Remember when all it took to have a clean house was a broom, a mop, a jug of bleach, a cake of lye soap and a bottle of furniture polish? Around my house my mom didn’t even believe in springing for glass cleaner. She used (or suggested I use) a solution of vinegar and water with newspaper instead of paper towels when it was time to clean windows. My grandmother used a version of lemon oil to clean and polish furniture and her dusting was done with a feather duster. The advent of television commercials probably had more of an impact than anything else in the twentieth century on how we clean. After all how could our homes compete with Donna Reed’s or June Cleaver’s without the products that were so skillfully presented starting with 7 little words. “And now a word from our sponsor.”
With the turn of the twenty-first century, we started realizing that the products we use to clean our homes, just like products we eat, and how we fuel our vehicles, had a long way to go to be safer for our families and our environment. Sales of “green” cleaning products have skyrocketed 35% recently. But are they worth the price – and are they as healthy as they promise to be? In some cases, the answer is no. The more you know about labels and claims on “eco” products, the better job you can do to keep your home, and our home planet, cleaner and greener. Let’s sort out some common myths from the truth.
All “green” cleaners are significantly better for your family and your environment.
MYTH: There is little federal regulation around using the term green or natural or even organic as a selling point. As a result, a manufacturer may market cleaning products as healthier, while still using toxic chemicals, and it’s totally legal.
So while “green” cleaners may contain some healthier ingredients and may be a little less toxic to the environment, without anyone regulating the term, companies can make misleading claims that are vague and unsubstantiated.
Some long-time manufacturers of household cleaners are now offering products that are better for people and the environment.
TRUTH: Certain manufacturers and brands – such as ECOS, Method, Clorox Green Works, and SC Johnson’s Nature’s Source – are putting real muscle behind their green claims. Some are replacing toxic surfactants – the chemicals that help separate dirt from a surface – with healthier, more biodegradable versions. Others are using fewer phthalates, compounds that are linked to reproductive problems and which are used to add fragrances to cleaning products.
Some major agencies, such as the EPA, also set criteria and certify cleaning products as healthier. The EPA’s program, for example, called Design for the Environment (DfE), requires a scientific review team to screen each ingredient for health and environmental effects and will only label a product with a DfE certified logo if it contains ingredients that pose the least concern among chemicals in their class. Other independent certifying agencies, including Green Seal and EcoLogo, require products to be free of carcinogens and toxins linked to gene mutations, as well as meet certain environmental standards for biodegradability.
Look for the Green Seal, EcoLogo and EPA’s Safer Choice logo (which replaces the old DfE logo), when shopping for green cleaning products.
Green cleaners don’t work as well as traditional commercial products.
MYTH: Most experts agree that the majority of them actually do. Plus, all three major certifying organizations – Green Seal, DfE, and EcoLogo – set performance standards too, which a product must meet in order to be certified. Some green cleaners can disinfect as well. The most common ingredients used in green sanitizing products are hydrogen peroxide, citric acid, and lactic acid, which are all considered safer antimicrobials.
The Take-away It turns out for the most part, Mom and Grandma were pretty smart when it came to cleaning products. Sometimes in our quest for progress, we find that we need to look backward to go forward.