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4 Questions to Ask When Shopping for Green Cleaning Products

How to read labels so you know for sure the product you’re buying is safe. From Green This! Volume 1: Greening Your Cleaning by Deirdre Imus

When shopping for green cleaning products, you should always pay close attention to the label. If you can answer “yes” to the following questions, then you can trust that the product you’re buying is safe.

Does it Disclose All Ingredients?
Because the manufacturers or household cleaning products aren’t required by law to do so, you should look for companies that voluntarily disclose their ingredients – and tell you that they do. Look for products that say right on the bottle, “We disclose all ingredients.” That line is a good indication that you’re dealing with an environmentally responsible company.

Does It Tell You Where Those Ingredients Came From?
The label should also tell you if its ingredients are synthetic or naturally derived, as in the label of this environmentally safe all-purpose production:

“This product contains purified water, naturally derived surfactant (from plants or botanicals such as corn, soy, or palm kernel), natural fragrance (from essential oils, plants, or botanicals,) and contains no preservatives.”

Is the water purified? Is the fragrance natural? Does it tell whether the surfactant is derived from plants or chemicals? These are the questions we need to start asking.

Depending on the product, there might be a few more ingredients listed as well, like a complexing agent or a chealant. That’s fine — as long the label tells you the source of those ingredients, whether they’re synthetic or plant-/vegetable-based.

You also might see words like “anionic,” “nonionic,” and “cationic” preceding the surfactant. These refer to the charge of the surfactant and not its source. Don’t be fooled by these and other scientific-sounding terms. You need to know where that surfactant comes from, not what charge it is.

Beware of vague-sounding phrases like “quality-control ingredients” or “cleaning agents.” What do these words even mean? Do they indicate the source of the ingredients or not? If you can’t answer these simple questions you probably shouldn’t be using the product.

Do Those Ingredients Biodegrade?
A label should tell you if its ingredients are in the environment. Most plant- and vegetable-based formulas do.

Is it Free of Toxins?
Avoid cleaning products that contain any of the following:

  • Aerosol propellants
  • Ammonia
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Heavy metals
  • Known or suspected carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, mutagens, and teratogens
  • Phosphates
  • Synthetic dyes, fragrances, and optical brighteners

If you see any of these items on a product label, keep shopping.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deirdre Imus, author of Green This! Volume 1: Greening Your Cleaning (Copyright © 2007 by Git’R Green, Inc.), is the founder and president of Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology®, part of Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC) in New Jersey. She is also a co-founder and co-director of the Imus Castle Ranch for Kids with Cancer, and the author of the bestselling book The Imus Ranch: Cooking for Kids and Cowboys.

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