Green Cleaning


“Housework can’t kill you, but why take a chance?”
Phyllis Diller

At this time of year, many of us contemplate spring cleaning in some way, shape, or form. Though that may entail more in depth work and specialized products, most of us do some form of cleaning every day - think dishes or laundry. When you ponder all of the household cleaning products that we use on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, it becomes yet another area of our lives that deserves a pause to ponder the question, how is our cleaning or, more specifically, how are our cleaning products affecting the environment? Is this an area where we can create healthier habits for ourselves and for our planet?

Potential problems with non-environmentally friendly cleaning products:

Even after passing through water treatment plants, small quantities of chemical compounds from cleaning products can find their way into rivers, ponds, and lakes and have adverse effects on aquatic life. And since most of us use cleaning products regularly, this can add up and negatively impact the environment.

  1. Phosphates in laundry and dishwasher detergent and nitrogen have a fertilizing effect, triggering the widespread growth of algae that decreases the water’s oxygen content which subsequently decreases biodiversity.

  2. Common surfactants , such as alkylphenol ethoxylates, have been linked to endocrine disruption that causes adverse reproductive effects in aquatic species exposed to polluted waters. Surfactants also, by reducing water tension , allow other pollutants in the water to be absorbed more easily by aquatic plants and animals.

  3. Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) in cleaning products can affect indoor air quality and can also contribute to smog formation in outdoor air.

How to select environmentally friendly cleaning products:

  1. When gauging ecological claims, look for specifics. For example, "biodegradable in 3 to 5 days" holds a lot more meaning than "biodegradable," as most substances will eventually break down if given enough time and the right ecological conditions. And claims like "no solvents," "no phosphates," “no petroleum-based products,” or "plant-based" are more meaningful than vague terms like "ecologically-friendly" or "natural." "Non-toxic" has no official definition, so unless a third party has verified this claim, it is considered meaningless. And don't believe "organic" ingredients in cleaning and other chemical products are any safer than other substances. Although "organic" in the grocery store refers to foods grown without synthetic pesticides, in chemistry it refers to chemicals that are carbon-based, including some VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that release harmful fumes.

  2. Often ingredients in cleaning products are not listed but, when they are, choose products made with plant-based (renewable), instead of petroleum-based (non-renewable), ingredients.

  3. Don’t forget the packaging! To reduce packaging waste: Choose cleaners in the largest container sizes available; especially seek out bulk sizes. Select products in bottles made with at least some recycled plastic. By doing so, you support companies that are providing a vital end-market for recycled plastic (without this market, recycling would not be possible). Also choose bottles that are recyclable or, even better, refillable. Consider purchasing concentrated formulas, which contain only 20% or less water. Because dilution with water is done at home, not at the factory, concentrated cleaners overall require less packaging and fuels for shipping. Lastly, look for pump sprays rather than aerosols.

There are also many recipes available for green cleaning solutions that you can make at home from just a few simple ingredients that you may already have in your pantry. The following websites have multiple recipes for a variety of cleaning issue.

In addition, many companies will ship environmentally friendly cleaning products to your door and, though we are not sponsored by any company nor do we wish to promote a particular company or their products, has caught the attention of one of our Green Team members, especially with regard to their eco-friendly refill packaging shipped in cardboard containers rather than plastic.

Cleaning gets a groan from most people, a nasty task found all too often on our “to do” lists. Who wants to spend even more time trying to figure out which cleaning products are healthier for our world? But this doesn’t need to take a lot of time and the benefits to the environment could be substantial. My advice, spend a few minutes reading labels the next time you need to replace your dish-washing soap or laundry detergent and make 1 change. Or consider saving yourself money and toxic chemicals by making your own. Or try an online delivery service that specializes in green cleaning products mailed in environmentally friendly packaging. One change, I know you can do it. And that 1 change may just inspire you to make another change and another change each time you need to replace a cleaning product you’ve finished. Soon enough, your cleaning cupboard will be stocked with products that are healthy for you and for the environment. Bring on the spring cleaning!