Start by looking for products certified by EcoLogo or Green Seal. To earn the these labels cleaners must meet certain health and environmental standards dealing with things like toxicity to aquatic and mammalian life, biodegradability, possible soil contamination, the risk of microbial resistance, labeling and packaging standards, and human health. Not all green products will be certified so use the following guidelines for selecting your own green cleaners.
Select products with 100% plant-based ingredients rather than the ambiguous “natural” label (after all, cyanide is natural). Look for products with primary active ingredients like tea tree oil, sodium borate (borax), soy, citrus oils, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, and eucalyptus. These substances come from renewable resources, are biodegradable, contain no- or low-VOCs, and should not cause skin or eye irritation. Just take care to not use products with pine or citrus oil on smoggy or high ozone days because compounds in the oils can react with ozone in the air to form the carcinogenic chemical formaldehyde.
Avoid products containing any of the following:
- 2-butoxyethanol (also listed as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether) and other glycol ethers
- Alkylphenol ethoxylates like nonylphenol ethoxylates, octylphenol ethoxylates, nonoxynols, and octoxynols
- Ethanolamines like mono-, di-, and tri-ethanolamine
- Quaternary ammonium compounds, which are usually listed as alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (ADBAC), benzalkonium chloride, or didecyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride
- Hydrocloric acid
- Sodium acid sulfate
It's also advisable to pass on any products containing dye. It's an ambiguous ingredient that could mean a multitude of things – many of which are unsafe.
Take a products packaging into consideration as well. Look for lightweight packaging (the less packaging the better) made from recyclable and/or recycled materials. Choose pump sprays over aerosols and look for dispensers that help limit unnecessary exposure. Concentrated formulas help cut down on packing as do products that can be used with refillable dispensers.
Of course, the easiest way to avoid the harmful chemicals often found in household cleaning products is to clean your home with all natural products like vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, and baking soda. Check out Cleaning Green and Cleaning Green Supplement: Lemon and Baking Soda to learn more.