What to Look for in Green Cleaning Products
You use them to keep your house clean and safe, but soap and other cleaning products can actually be one of the biggest sources of dangerous toxins and chemicals in your home. Most household cleaning products contain a variety of manufactured chemicals that are potentially hazardous to the health of your family and the environment. For example, most solvents contain toxic volatile organic compounds (VOC), and detergents are made from phosphates that damage the environment. Fortunately, there are a range of non-toxic, environmentally friendly cleaning products available to help with everything from cleaning your oven to soap scum removal to laundry.
The most important thing to look for when choosing eco-friendly cleaning products is to ensure they are made from naturally occurring, non-toxic substances. Be sure to avoid cleaners containing phosphates, chlorine, and VOCs, all of which are toxic to humans or damaging to the environment. Instead, look for products that use plant-derived surfactants (the class of chemicals that act as cleansing agents). One of the most popular natural surfactant is d-limonene, which is derived from citrus. Others include lauramine oxide, TEA lauryl sulfate, and caprylyl/myristyl glucoside. These naturally occurring substances make excellent all-purpose cleaners for the kitchen and bathroom. A few suggestions include Tree Life home soap and Cloverdale all-purpose cleaner.
Soy-based cleaners also provide a safe alternative to toxic solvents. The active cleaning agent in soy-based products is methyl soyate, which is derived from soybean oil. Methyl soyate is most effective as a solvent, so it is an excellent, non-toxic option for removing grease and soap scum. It is sometime combined with the natural surfactants listed about to make an all-purpose soap. Soy cleansers can sometime warp plastics, so only use them on hard surfaces such as linoleum, porcelain, or granite.
Eco-friendly laundry detergents are also available. Most will be made from coconut- and corn-based surfactants, and many will also contain natural water softeners. An added benefit of green laundry detergents is that they are free of the perfumes and other additives that can irritate your skin. Detergents are not required by law to list specific ingredients, so make sure the label specifies that the detergents is free of toxic chemicals (particularly phosphates) and other additives.
Also look for powdered oxygen cleaners to use as an alternative to bleach, which can be irritating to the skin, throat, and eyes and can permanently stain clothes. Oxygen bleaches use oxygen instead of chlorine to remove stains, and are made from either hydrogen peroxide, sodium percarbonate, or sodium porborate. They won’t permanently stain fabrics and don’t release the toxic fumes that make regular bleach dangerous.
Another alternative to common toxic cleaning products is to use enzyme-based cleaners. Enzymes are proteins that are necessary for most cellular processes, including decomposition. Enzyme-based cleaners work because they include specific enzymes that help break down organic material such as grease, dirt, and oil. They are especially good at removing the stains and odors left behind by pets. Enzyme cleaners are completely non-toxic and biodegradable.
When shopping for any kind of cleaning product, look for the EPA’s Design for the Environment label. Products carrying this logo have had each ingredient screened by the EPA, which has determined that the chemicals are the most environment and health friendly available.
-Rachel Tardif is a freelance writer and editor specializing in environmental issues and sustainability.