Unlike foods, beverages, cosmetics, and personal care products, manufacturers of household cleaning supplies are not mandated by federal law to disclose the ingredients in their products.
This lack of oversight often means that anytime we do routine house cleaning, we are coming into contact with toxic chemicals through inhalation and skin contact. Rinsing cleansers down the drain also means these pollutants enter water sources, impacting untold aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna.
Unfortunately, our standard advice to read the label doesn’t apply here. Pick up a cleaning product and more likely than not, you won’t see a list of ingredients. Some companies may direct you to a website just so you can see what the product contains, which is of little help when you’re trying to make an informed decision at the store. Worse still is that even when manufacturers voluntarily disclose ingredients, some are still incredibly vague and incomplete – expect to see things like “cleaning agent”, “fragrance”, and “dyes” which provide no meaningful information to the consumer.
It would certainly seem that these companies are trying to make it as difficult as possible for customers to be knowledgeable about the products they use in their home!
Not to worry, we’ve thoroughly vetted a slew of cleaning products for their effects on human health and the wider environment. Here are 8 of the cleanest, natural, green and non-toxic cleaning supplies around today.
All Purpose Cleaner
For use on floors, countertops, appliances, and walls, multi-surface cleaners are the workhorse of the cleaning supply world. Because these products are sprayed practically everywhere in the home, extra care should be taken when choosing an all-purpose cleaner.
Popular multi-surface options from brands like Lysol, Mr. Clean, and Clorox haven’t performed well under analysis by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Antibacterial agents like alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides and sodium hypochlorite (bleach) are asthmagens and respiratory irritants; the former has been shown to cause reproductive toxicity in animals while the latter is considered very toxic to aquatic life.
You can still maintain a clean and fresh home without the use of hazardous chemicals. Given top marks by the EWG, Truce All-Purpose Cleaner is a simple yet powerful mixture of water, rubbing alcohol, soap flakes, hydrogen peroxide, and peppermint essential oil.
Buy it here: Truce All-Purpose Cleaner in Peppermint.
Bathroom Tile Cleaner
To quickly and easily remove soap scum build up and water stains from bathroom tile and shower doors, many reach for their trusty bottle of Tilex spray. The ingredients in Tilex span cationic surfactants that irritate the respiratory tract, butoxydiglycol that may contain impurities that can cause cancer, and nonionic surfactants that are not biodegradable and have shown to be acutely toxic to aquatic organisms.
A much healthier alternative for you and the planet, Earth Friendly Products Shower Cleaner will dissolve soap scum and treat mold and mildew in the bathroom. Receiving an A from the EWG, the formula incorporates several plant-based solvents, surfactants, pH adjusters, and water softeners, along with the natural antimicrobial effects of aloe vera juice as well as tea tree and lavender essential oils.
Buy it here: Earth Friendly Products Shower Cleaner with Tea Tree Oil.
Toilet Bowl Cleaner
In liquid or powdered form, toilet bowl cleaners are usually formulated with an acid to eliminate lime scale, odors, water stains, and mildew that take up residence inside the toilet bowl. Since this stuff literally goes down the drain and into the water system, always choose brands that are bleach and phosphate free.
Even when you select brands that are purportedly eco-friendly, you may unwittingly be using products that cause harm. For instance, Green Works Toilet Bowl Cleaner (made by Clorox) uses non-essential ingredients like fragrance and dyes, earning an F grade from the EWG.
Free of synthetic colors and scents, Thrive Market Toilet Cleaner is made with water, citric and glycolic acid, xanthan gum, glycerin, and naturally fragranced with eucalyptus and tea tree essential oils.
Get it here: Thrive Market Toilet Cleaner Tea Tree & Eucalyptus.
Some fixtures in the home – ovens, bath tubs, and sinks for example – are only thoroughly degreased and shined with the help of an abrasive powder. Unfortunately, many of the popular brands like Comet and Ajax are made with bleach and other harmful ingredients.
You can have your gleaming porcelains and metals without needing to resort to toxic products. Bon Ami Powder Cleanser is one of the better choices, made with sodium tallowate (a salt of tallow acid), baking soda, soda ash, calcium carbonate, coconut oil, palm oil, feldspar, and alkyl polyglycosides, a surfactant derived from starches and fats.
Buy it here: Bon Ami Cleaning Powder.
Glass & Mirror Cleaner
For streak-free mirrors and glass that you don’t need to rinse, glass cleaners are typically made with ethanol or isopropanol alcohol that quickly dissolve grease and grime. In brands like Windex, ammonia is added to the formula to prevent streaking. The use of ammonium hydroxide in cleaning products is concerning because it is an asthmagen that irritates the eyes and skin; it is also very toxic to fish and amphibians.
A simple blend, ATTITUDE Window and Mirror Cleaner is much more earth-friendly, made with denatured alcohol, water, as well as lauryl and coco glucosides, both of which are plant-derived surfactants. And unlike most big brand glass cleaners, it is pleasantly scented with lavender and lime essential oils.
Get it here: ATTITUDE Window and Mirror Cleaner Citrus Zest.
Whether it’s on your clothing, carpets, or upholstery, sometimes you have to break out the big guns when tackling tough messes like blood, wine, or grass stains. Unsurprisingly, popular brands like Resolve and Tide contain harsh ingredients like acrylic acid, sodium salts, ethanolamine, and unspecified surfactants.
Fortunately, you don’t need to use chemical treatments to remove stubborn stains. A 2-in-1 product, Fit Organic Laundry & Carpet Stain Remover is made with citric acid, potassium hydroxide, ethanol, glycerin, coconut oil, sunflower oil, and Indian soapberry fruit extract, earning top marks by the EWG.
Buy it here: Fit Organic Laundry & Carpet Stain Remover.
Wood Floors & Furniture
Wooden surfaces in and around the home require a bit of special treatment to ensure they are properly cleaned and conditioned without stripping away the wood’s natural oils. Trusted wood cleaners like Murphy’s Oil contain formaldehyde, artificial dyes and fragrances, as well as unspecified preservatives.
Made with five simple and natural ingredients, Truce Wood Cleaner is a mixture of olive oil, vinegar, guar gum, and is scented with orange and lemon essential oils.
Buy it here: Truce Wood Cleaner Orange & Lemon.
For some, the cleaning ritual isn’t complete until the room is spritzed with a pleasing aroma. Be especially wary of using artificial fragrances in the home since they are among the worst offenders when it comes to causing allergies, asthma, and skin irritations. Glade Plugins, for instance, are very high in volatile organic compounds. Aerosol sprays like Air Wick are just as bad, containing ingredients that can damage the respiratory tract and nervous system. Worse still, aerosol sprays create a fine mist that is able to deeply penetrate the lungs.
Safe enough to use on your body, Aura Cacia Room & Body Mist is an excellent alternative to dousing your home in sweet smelling pollutants. It’s made with water and the essential oils of three species of lavender (lavender, lavandin, and spike lavender) and comes in an aluminum bottle with a finger sprayer.