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 Recommended Cleaning Products

It is wise to read the label. Don’t, however, make a decision based solely on reading the label. The label will not list all of the ingredients, some of which may be hazardous.  Most labels don’t’ list any ingredients. A study done by the New York Poison Control Center found that 85% of the product warning labels were inadequate12. Reading the label on a cleaning product is similar to reading one on a bottle of pesticides. There may be one or two “active” ingredients. The rest are listed as “other ingredients”. Inert does not mean safe.

Cleaning products have been regulated by the Consumer Produts Safety Commission since the introduction of the Federal Hazardous Substances Labeling Act in 1960
13. There are so many loopholes in this regulation that manufactures can often put a single, general warning statement on a label that suffices instead of listing specific toxic ingredients. Most chemicals have never been adequately tested for toxicity.

Reading labels would be humorous if these products didn’t have significant potential to seriously affect your health. You simply won’t find anything meaningful on the labels. For example, the following was recently found on a label of general purpose cleaner: “Ingredients: cleaning agents, quality control agents, perfume, colorant and water”. The words “cleaning agents” is obviously quite vague. It would be expected to find cleaning agents in a multi-purpose cleaner. Ammonium is typically in general purpose cleaners. Why isn’t ammonium listed?

Often the label will say “surfactant” but not state what the surfactant is. You can’t trust the word “Natural” or “bio-degradable. These are not a regulated terms. Lawyers can argue that just about everything is natural. Bio-degradable may mean hundreds of years.

Some companies will engage in “green washing”, a practice where they make their product appear to be non-toxic. One example is the cleaning product Simple Green, which from its name to its advertising is marketed as a safe, non-toxic alternative cleaner. It contains the dangerous chemical butyl cellosolve, a compound found in toxic cleaners like Formula 409 and Windex14. You wouldn’t know this from reading the label.

Choosing at the Grocery

  • If you see the words “Warning”, “Hazardous”, “Caution” or “Harmful” - stop. That’s an indication that there is a safer product to be found.

  • Look for products with ALL of the ingredients listed.

  • In general avoid what appear to be synthetic ingredients. Avoid chlorine and benzene. These are identified on the label beginning with “chlor” or ending with “ene”.

  • Avoid products with anti-microbials.

  • Ask your parents what they used. The old-fashioned way of cleaning worked and was typically less toxic than today’s’.

  • Trust you nose! Use common sense.

There are many brands of less-toxic, natural and non-toxic cleaning supplies that list all of the ingredients on their labels. These include: Seventh Generation, Ecover, Earth's Best, Earthrite, Earth Friendly, Bio-Kleen, Life Tree, and Dr. Bronner's Soap to name a few. These can be found at local health food stores as well as most chain stores these days. The National Institute of Health has a Household Products Database that can be useful to research products http://hpd.nlm.nih.gov.

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Revised: July 05, 2017.

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