cleaners can get the job done, too
You can also save money and be 100% sure that you know what’s in your cleaning products by making them at home. Fig suggests mixing one part white vinegar with two parts water—and add a scented oil, if you wish—for an all-purpose cleaner that’s light enough for use on most surfaces.
If your bathroom isn’t too gunked up, you can simply use baking soda to scrub the ceramic and tiles in your bathroom.
“For most people who don’t have a ton of buildup, it’s enough of an abrasive to scrub it off,” says Fig.
For wood polish, Dellasega recommends two parts olive oil mixed with one part lemon juice. Use “a small amount with a soft microfiber to wood furniture for a clean smell and shine,” she says.
And once you’re done shining the furniture, you can actually use that DIY polish to dress a salad. A nice mix of fresh, springtime greens seems like a nice reward for all that cleaning, wouldn’t you say?