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Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.”
E.B. White, Author of The Elements of Style and Charlotte's Web
I'm pretty sure E.B. White was referring to prejudice against people when he wrote that, but I believe it can also apply to ideas and even things. Wrap something into a neat box, and it becomes easier to understand. That's the beauty and problem with branding. A well-designed brand makes it easier to pick amongst dozens of products. The issues come in when the thing inside the box isn't consistent with the message on it.
As I was digging into what should have been a straightforward post about “environmentally friendly” cleaning products, I realized that not even my favorite green brands are always safe. Lots of cleaning products claiming to be eco-friendly aren't so friendly after all 1, and some traditional products that don't seem green are just fine.
I'm sure you already know this, but cleaning products are tied to a bunch of nasty health issues like asthma, endocrine disruption (hormone issues) and lung function2,3. You bring volatile organic compounds (VOC's)4 into your house through wall paint, vinyl flooring, furniture and toxic cleaning products. All of which effects your indoor air quality. Wall paint and furniture are hard to change. Replacing toxic cleaning products should be easier.
Look for safer cleaning products instead of environmentally friendly products
When it comes to green cleaning products, looks can be deceiving. The ingredients in cleaning products are largely unregulated, just as they are in skin care. The marketing suggests the products are better for the environment, but the reason to buy them is more for your health than the planet. Products that pollute the water, like phosphates5 have mostly been phased out and many states and countries have already banned them6. The ammonia in traditional window cleaners is nasty for the water supply7, but it's also linked to asthma.
So I look for less toxic cleaning products because I don't want my kids to get asthma and cancer, not because I'm worried about the planet. (I am worried about the planet, for the record, but for other reasons.) So how do you choose a product that won't make your indoor air quality toxic? The most reliable way I've found is to buy products based on the Environmental Working Group (EWG) rating. When you find one with a passing grade, look at the price. Period. The brands and ingredients are just noise. The EWG rating and price are as straightforward as you'll get.
DIY cleaning solutions
Effectiveness is subjective, but here's what I buy. I link to each products EWG score so you can decide for yourself. (Remember, manufacturers change their formulas all the time, so just because it's OK today doesn't mean the recipe will be the same tomorrow. Keep checking.)
The tried and true, truly natural products that are more or less considered non-toxic:
Baking soda – The best thing for removing smells from everything from laundry and stinky shoes to stains on your dishes. The EWG gives it an A8. There are at least 100 uses, but you might need Google and some elbow grease for maximum results.
White vinegar 9 – I buy the economy size white vinegar from Costco. A 50 – 50 mixture will clean your windows, your kitchen table, and your hardwood floors. I’ve read it can be hard on hardwood floors if you’re using it often, and never let it anywhere near marble or porous stone.
The Safer Cleaning Products I've Used For Years
Dr Bronners Pure Castile Liquid Soap10 – I use the mild kind to clean my marble and stone. It’s super concentrated, so you just need a dab mixed with water. It can also be used on hardwood floors. The Dr. Bronners website says to use 1/2 cup soap to three gallons of water. I know people who use this for everything from shampoo to body wash, but I keep it for cleaning because it's too harsh on my skin no matter how much I dilute it. You can buy the Peppermint scented one at Trader Joes for about $9 which is an awesome deal considering how super concentrated it is.
Method All Purpose Spray – Ok, so my favorite multi-purpose cleaner gets a B12 from the EWG. It’s not perfect, but it still beats the D’s and F’s that other leading cleaning brands get. Check the label, but I use this stuff on pretty much everything.
Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi Surface Cleaner Lemongrass Citrus 13 – This disinfecting spray gets an A from the EWG and it's the one I’ve used for years. I don’t use it on my white marble though as I’m afraid it could stain it. Marble can be tricky like that.
Ecover ZERO Automatic Dishwasher Powder – This is an example of a good brand that I've turned to for years. Most of their stuff is easy to find at Wholefoods, Amazon and Target. My favorite dishwasher powder gets a B14 on the EWG, but what's a B compared to perfect dishes?
Natural doesn't mean healthy
Remember how I said that just because a brand says it's environmentally friendly doesn't mean it's the healthier choice? My favorite laundry detergent is a green brand, it has the EPA Safer Choice logo, and it's still rated a C by the EWG. Although it's super effective and rates better than a lot of the D's and F's the EWG gives other leading detergents, it still leaves me with a bitter taste about a brand I liked and trusted.
Just because something is natural does not mean it's good for you. Lots of natural things can be toxic. Ever get poison oak all over your skin? That's natural. Formaldehyde is natural too, but I wouldn't spray it in my kitchen (or even on my toilet.)
Truly environmentally friendly brands keep your air quality clean, too
Building a brand is tricky. With EarthyB I'm building a brand that shows that sustainable innovation can work for you and make our world healthy enough for our children's children to thrive in. But that doesn't mean I support everything that's labeled green or sustainable. I like brands that are working towards sustainability, but they don't always put that on the box. Instead, they're doing the daily work of creating products that are simply better, and part of being better is making products that don't harm our health or environment. It's not easy to do, but I believe it's possible. Those are the brands I want to support. Not the ones that slap a big green leaf on the package and call themselves environmentally friendly.
- EPA: Household Cleaner Ratings and Ingredients
- EWG: Cleaning Products May Harm Female Workers’ Lungs as Much as Smoking a Pack a Day
- EWG: Household Cleaner Ratings and Ingredients
- EPA: Volatile Organic Compounds' Impact on Indoor Air Quality
- Proctor and Gamble – “We have replaced phosphates in over 95% of our cleaning products already. We will be finished with our conversion of global laundry products by 2016, and are committed to eliminate all remaining phosphate use in the coming years”.
- Los Angeles Times: The dirty truth: They're smuggling soap in Spokane
- EWG: AMMONIUM HYDROXIDE
- EWG: Arm & Hammer Baking Soda
- EWG: Vinegar
- EWG: Dr. Bronner's 18-in-1 Hemp Pure-Castile Soap Baby Mild
- EWG: Bon Ami Powder Cleanser
- EWG: Method All-Purpose Surface Cleaner, Ginger Yuzu
- EWG: Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Cleaner, Lemongrass Citrus
- EWG: Ecover ZERO Automatic Dishwasher Powder
- EWG: 20 Mule Team Borax Natural Laundry Booster & Multi-Purpose Household Cleaner
- Watch Out for Borax