Is My “Green” Cleaner Really Safe?

April 17, 2012 — By

While natural, homemade cleaners using ingredients such as water, lemon, vinegar and baking soda are the healthiest way to go, most of us rely on ready-made purchased cleaners at least some of the time. How do you know if the cleaner you purchased with good intentions is really safe for you and the environment? Sure, the bottle says it is “green” and its packaging is adorned with pictures of sunshine, leaves and Mother Earth, but what can you do to be sure? Here are some tips to help you make smarter cleaning product choices:

Read the labels.  If there are unfamiliar ingredients, you can look them up at the National Institutes of Health’s ingredient search tool. If you prefer to get a quick snapshot of the product’s overall health and environment scores, or you are already out shopping, GoodGuide’s app can help with many of the most common cleaners.

Smell it. Your nose knows a lot. If the product smells harsh, it probably is. But what if it actually smells good and fresh?  Again, check the label. Stick to products that list how the scents are derived, such as from essential oils. If a product simply lists “fragrance,” you cannot be sure what chemicals are used to create the scent. Also remember, if someone in your home is scent-sensitive or prone to allergies, even natural fragrances can be troublesome.  Best to stick with unscented products in those cases.

Look for green seals that have meaning.  There are a LOT of “green” seals of approval out there, but not all can be trusted equally.  Two that we think you can count on are “Design for the Environment” issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and “Green Seal”.



Follow the instructions! Do not use more than you need and make sure to rinse well if it is required. Also, do not use cleaners in places they were not intended to be used. For example, it is not a good idea to use bathroom or floor cleaners on the kitchen counter. That might sound obvious, but how many times have you picked up the nearest bottle to catch a spill? Not all cleaners are “all purpose,” especially those not even claiming to be “green.”

Keep out of reach.  This is likely on the label, but we will say it again here. Cleaners, even natural and environmentally friendly cleaners should be in a locked cabinet, away from young children. To a toddler, lemony liquid in a bottle under the sink does not seem much different than the lemony liquid in the pitcher in the fridge, which brings us to the final point…

Teach your children about cleaners.  Even if your cleaners are properly stowed away, teach young children that they are dangerous and should never be touched.  As we saw with the recent cabinet latch recalls, sometimes things may not be as out-of-reach as we thought. Knowledge is an important added protection. For older children, show them how to use cleaners properly, including putting them away and washing their hands thoroughly when finished.

Use Safer in Color! as an opportunity to make the message stick. Ask your children to draw a picture about what they learned. Then post it on our facebook wall so that other parents can share it with their children. It will make them (and you) feel great knowing that they helped protect another child.

Lastly, if you are curious about the environmental and cleaning performance of three of the most popular green cleaners, watch the video below with Dara O’Rourke of GoodGuide. You can also read more spring cleaning tips over on the GoodGuide blog.




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