Green cleaning products

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Cleaning is the use and disposal of cleaning products with people and the environment in mind. They offer safer alternatives for humans and the planet, but at a higher price. Green cleaners promise natural ingredients (instead of synthetic), which break down quickly in the environment, and pose less of a toxic threat to humans and ecosystems. But critics caution that just because the ingredients in green cleaners are plant-based or natural does not necessarily mean they are safe.

Although green cleaning has only been fashionable for the last decade or so, people were using herbal and plant based ingredients for cleaning their home and wares for a long time.

Why should I be aware of this?

Most household cleaners contain chemical ingredients that result in indoor pollution and increase the risk of asthma and other ailments. Many all-purpose cleaners contain neurotoxins and nasal irritants that can be inhaled. These ingredients harm both our health and our surroundings.

How does this affect me?

The solvents and the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can irritate the nose and throat and cause dizziness. Long term exposure may have more lasting effects. Studies suggest a correlation between exposure to VOCs and an increased risk of asthma or other respiratory problems.

There are other chemical ingredients which do not cause much harm to the householder but to professional cleaners who are subjected to high doses of the chemicals for long periods. These people might be at risk due to exposure to chemicals such as

  • Glycol ethers -- a solvent
  • Ammonia compounds -- the disinfecting quarternary and
  • Ethanolamines --detergents

Researchers at the National University of Singapore published results in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 1994 showing that people employed as cleaners had nearly twice the risk of asthma as people in other professions. A study of more than 15,000 working adults in Europe, published in the Lancet in 1999, found a similar increase in asthma risk among professional cleaners.

All about green cleaning products

Household cleaners are used for removing soil, stains, or undesirable microorganisms from surfaces and restoring the surface to its original condition as possible. In addition to aesthetic benefits, household cleaners keep the surroundings clean, protected and free of germs; and help to extend the life of various personal possessions.

There are grey areas when it comes to green cleaning. Does “green” mean safe for humans and animals? Does it mean that the product is made from plants and not petroleum? Do green products mean being biodegradable; use of less packaging and recyclable?

In most cases green does means all of these, but since the industry is unregulated there are a few guarantees. And even if the product does deliver the above parameters, it must also mean “effective.” A cleaning product that does not clean well is not good for the environment. Producing and packaging a useless cleaning product is a waste of time and energy, which is very “un-green".

Places where cleaning products are extensively used

  1. Bathroom - Tub and tile cleaners, drain cleaners, mold and mildew stain removers and toilet bowl cleaners
  2. Laundry -- Fabric conditioners, Laundry Bleaches, Laundry Pretreatment products, laundry starch
  3. Kitchen --dishwashing products, general purpose cleaners, glass cleaners and ovens and grill cleaners
  4. Furniture, carpet and upholstry -Carpet cleaning products, dusting aids, fabric protectants and water repellants.

Certification for green cleaners

Green Seal is a non-profit organization that works with government, industry and environmental stakeholders to set environmental standards for products and services.


The market for cleaning products including green cleaning products is largely unregulated. This means consumers must be wary of what is in the bottle. Even cleaning products labeled "natural" may contain some fraction of synthetic chemicals. Or they may contain natural ingredients consumers would rather avoid, such as petroleum distillates, some of which can cause cancer. And just because a cleaning product is biodegradable and made from plant-based sources doesn't mean that it is without potential adverse effects on health.

Plant-based ingredients included in some green cleaners include limonene (a citrus-based oil), pine oil, and the foaming agent coconut diethanolamide -- all of which can cause allergic dermatitis. And a recent study of natural and nontoxic consumer products found the suspected cancer-causing chemical 1,4-dioxane in roughly half of 100 tested products -- including several dishwashing liquids with words such as "Earth friendly" and "eco" in their brand names.

Consumer advocates have pressed for stricter labeling rules, but the industry has resisted, arguing that long lists of ingredients would create a distraction on product labels, drawing attention away from important safety information.

A study of natural and nontoxic consumer products found dioxane in roughly half of 100 tested products -- including several dishwashing liquids with words such as "Earth friendly" and "eco" in their brand names. The chemical is a byproduct of a process that uses petroleum-based chemicals to make detergents less harsh.

Some common myths

  • If you do not see foam, you don’t have enough detergent to clean. This is not true. If you see foam you have more than enough detergent to clean and you sometimes may have too much. Foam is created by molecules called surfactants. Those same molecules can’t be two places at once. If they are cleaning up stains and dirt off your dishes or clothes, then some extra ones are needed to create foam with the air.
  • A chemical that is “natural” means it is safer. With many cleaning molecules, it is possible to create the same chemical structure from a plant or from petroleum. Molecules don’t remember where they came from. It is the structure of a chemical that dictates its behavior and properties, not its source.

90 degrees

Alternative Cleaners

An alternative cleaner is a cleaning product that is not commercially produced. Usually, these products are made at home using ingredients that are supposedly safer or more effective than the ones you find on store shelves. But, despite what you may have heard, “safe” and “unsafe” has more to do with how you use a product than what is in a product.

Some alternative cleaners use common household ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, or lemon juice.

What can I do?

Here are some recipes for make green cleaners at home.

Creamy soft scrubber

Pour about 1/2 cup of baking soda into a bowl, and add enough liquid detergent to make a texture like frosting. Scoop the mixture onto a sponge, and wash the surface. This is a good recipe for cleaning the bathtub because it rinses easily and does not leave grit.

Note: Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable glycerin to the mixture and store in a sealed glass jar, to keep the product moist. Otherwise just make as much as you need at a time.

Window cleaner

  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon liquid detergent
  • 3 tablespoons vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • Spray bottle

Put all the ingredients into a spray bottle, shake it up a bit, and use as you would a commercial brand. The soap in this recipe is important. It cuts the wax residue from the commercial brands you might have used in the past.

Oven cleaner

  • 1 cup or more baking soda
  • Water
  • A squirt or two of liquid detergent

Sprinkle water generously over the bottom of the oven, then cover the grime with enough baking soda that the surface is totally white. Sprinkle some more water over the top. Let the mixture set overnight. You can easily wipe up the grease the next morning because the grime will have loosened. When you have cleaned up the worst of the mess, dab a bit of liquid detergent or soap on a sponge, and wash the remaining residue from the oven. If this recipe doesn’t work for you it is probably because you didn’t use enough baking soda and/or water.

All purpose spray cleaner

  • 1/2 teaspoon washing soda
  • A dab of liquid soap
  • 2 cups hot tap water

Combine the ingredients in a spray bottle and shake until the washing soda has dissolved. Apply and wipe off with a sponge or rag.

Furniture polish

  • 1/2 teaspoon oil, such as olive (or jojoba, a liquid wax)
  • 1/4 cup vinegar or fresh lemon juice.

Mix the ingredients in a glass jar. Dab a soft rag into the solution and wipe onto wood surfaces. Cover the glass jar and store indefinitely.

Vinegar Deodorizer

Keep a clean spray bottle filled with straight 5 percent vinegar in your kitchen near your cutting board and in your bathroom and use them for cleaning. I often spray the vinegar on our cutting board before going to bed at night, and don’t even rinse but let it set overnight. The smell of vinegar dissipates within a few hours. Straight vinegar is also great for cleaning the toilet rim. Just spray it on and wipe off.

Mold cleaner

  • 2 teaspoons tea tree oil
  • 2 cups water

Combine in a spray bottle, shake to blend, and spray on problem areas. Do not rinse. Makes two cups.

Vinegar Spray

Straight vinegar reportedly kills 82% of mold. Pour some white distilled vinegar straight into a spray bottle, spray on the moldy area, and let set without rinsing if you can put up with the smell. It will dissipate in a few hours.


  • Sales of natural cleaning products totaled $105 million in the US in 2007.
  • Dishes are washed more than a hundred times a year in most homes


  • How Safe Are Green Cleaning Products?
  • The Truth About 'Green' Cleaning Products
  • How Do I Know if a Cleaning Product Is “Green?”
  • How to Make a Non-Toxic Cleaning Kit
  • Los Angeles Times, How safe are green cleaning products?

See Also