Green Cleaners: How Green Are They?

green household cleaners,eco-friendly household cleaners,alternative cleaners,Earth Friendly Products,Green Works,Mrs. Meyers,Method,Naturally Yours,Seventh GenerationGreen household cleaners are supposed to be green. So what exactly does that mean? Well, one problem I discovered right up front is that there are NO environmental standards or single entity that determines which manufacturers are or are not green (although an independent non-profit group, Green Seal, has established comprehensive standards to determine environmentally-safe cleaners, only a few manufacturer’s have applied for certification. Unfortunately, those who have applied for certification do not include any of the manufacturer’s examined here). Terms such as eco-friendly, earth friendly, natural, nontoxic, or environmentally safe, mean nothing. Moreover, just because a product states that on their label doesn’t mean the products green, organic, or manufacturered cruelty-free.

Products that are “green” can also contain ingredients that may not be “natural” or even safe. For instance, they sometimes contain synthetic or petroleum-based ingredients, or they can contain fragrances and scents rather than essential oils. Surfactants, such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) may also be used. Health concerns related to SLS have been raised because when it is in the air it can turn into particles and cause a person to choke. It can also cause skin problems (dermatitis to be exact). SLES is supposedly less harsh than SLS; however, it contains 1,4-dioxane, which is a known carcinogenic, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims it would have to be used constantly and daily to ever result in cancer. Nevertheless, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourages manufacturers to eliminate it from their products, and many companies have moved in that direction.

The six “green” household cleaning manufacturer’s I looked at are Earth Friendly Products, Green Works (by Clorox), Mrs. Meyers, Method, Naturally Yours, and Seventh Generation.

 Green Manufacturer’s Comparison of Cleaning Products
Standard Earth
Method Naturally
 Biodegradable  √ Some
 Cruelty-free    √  √  
 Essential Oils  
 Formeldehyde           Traces Most
 or Scent
 Gluten-free *  * *  
 Organic           Some  
 Peanut-Free    √      
  99% free   Some    
 Phthalates   *   Some   * Most
 SLS   Some   Some     Some
 SLES     Some     Some Some
 Solvents       *     Some
 Synthetics    *   Most
 Wheat-free    √   Some  

* indicates the manufacturer did not specifically state the ingredient was excluded.
(Additionally, if a manufacturer used something such as artificial colors, synthetics, SLS, SLES, etc., it doesn’t mean every single product contains it, although they could. To be sure you would still need to read the product label for each particular product, as this list is generalized.) 

Based on the comparison, I would say Earth Friendly Products wins. You can see their product line by clicking on their link in the table. (Another thing, I sent them a note asking if their cleaning products were wheat, peanut, and gluten-free, ,lickety split they replied, so they have good customer service too!). Even though Earth Friendly Products won, the other products are a big improvement over conventionally manufactured cleaning products, and they are basically considered “safe.” Most are also concerned about the environment because they use recyclable packaging and safer ingredients than conventional products.

The New American Dream, a website dedicated to helping Americans consume responsibly, while also protecting the environment, suggests you DO NOT use commercial products that contain the following ingredients:

  • Ammonia
  • Antibacterials or Disinfectants
  • Chlorine Bleach
  • Corrosives
  • Petroleums
  • Phosphates

If you really want to help the environment and protect yourself, many environmental sites claim the best cleaners can by made by you in your own kitchen. Homemade cleaners are also considered highly effective, although they may require soaking time or a little more elbow grease than their commercial counterparts. Additionally, most homemade cleaning recipes require simple basic ingredients such as white vinegar, baking soda, borax, salt, lemon juice, or olive oil, which means they’re quick, easy, and cheap to make. If you’re interested in making your own cleaning products there are several recipes in my article Green Cleaners. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s some great books that may help: 

  • Clean House Clean Planet. Karen Logan, an environmentalist with years of experience, reveals the secrets of using simple, ordinary ingredients—baking soda, vinegar, soap, lemon juice, and salt to make safe, inexpensive cleaners.
  • The Naturally Clean Home: 100 Safe and Easy Herbal Formulas for Non-Toxic Cleansers. This book by Karen Siegel-Maier relies on the antiseptic and antiviral properties of herbs and essential oils. Recipes include laundry and dish washing detergent, bathroom cleaners, wood, glass, and metal cleaners, air and carpet fresheners, car and pet care products, and insect repellents.
  • The Naturally Clean Home. This second book by Karen Siegel-Maier contains 150 all-natural recipes for cleaning every area of the home—from bathrooms to bedding and from carpets to cabinetry.
  • The Safe Shopper’s Bible: A Consumer’s Guide to Nontoxic Household Products, Cosmetics, and Food. This book rates thousands of foods, beverages, and household and personal care products. You can look up products by brand name and find out their short-term and long-term health consequences. Additionally, there are recommendations for the safest foods, personal care products, and household items.


  1. Just one thought on the ‘don’t use because it’s not green’ thing.

    Chlorine bleach may not be green…but it DOES kill viruses. Before we throw the baby out with the bathwater on that one, I’d strongly recommend evaluating whether there’s a situation when it’s needed. Some use of bleach may well be a boon in a household where someone has an undeveloped or weak immune system.

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