Just because a product’s advertised as “green” or “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better for you or your air. Here’s what you need to know to shop smart in the cleaning aisle to better protect your family’s health.
When it comes to cleaning products, know this: green does not equal safe. There’s no formal industry definition of words like “green” and “natural,” so there’s really nothing stopping manufacturers from using them simply because consumers might find them reassuring.
To further complicate things, some products declare they’re petroleum-free, for example, opting instead to use ingredients derived from corn or another biological source. However, those ingredients can be chemically identical to those made from petroleum, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which means they impose the same negative effects on your home and your health*.
Working against informed consumers is the fact that manufacturers of cleaning products aren’t required by U.S. law to list all the ingredients. It’s worth noting, but don’t let that stop you from label reading. The American Lung Association (ALA) suggests avoiding products that contain bleach, ammonia, fragrances (even natural ones), flammable ingredients and irritants, as well as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), a catchall term for ingredients that release dangerous chemicals into your air**.
That last one can be difficult since there are so many of them, and with names like tetrachloroethylene and d-limonene, challenging for the average consumer to remember and recognize. Look up specific products on the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website, which keeps a database of safety ratings for more than 2,500 cleaning products. They have a Healthy Living app that lets you scan barcodes, too. When in doubt, follow the cleaner’s instructions carefully and ventilate well by running fans and opening doors and windows.
An alternative to identifying the bad is looking for the good. Specifically, the EPA’s blue and green Safer Choice label, awarded to cleaning products considered safer for humans and the environment. Find out more and look up products at epa.gov/saferchoice.
Also keep your eyes peeled for the USDA Certified Biobased symbol—round, with blue water meeting green field topped with a yellow sun—signaling products truly made with plants and other renewable sources. The EPA recommends them, saying they have fewer to no negative effects on you or the environment, compared to conventional products used for the same purpose. Find out more at biopreferred.gov.