Criteria For Evaluating Green Cleaning Supplies

Not all green cleaning supplies are created equal. Find out what criteria to evaluate about an eco-friendly cleaning product before purchasing it.

More and more cleaners are coming on the market all the time which are advertised to be environmentally friendly, and "green." That, overall, is a good thing as we, as a society, realize that cleaning our homes shouldn't be so dangerous for our health or for Mother Nature.

However, as we as a society collectively begin to seek out more and more green alternatives marketers and businesses have also caught on, and some products are masquerading as "green" when their claims as such may be pretty weak.




green cleaning supplies

Further, others are trying to turn some tougher environmental laws and regulations into a marketing and PR plus. For example, many companies are now touting that their automatic dishwasher detergents are more environmentally friendly, because they no longer contain phosphate. Well, that is true, but I doubt it was out of the goodness of these companies hearts, or concern about the environement. Instead, it has more to do with a law that went into effect in the summer of 2010 banning phosphates in these products.

What can happen with claims like this, however, when companies tout a small change in their formula for the better, is that we begin to believe the product is much safer than it really is. Improving slightly does not mean it is now the best product out there for the environment.

Finally, and most practically, you still need these green cleaning supplies to be afforable, available in your area, and actually work to get your home and laundry clean. There is nothing environmentally friendly (or friendly to your pocket book) about buying a product and not even using it all, because it just plain doesn't work well.



Criteria For Use In Evaluating Various Green Cleaning Supplies

There are still truth in advertising laws, but vague terms such as "environmentally friendly," "eco-safe," and even "natural" are pretty squishy, and don't have concrete definitions, so it is not hard too hard to claim this.

design for the environment label
Further, although the United States EPA has a partnership program called Design For The Environment where cleaning products can be certified with a label (see an example to the right) meaning they are "safer" for the environment, this is a voluntary program, and not all companies can afford to, or even choose to go through the application process.

Therefore, here are criteria you should consider when making the decision of which green cleaning supplies to use in your own home. I have separated them out into three main areas, including ingredients, packaging, and other considerations.

Ingredients

A general rule of thumb is to find products with as few ingredients as possible, with as few scientific names and unpronouceable chemicals in them as possible. The more ingredients that are found in nature, as opposed to being created in a labratory the better.

In addition, choose products that actually have their ingredients listed, as opposed to those which do not disclose what they contain in them. Transparency is important, so don't blindly trust advertising claims. Look at the ingredients list and decide for yourself.

Cleaning products are not required to say what ingredients they have in them, with some safety exceptions, because this is a trade secret which could reveal their "secret formula." However, if a product claims to be a green cleaning supply the ones I trust the most are the ones who are most transparent, and voluntarily share their ingredient list with the public, so we actually know it is safer for the environment.

When looking at the ingredient list here are things to confirm:

  • No ozone depleting substances
  • No added dyes (except for safety reasons)
  • No added fragrances*
  • No or low VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
  • Biodegradable
  • No phosphates
  • No bleach
  • No antibacterial ingredients such as Triclosan
  • No petroleum derived ingredients, but instead use of renewable resources instead

Another way to assess whether the ingredients in a cleaner are environmentally friendly is to look at the warning labels on the packaging. Now, no cleaner is completely safe, and every cleaner will have some warnings on them. Typically, words like "CAUTION" and "WARNING" will not raise too many alarm bells for you. However, words like "DANGER" and "POISON" should alert you that the product contains corrosive ingredients, solvents, or other dangerous chemicals that are dangerous to you and the environment as a whole.

* The issue of fragrance is interesting. Generally, added fragrance is unnecessary, so it is just a waste of chemicals, and can cause allergic reactions in many people. However, many in our society want a scent for our cleaning products. Perhaps this is because we are conditioned to think cleaning products should have a scent, since these perfumes were originally added to cover up the harsh chemical smells of these more toxic cleaners. If you want fragrance try to choose ones with natural fragrance, such as from essential oils. However, if someone in your home is allergic just skip the fragrances. There is generally more variety of scent and dye free products for green cleaning supplies anyway.

Packaging

If your green cleaning supplies come in excessive packaging that you can't recycle, is it still green? Not so much. The package is also important in determining how environmentally friendly a product really is.

There are several aspects of packaging you should consider before buying a green cleaner.

  • Is the packaging recyclable?
  • Is there reduced packaging?
  • Does it come in a concentrated formula where you can add water (and have proper instructions for how much water to add)?
  • Does it come with refillable bottles, and the ability to buy refills?
  • Pump sprays are generally better than aerosol sprays

Other Important Factors

  • Price - Why pay more if you don't need to? Are there less expensive green cleaning supplies that work just as well, but are just as environmentally friendly?

  • Performance - It won't protect the environment if the cleaner just sits around, because it doesn't work as promised. Further, just like with traditional cleaners convenience, comfort, smell and other personal preferences come into play. (This is where people generally rely on reviews and word-of-mouth from others. You can check out this site's earth friendly cleaning products reviews to help you with this.)

  • Availability - Being able to find a brand or specific scent or product in a store near you can be important, so you don't waste time and fuel driving around trying to find it. Today, with the ability to purchase cleaning supplies over the Internet (see my suggestion below), this is not as big of a deal as it used to be. It may be best to buy in bulk though, once you know what you like, so not as much shipping is involved.

  • Cruelty free - No testing on animals has become an important criteria for many people, and many eco-friendly products thankfully comply with this requirement.

Now, armed with this criteria, I would love to hear from you about which green cleaning supplies you like to use, and why. You can share your environmentally friendly cleaning product reviews here.

In addition, if you need a good source online for finding green cleaning supplies, and they are not readily available in your local stores, you can purchase them over the Internet, from places like Amazon.com. However, the disadvantage to this is that you generally have to buy 3 or 6 of a product, and not just one, which may not be ideal if you are just testing a product before you commit to using it for sure. In addition, especially with third party sellers on Amazon, you really need to watch what they charge for shipping, because this can really impact the true price of the items purchased.



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