Environmentally-friendly cleaning products are so-called because they are intended to be safer for the environment. In addition, environmentally-friendly cleaning products are marketed as natural cleaning products since they are manufactured from plant-based materials rather than synthetic chemicals. Other terms for environmentally-friendly cleaning products are non-toxic cleaning products, green cleaning products, and eco friendly cleaning products.
Environmentally-friendly cleaning products essentially differ from conventional cleaning products in their basic formulation. For instance, many cleaning products depend on synthetic surfactants, bleaching agents, anti-bacterial agents, protein dissolvers, etc., to enhance performance. However, there is concern over the potential hazards to human health and the environment associated with these chemicals. In fact, many of these ingredients are suspected carcinogens, neurotoxins, and/or are classified as hazardous waste. Some products, such as laundry detergents, even contain pesticides.
In terms of human health, many of these agents have been shown to be readily absorbed through the skin or are harmful when inhaled. Other chemicals continue to accumulate on surfaces in the home. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the indoor air of many homes contain 70 times more air pollutants than outdoor air. This is largely attributed to the use of conventional cleaning products in the home. In addition, these products have been linked to health consequences, including cancer.
The chemicals found in conventional cleaning products also pose a risk to the environment as they enter the soil and water systems. In fact, they may bioconcentrate in the environment and become systemic. Some of these chemicals are stored in the fat tissue of fish and wildlife. As such, they’re suspected of being endocrine disruptors, meaning that they disturb the reproduction cycle of aquatic life.
Alternatively, environmentally-friendly cleaning products utilize natural, plant-based ingredients. For example, chemical surfactants are replaced with vegetable-based surfactants made from coconut, corn, or palm. Natural non-chlorine bleaching agents include sodium percarbonate, sodium carbonate, and hydrogen peroxide.
Another consideration given to environmentally-friendly cleaning products is the effort to limit the impact of packaging materials on the environment. For instance, many environmentally-friendly cleaning products are packaged in containers that are made from recycled post-consumer waste. Of course, most environmentally-friendly cleaning products also display the Möbius strip, or the symbol that indicates that the container itself may be recycled.
Due to a lack of labeling standards, consumers should exercise judgment when purchasing environmentally-friendly cleaning products. For instance, the terms "environmentally-friendly", "natural", "non-toxic" and even "biodegradable" have no regulatory meaning. That means that manufacturers are free to use them on the product label, even if the product is not made entirely from natural ingredients or takes decades to degrade in the environment. In addition, manufacturers of cleaning products are not required to fully disclose the ingredients used.
However, there are certain certifications or seals that consumers can look for on labels that ensure they are buying authentic environmentally-friendly cleaning products. These are third-party certifications that do not involve a financial or conflict of interest. Examples of such endorsements are the Green Seal as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment recognized as the DfE Label.