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Cleaning Products That Are Environmentally Friendly

Give your house a healthy glow using environmentally friendly cleaning products

Green household cleaning

When we get out the rags and the wash buckets, we have the best of intentions. Cleanliness is a virtue, right? And healthy too! Well, if you use conventional cleaning products, perhaps not. Have you ever cleaned your shower or oven and then had teary eyes, burning nasal tissues, an itchy throat, a headache, or dizziness? Guess what? All of these symptoms and more could have been caused by chemicals commonly found in household cleaners. Some cleaners even contain suspected carcinogens and reproductive and developmental poisons. Some are thought to cause asthma. According to the American Thoracic Society, using conventional household cleaning sprays once a week may increase the risk of developing adult asthma, and may be responsible for one in every seven adult asthma cases. The higher the concentration of cleaning products in indoor air, the greater the risk that a child will develop asthma.

Some conventional household cleaners also sully the environment with ingredients that can contaminate the air, water, and soil when they are manufactured, used, and thrown away. Cleaning products with phosphates, for example, can cause “dead zones” in lakes and streams. Triclosan, a chemical used in antibacterial cleaners that has been shown to interfere with thyroid function in animals, is now polluting more than 60% of U.S. streams.


Top Tips

At home

  • Make your own. It’s easy to make your own environmentally friendly cleaning products using basic ingredients such as baking soda, lemon juice, liquid castile (or vegetable-based) soap, vinegar, and salt. Though some take a little more elbow grease than conventional cleaners, they are a lot safer. Try some of these simple homemade green cleaning supplies:
    • Creamy soft scrub. This is a great mild abrasive cleaner, and can be used for most tubs, showers, toilets, countertops, and sinks, including stainless steel, Corian, Formica, engineered quartz, and glass. Should be used sparingly on fiberglass. Mix 1 cup baking soda with 1/4 cup liquid castile (vegetable-based) soap in a glass jar. You can add more soap if you want a creamier soft scrub. Stir. Add 2 teaspoons vegetable glycerin (available at most natural food stores and many drugstores) if you want it to keep it for up to a year; otherwise, it will harden. You can add a couple of drops of a favorite organic essential oil (extracted from plant parts) if you want a pleasant scent–or try almond or peppermint castile soap.
    • All-purpose green cleaner. Combine 2 cups white vinegar with 2 cups water in a spray bottle. Again, you can scent with a few drops of essential oil. As with all acidic solutions, do not use this on marble. It will destroy the finish and can even etch the surface. Another option is 3 tablespoons baking soda dissolved in warm water in a spray bottle.
    • Scouring powder. Mix 3 parts baking soda with 1 part borax (found in the laundry aisle). Keep handy in a shaker jar and sprinkle with some essential oil if you like. Borax should not be ingested, so store out of reach of children, and can cause skin irritation in some people.
  • Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate! While cleaning with conventional cleaners, open windows and doors to allow air to circulate. This will reduce the buildup of chemicals.
  • Follow directions. If you must use a strong chemical, make sure you understand the safest possible way to use it.
  • Try microfiber cloths. Microfiber cleaning cloths are made to trap dirt and grime. They can absorb oils and hold many times their weight in water. They can eliminate or reduce the use of conventional cleaners for floors, furniture, and dusting–and can be used over and over. Made of synthetic fibers derived from petroleum, they are not a renewable resource, but then neither are conventional cleaners.
  • Green your towels. Use cloth instead of paper towels. Good ones can easily be made by cutting up old T-shirts, towels, or sheets. If you prefer paper towels for certain tasks, make sure they’re made from post-consumer recycled fibers and free of chlorine bleach. If every household in the United States replaced just one roll of virgin paper towels with 100% recycled ones, we’d save 544,000 trees!

When shopping, look for

  • Warning labels. U.S. manufacturers don’t have to list all ingredients, but they are required to warn you about the dangers of certain cleaning products. “Danger” and “poison” labels are reserved for the most hazardous ones. Products with “caution” or “warning” are slightly safer. Cleaning products that don’t have any of these labels are generally the safest. Also look for specific hazard warnings such as “vapors harmful” or “may cause burns.” Be careful, though. Our current labeling system gives you a heads-up about certain short-term dangers, but it won’t help with chemicals with long-term effects, such as asthma or reproductive harm.
  • Honest advertising. “Natural,” “earth-” or “eco-friendly,” and even “nontoxic” aren’t regulated terms in the United States, so they don’t mean much. Look for specific claims such as “contains no phthalates,” “phosphate free,” and “biodegradable within 10 days” when shopping for environmentally friendly cleaning products.
  • Minimalist packaging. Opt for environmentally friendly cleaning products that don’t waste resources on excess packaging or that use recycled materials.

Avoid
Ingredients and products you should try to avoid include:

  • Air fresheners. Conventional air fresheners can contain hormone-disrupting phthalates, cancer-causing chemicals such as formaldehyde and benzene, and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as d-limonene that can irritate your eyes, skin, and respiratory system and cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness.
  • Alkyl phenol ethoxylates (APEs). These chemicals are found in laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners, and stain removers. They are “surfactants,” which form a bridge between chemicals that don’t readily mix, allowing products to remove dirt from surfaces. But unfortunately APEs break down into hormone-disrupting chemicals. They are found in household dust, and some pass through our sewage treatment plants to wind up in our steams and rivers. APEs and their breakdown chemicals in streams and rivers harm wildlife. The European Union and Canada have banned some types of APEs from cleaning products.
  • Antibacterial products. Antibacterial products are not any more effective than plain soap and hot water, except in situations involving immune compromised individuals. And they have serious downsides. The commonly used Triclosan is causing deformities in tadpoles in U.S. lakes and streams–and has recently been found in human breast milk. In addition, Triclosan may encourage the growth of “superbugs” by promoting the growth of bacteria that are resistant to it.
  • Chlorine Bleach. Sold by itself and as an ingredient in many household cleaners, chlorine bleach is irritating to the lungs and eyes and responsible for numerous poisoning incidents every year. Once in a wastewater treatment system, reacts with other chemicals, potentially forming even more-harmful substances.
  • Fragrances. Skip that” mountain fresh” scent created by synthetic fragrances. Many air fresheners contain hormone-disrupting phthalates.
  • Glycol ethers. Found in glass cleaners, floor cleaners, and oven cleaners, some glycol ethers are reproductive toxicants. One of the more common one is 2-butoxyethanol (aka butyl glycol or butyl cellosolve), which can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and liver and be absorbed by the skin from the air.
  • Monoethanolamine (MEA). A surfactant found in detergents, all-purpose cleaners, and floor cleaners, MEA may induce asthma attacks.
  • Petroleum distillates. Typically used as solvents, petroleum distillates are found in metal polishes and adhesive removers. They can cause temporary eye clouding, as well as long-term damage to the nervous system, kidneys, and eyes.
  • Phenol and cresol. Often found in disinfectants, phenol and cresol can cause diarrhea, fainting, dizziness, and kidney and liver damage.
  • Phosphates. Largely phased out of most laundry detergents, phosphates are still found in dishwashing detergents. The nutrients they add to our water systems can result in increased growth of algae and plants, as well as an increase in the bacteria that feed on the algae and plants when they die. These bacteria rob the water of its dissolved oxygen, killing fish and other aquatic organisms.
  • Spray cleaners. While convenient, spray cleaners are more closely linked to asthma and respiratory irritation than similar liquid cleaners. The fine sprays of droplets of cleaning products have been linked to increased risks of asthma, but using a similar cleaner in a non-spray form has not shown any increased risk. A simple switch can protect your respiratory health.

Benefits…

…to your health
Asthma and allergy sufferers frequently feel healthier after eliminating conventional cleaners.

…to your wallet
Homemade cleaners are easy on the wallet. If you decide to buy a cleaner, however, opting for one all-purpose cleaner (a green one, of course!) is a lot cheaper than buying a host of specialty cleaners.

…to the Earth
Saying no to conventional cleaners will reduce the amount of chemicals that wind up in our environment.


Common Mistakes

  • Believing what you see on the package. Don’t spend more on pretty pictures and vague claims about being an environmentally friendly cleaning product. If you want to buy environmentally friendly cleaning products, make sure they’re really greener than conventional cleaners. Look for specific claims regarding the product’s “greenness.” Steer clear of problem ingredients. Check out reliable online resources, such as goodguide.com, or our Green Directory, before you go shopping.
  • Obsessing about germs. Despite all the hype, we don’t need antibacterials in everything from toothpaste to clothing, and really don’t need them in our cleaning products, because soap is safer and just as effective for most people.

Getting Started

  • It probably is the most earth friendly to use up the cleaners you already have, but you should get rid of any that you suspect are making you sick. Don’t pour them down the drain! They may well need to go to a hazardous waste site.
  • Do you really need a dusting agent, a window cleaner, a countertop cleaner, a tile cleaner, four different scrubs, and so forth? Try replacing some of your specialty cleaners with all-purpose cleaners.
  • Try a homemade cleaning recipe. Scared to get started? Try this: to clean your microwave, put some slices of lemon in 1 microwaveable cup of water. Heat on high for 3 minutes. Let sit for 3 minutes. Open up the microwave and wipe clean! The steam loosens any grime and the lemon kills germs and has a pleasant scent.
  • Use our Green Directory to find an environmentally friendly cleaning product retailer in your area!

Related Products & Services


45 Responses to “Cleaning Products That Are Environmentally Friendly”

  1. 10 Dangerous Household Products You Should Never Use Again | Pointer's Weekly Says:

    [...] routinely make the top ten lists of worst household offenders. They contain toxic chemicals that negatively affect every system in your body. All purpose [...]

  2. Glenn Says:

    I think it is great to learn to make natural cleaners. I have a website, http://www.GlennIsGreen.com, with green products and resources.

    -Glenn :)

  3. Lori Woodill Says:

    I use all natural ingredient cleaners and personal items. It took me a while to find the ones that work, and are at comparable if not better prices.

  4. Grace @ Shoplet Says:

    We carry lots of products that contain recycled content and are friendly to the environment. Check out http://www.shoplet.com/janitorial-supplies.html

  5. bs Says:

    Soap Nut has been in use as a gentle hair wash and for fine woollens;The nut comes from a hardy tree’;In my garden I have an old tree that yields more than a quintal of Soap nut.
    .Harvest dry.Seperate the skin from the black nut. Course grind the skin and soak over night,1000g in a bucket of water 10-15 l. Strain and store in a plastic can. Use it for washing up of crockery after meals [1 tbsp to 5 l of warm water] and for for floor cleaning -stone / marble floors.3 tbsp to a bucket of water [12-15l]

  6. Deidre Says:

    Thanks for this! I use green cleaning in my home and have found it is CHEAPER to make my own cleaning products! I’ve started to get concerned about what my daughter’s school is using to clean, esp. in light of stepped up disinfection for H1N1 prevention. Did some research and found this great report from the Environmental Working Group: EWG Report on Green Schools

  7. Sharky Lore Says:

    i clean my wooden floors with vinegar and it works really well, i highly recommend it

  8. Amber Says:

    Honestly, I don’t think cleaning products are that bad as long as you can recycle the container

  9. GingerPeaches Says:

    what would you recommend for a good tile or grout cleaner, my bathroom sinks are yucky!!!!

  10. Green Certification Says:

    vinegar is the best for wooden floor Green Certification

  11. Ed - Cleanershub.com Says:

    A very insightful post, enjoyed it !

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  14. Jenny Says:

    Thanks for the Top Tips.
    Thanks,
    http://www.totalcleaning.com/

  15. concrete cleaning richmond va Says:

    A cleaning service is one opportunity you might consider in opening a business for your own. If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty this is perfect opportunity. If not you can hire your staff to do the dirty cleaning for you.Cleaning industry has two market groups, the consumer market group and the commercial market cleaner. The residential maid services, window cleaner, carpet cleaner or any other related cleaning service belongs to the consumer market group.

  16. Cleaners web » household cleaning Says:

    [...] 8.Sierra Club Green Home » Blog Archive » Green Cleaning Supplies According to the American Thoracic Society, using conventional household cleaning sprays once a week may increase the risk of developing adult asthma, and may be responsible for one in every seven adult asthma cases. http://www.sierraclubgreenhome.com/go-green/cleaning/green-household-cleaning/ [...]

  17. Daniel Esteban Says:

    Fist, thank you for what I only can describe as a wonderful article, to introduce such important issues to the public ear with hope that people will learn from their mistake and make it better for the environment.

    Second, earlier in the text you mention that someone who comes in contact with toxic cleaning product can get asthma as a result of this – that right they can but they can also suffer from severe kidney, liver and ulcer problems.
    Se my article on the matter

    Se my article on the matter

    http://environmentinfocus.com/archives/556
    Daniel Esteban
    http://www.environmentinfocus.com
    “Writer and editor with focus towards environmental issues and problems”

  18. Cleaning products.... - Organic Grocery Deals Says:

    [...] (and even some so called natural ones) and why they are unhealthy and bad for the environment: Green Cleaning Supplies | Sierra Club Green Home There are tons of recipes out there for making your own….I typically use a water/vinegar [...]

  19. Eco-friendly cleaning products | Attempting zero waste lifestyle in a military household Says:

    [...] Organic and Green Savings: “Green” Household Cleaners  (organicmania.com) Green Cleaning Supplies  (sierraclubgreenhome.com) Benefits of Green Cleaning (blog.cleaningproductsworld.com) Green [...]

  20. Janitorial services Baltimore Says:

    Hi, thanks so much to share the information with me here regarding to green cleaning. Really Its a nice service. I’m also using this service at my home. I appreciate your blog and I’m hoping from you to post such articles in near future also.

  21. Flooring Sheffield Says:

    Wow, thanks! I’m very worried about the cleaning products I use, as some of them may be toxic. I’ll try some of your recipes. Do you have any suggestion for anti-bacterial cleaners for the kitchen and floors.. I have used Flooring Sheffield service for my wooden floor and they are really nice but now I’ve to take care of it because I like it so much Thanks :)

  22. Jean Gonzales Says:

    I purchased a product called HomeDry at a liquidation store a number of years ago. I have used it on sweaters, slacks, polyester draperies labeled “dry clean only” and probably other things. They are washed in water with the cleaner added, in a gentle cycle of cold water. This cleaner has removed spots, especially oily hand marks on the draperies.

    The box says it is FDA approved Florida Orange Oil with a “special enzyme.” The manufacturer listed on the box is WestOne International in Mountain Lake Terrace WA.

    This seems to me to be a much better solution than professional dry cleaning, works better than Dryel, less expensive than professional dry cleaning.

    I cannot find the product on-line. Perhaps it is not being manufactured anymore or has been bought and “retired” by some large corporation not wanting a good competitor.

    Is there any interest on your part in investigating this product for the possibility of finding a way to bring it back to the market?

  23. JR Says:

    Going green is the way to go! Great tips! There are a lot of cleaning services that use green products too. http://www.themaidsofdc.com

  24. Anna Says:

    The Green Clean Book
    http://12d71fl64fsdr7mgvo84g5g3br.hop.clickbank.net/?tid=21812

  25. Amie Says:

    My family has been taking steps to be more eco friendly, and part of that has been trying to use green cleaning products more often. I’ve found a local company that makes a variety of cleaners and they’ve been quite effective. They have a site and ship nationwide. If anyone is looking to try some new products, I definitely recommend them. http://www.generationsgogreen.com

  26. jessica Says:

    I was thinking to switch to all home made products for cleaning. Your post is really good and very useful. Thanks for giving magnificent information I would definitely follow your tips and suggestions and I’ll be back for more.
    oakland park flood help

  27. janice Says:

    I’ve been looking for green alternatives to standard household cleaning products, I’ve tried some of the formulas and techniques you’ve mentioned in this article. They are safer for my home, my children, my pet, and the environment. And they cost less! Thanks for the advice. House Cleaning Newtown PA

  28. sani Says:

    Thanks for thi useful information. It helps me to imrpove more knowledge about the natural ways to clean your home without thinking that it can be harful for your family.

    http://www.sanilifeenterprises.com/

  29. GreenCleaning Says:

    This great and useful information. Green cleaning is the future to a healthier lifestyle.

  30. Rob Says:

    Our maid service uses 7th Generation cleaning supplies. They really work and our customers love it. We’ve had a lot of allergy sufferers tell us they can see a real difference with their breathing after we clean.

  31. Joe Smith Says:

    You can also make a tonne of cleaning products with a fruit that grows on trees. http://www.buysoapnuts.com/how-to-use-them/ gives a whole bunch of recipes for organic cleaning products.

  32. Tracey fink Says:

    The best environmentally friendly and proven sanitizer I’ve used is Proxi. It’s not found everywhere but if you are lucky enough to have it grab a bottle and see if you agree with this mom. Non toxic, biodegradable and it sanitizes a win win for all.

    http://Www.proxiproducts.com

  33. the carpet cleaner Says:

    we are always looking for an Eco alternative for our cleaning service some great advice here thanks

  34. Millennium Commercial Cleaning Says:

    We use microfiber cloths in our commercial cleaning business and find that they great for general dusting, cleaning grunge, reducing waste (we are not throwing away all those paper towels) and we have the benefit of knowing that they are good for our clients AND our workers…:) Thanks for the great resource!

  35. Bill Soukup Says:

    BioWorx.us is a new “green” cleaning manufacturer. They have discovered how to dissolve soap scum with a corn based cleaner. I tried it on my glass shower door. This was the only cleaner that worked. I must have tried at least 10 different shower cleaners all of which claimed to remove soap scum. Yea, a nice clean shower.

  36. Bill S Says:

    Green cleaning products that are scented aren’t green. The scents are VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) which are the leading cause for “sick” home syndrome and ozone depletion. California has regulations (CARB) limiting VOC’s in products.

    A new manufacture, Bioworx.us doesn’t scent their products. They also show laboratory proof their products work, such as dissolving soap scum.

  37. How to save the world and yourself for your kids | Parent Nation Says:

    [...] the toxic cleaners that can make you and your family sick.  Here is a list of ways to easily make our own safe household cleaner, buy green ones, and most importantly [...]

  38. Georgina S. Says:

    Green cleaning is the future and I have been using organic cleaning services for the past few years and very satisfied with it.
    Mima Organic Carpet Cleaning

  39. Mary Says:

    Hi, I have a green cleaning service in Gainesville, FL called Green Clean Homes http://www.greencleanhomes.com

    Thank you for this post! Although we already do some of the things you posted, I did not know about creating a ‘soft scrub’ like cleaner. Great idea.

  40. Samantha R. Says:

    Some of the cleaning products are so dangerous and we yet to realize it. I switched to natural organic cleaning products which are safe toxic free and still do a great job when it comes to cleaning my house. I get mine from http://www.naturalwayorganics.net.

  41. Derrick Says:

    Great article. We offer cleaning supplies in Minnesota, and we will keep looking to add products like this to our website!

    http://www.twinsourcesupply.com/subcat.php?prod_group=Janitorial%2FMaintenance&category=Chemicals%2FCleaners

  42. imgoingeco.com Says:

    There are many benefits for using environmentally friendly cleaning products in our homes. Environmentally friendly household cleaning products are now almost as easy to find, effective and economical as conventional cleaners.

  43. Heather Says:

    I love the suggestion of using microfiber cloths. I love mine and they clean wonderfully! I once read about how a hospital will only use microfiber cleaning cloths because they do a better job of cleaning off bacteria, etc. than any other type of cleaning cloth. I also liked what I read about green cleaning and children at http://www.bbcleaningservice.com/blog/what-everyone-ought-to-know-about-children-and-green-cleaning/.

  44. NATASHA Says:

    I use a line of powerful and environmentally sensitive cleaning products . They take away dust , dirt , grease , grime , ect . without hurting people or the environment . One of the best things about this line is it works just as well as or better than most others . Whats crazy is this line of products has been around since 1959 , that’s 50 years of customer satisfaction and i just recently heard of it . When my friend told me about this line and how great it worked and safe it was especially compared to the brand my family has known , used , and stayed loyal to for years I was skeptical and lol even hesitant as an over protective green mom lol . So she offered a demonstration and OMG , I was quick to leave my old favorite brand behind after seeing how great this line was, especially after learning the price comparison per usage . Then to top it all off she informs me by using this line all also be saving myself even more time , money , while helping the environment by lowering gas pollution, because I would no longer have to make those pesky trips to the store . The products are delivered straight to your door , no shipping and handling ! So you can bet I was in and everything 100% satisfaction guarantee now that’s what I’am talking about ! Upon receiving my first order I learn I’am reducing my environmental footprint even more because even the packaging is recyclable (some of which are even reusable) as well as the process they use to make the products unlike many others .The products are never tested on animals shoot they even have a wild life habitat surrounding their facility . They also support hundreds of non profit organizations in over 50 countries working to address the full spectrum of children’s needs . since 2003 they have helped over 7 million children , contributed 1.3 million employee and distributor volunteer hours and donated more than 112 million ! you cant get any greener than that I have fallen in love with this product and it company I have joined them in there work to make the world a better and greener place . I’d like to invite you to learn more about this line of products , come one check it out and see for yourself! http://www.amway.com/NatashaOw

  45. Zach Shivers Says:

    Wonderful article. Thank you.
    It is amazing how chemical manufacturers have employed powerful marketing to influence us to believe that these harmful chemicals are in fact safe and clean when in reality they are the opposite.
    These chemicals are more expensive in the long run as they are not as effective as natural ingredients and environmentally safe cleaning products.
    Check out greenseal.org to find “green” cleaning products.
    We are a green house cleaning and maid service company and we use Simple Green cleaning products.

    It is inspiring how a sustainable lifestyle is a higher quality life style that is more cost effective than the current “disposable” living lifestyle.


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