While a term like natural might look appealing on a label, it doesn’t actually say much about a cleaning product’s quality.
“The term can be misleading, as ‘natural’ products often contain plenty of hazardous chemicals and undisclosed ingredients,” Samara Geller, a senior research and database analyst for the environmental watchdog group Environmental Working Group (EWG), tells mindbodygreen.
The same goes for descriptors like eco-friendly, plant-based, green, chemical-free—you get the picture. The only term on a label that really carries weight is organic, as long as it’s backed up by the USDA seal.
When choosing a cleaning product, the more important thing to look for is the ingredient list. Molecular toxicologist Rhea Mehta, Ph.D., recommends going with products that don’t contain 1,4-dioxanes, ethylene oxides, ammonium chlorides, and fragrances, as they have all been associated with health conditions such as skin irritation and respiratory issues. Geller adds sodium hypochlorite (aka bleach), hydrochloric acid, boric acid, borates, and VOCs to “avoid” list.
The troubling thing is that in the U.S., companies aren’t required to disclose these ingredients and byproducts on labels. However, legislation like California’s Cleaning Product Right To Know Law and the (yet-to-pass) New York State Cleaning Product To Know Act are helping to add more transparency to the industry. Third-party certifications can also make it easier to identify products that have been vetted for safely.
A few to look out for are Green Seal, USDA Organic, USDA Biopreferred, EcoLogo, Made Safe, and Safer Choice. And while not an official labeling scheme, EWG’s Healthy Cleaning Guide lets you poke around to see how a product’s ingredients rate on safety on a scale from A to F. It can be helpful to reference when you’re on the hunt for a new cleaner but don’t recognize some of its ingredients.
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