Powerful household cleaning products often contain strong chemicals that are harmful to health and environment. In 2000, cleaning products were responsible for nearly 10 percent of all toxic exposures reported to U.S. Poison Control Centers, accounting for 206,636 calls.
This is one of a series of stories written by students in the Sustainable Communities class at the University of Minnesota.
Green cleaning party
Minneapolis resident Hilary Cheeley hosted a party where she invited her friends and family over to make green home-cleaning products. Hilary started making her own cleaners because, she said, “ I wanted to know what was being put in the cleaners I was using in my home. Often companies do not disclose all of the ingredients in their products.”
Cheeley has since continued to make her own cleaners and says that she has no reason to switch back to buying conventional cleaning products. “The homemade cleaners work just as well and are often better for your health.”
Cheeley recommended that anyone could start making his or her own cleaners. She said, “The most rewarding part is that they are fun and easy to make!” She suggested making cleaning products with a group of people because you can buy ingredients and make the cleaners in bulk. Many recipes and kits can be found online. Cheeley has taught classes in the past at local co-ops and enjoys sharing her knowledge and ideas with others.
Buying green cleaning products
Many companies are starting to go the extra mile to minimize their environmental impact, but differentiating these from “greenwashed” products can be extremely challenging.
Jes Ramier, who is employed at the Linden Hills Co-op, also runs a cleaning service that uses many of the eco-friendly cleaning products sold there.
Ramier buys eco-friendly products because “many name brand cleaners use a wide variety of chemicals which can destroy the item which you are cleaning.” Her concern for health leads Ramier to buy products without Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC), which can leave harmful residue in the air and on the surface that is cleaned.
What to Avoid
The Organic Consumer Association advises:
- Avoid products with words on the label such as “Warning,” “Poisonous,” or “Caution” – Companies do not have to list all chemical ingredients, but they are required to label their products with safety precautions. Look for products with words like “no solvents,” “no phosphates,” or “plant-based.”
- Avoid purchasing products that are made from detergents containing phosphates — Phosphate may be found in laundry detergents and other household products., and can cause pollution in oceans, rivers, and lakes.
- Avoid surfactants (nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) and alkylphenol ethoxylate surfactants (APEs) – Although they are cheap and make cleaning easier, they come from non-renewable and toxic resources. Many of these chemicals are restricted in western nations except the United States. Look for products with simple ingredients like water, liquid castile soap, vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda. These products come from plant-based surfactants and are primarily from renewable resources.
- Avoid products that just say “eco-friendly” – Companies are not subject to strict rules on advertising claims. Unregulated “greenwash” claims should be backed up with ingredient information. Look for products that are accredited by third party certifications, such as Green Seal.
- Avoid products with a lot of packaging – Buy cleaners in bulk and choose bottles with some recyclable material. Also, choose concentrated formulas, which contain only 20% or less water. Adding the water yourself reduces the amount of packaging needed and saves on gas used for transportation.