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How Can You Tell if a Cleaner Is Green?

Toxic substances enter the environment every day in massive amounts, and many of them come from our homes: paints, cleaners, oils, batteries, and pesticides. What we regard as everyday home products, the Environmental Protection Agency defines as “household hazardous waste.”[1] Every year, humans produce more than 400 million tons of hazardous waste.[2] Switching to green cleaners can help lesson your household’s impact on the environment, but how can you tell if a cleaner is truly eco-friendly?

What Is Green Cleaning?

When the government, businesses, or individuals choose cleaning products that are safe for the environment and humans, they are opting for green cleaning. These products are nontoxic, nonflammable, non-corrosive, and non-reactive.

Why Is Green Cleaning Important?

Continued use of the toxic chemicals found in standard cleaning products creates environmental damage that may be irreversible, indicates the EPA.  These toxic cleaning products contain chemicals known to cause health problems. For the safety of humans and the environment, it is more sensible to avoid using such products, especially when good substitutes are available that are non-toxic.

Is It Really Green?

The Center for the New American Dream notes that there is no legal requirement for cleaning products to list their ingredients. Nevertheless, the manufacturers of many cleaning products claim that they’re “green.” Oftentimes, there is no way of verifying if these claims are true. A manufacturer may, without meeting any requirements whatsoever, label a cleaning product with terms like green, non-toxic, environmentally friendly, or environmentally safe.

An example is the Simple Green Concentrated All-Purpose Cleaner. The label says this product is non-toxic and biodegradable. But is it truly green and safe? The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning gives this product the worst score possible of an “F,” and lists it in its “Hall of Shame.” Ingredients include suspected endocrine system disrupter 2-Butoxyethanol. 

What's In a Label?

When manufacturers voluntarily put ingredient labels on their products, consumers stand a better chance of determining if those products are safe for their families and the planet. Consumers can learn how to compare nontoxic ingredients in truly green cleaners to toxic ones in "fake" green cleaners. About Home recommends not buying any cleaning products that contain chlorine, mineral oil, artificial dyes, fragrances, phosphates, or triclosan.

How to Tell if a Cleaning Product Is "Green"

1) Check the Safety Data Sheet

Every cleaning chemical sold in the United States is required by the EPA to have a Safety Data Sheet (SDS). An example of an SDS for a truly green cleaning product is MastiClean, which cleans thick tar, heavy grease, and tough sticky mastic from surfaces and hands. It works better than the harsh solvents, such as gasoline, that are routinely relied on to clean such messes.

The SDS information for MastiClean states:

  • This product is not hazardous to the environment.
  • No ingredients are hazardous.
  • It is not carcinogenic.
  • It is not harmful to aquatic creatures.

2) Inspect the Packaging 
Look for the use of recycled materials and the recyclable symbol. See if the product and packaging is biodegradable. Note any third party green certifications, such as those from EcoLogo, Green Seal, and PETA. The EPA also has a Safer Choice label.

3) Investigate the Manufacturing Process 

Find out where the factories are located and how they fare with environmental issues.

4) Analyze Usage Recommendations

Safety Health reminds us that improper use of a product may be dangerous. If the SDS has safety precautions, such as wearing protective gear when using a product, it is necessary to follow these guidelines carefully. When there are numerous safety precautions, this can mean the product is NOT green.

The Hidden Cost of Toxic Cleaners

In many cases, the price of using a truly “green” cleaning product is comparable to other standard choices. The hidden costs for using toxic cleaning chemicals are the ill effects on the health of humans, animals, plants, and the environment. Using green cleaning products, especially around children, should be everyone’s goal.

[1] http://www3.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/hhw.htm#_ga=1.122369357.793718343.1445556614

[2] http://www.theworldcounts.com/stories/household-hazardous-waste-statistics

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