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Green Cleaners 101

What makes a cleaning product 'green'? What are the benefits of switching to green cleaners? 

Learn more below, or jump right to what interests you most:

  1. Benefits of green cleaners
  2. Conventional vs. green cleaners
  3. What makes a cleaning product green?
  4. Products to avoid
  5. Ecolabels for Green Cleaners

Benefits of green cleaners

Benefits of switching to green cleaners can include:

  • Improved worker safety and health, and fewer sick days [1,2].
  • Reduced disposal costs. Many places charge to dispose hazardous waste [1].
  • Improved ability to meet environmental goals [2].

Switching to green cleaners in your workplace improves indoor air quality by reducing the amount of toxins, carcinogens, allergens and harsh odors in the air.

It can also have a big positive impact on the health of janitorial staff in your building. Over 2.8 million people are employed as janitors in the U.S. Data from Washington State show that about 6 percent of janitors experience a job-related injury from chemical exposure to cleaning products every year [1]. 

Conventional vs. green cleaners

Conventional cleaning products: Many contain harmful chemicals that are toxic to both people and the environment. 

Green cleaning products: Are absent of harsh chemicals that make people sick and can pollute waterways and soil.

What makes a cleaning product green?

  • Certified by Green Seal, UL ECOLOGO or UL GREENGUARD - Independent, third-party certification ensures green products live up to their claims. Learn more about ecolabels below.
  • Concentrated with clear dilution instructions – Ready-to-use cleaners are 90 percent water. Buying concentrated cleaners prevents packaging waste. However, proper dilution is key to a product’s safety. Learn more.
  • Packaged in recycled and recyclable materials – Reduce waste by choosing products that use smart packaging.
  • Neutral in pH – Acidic and alkaline products can burn skin. Look for products with a neutral pH of 7.
  • Non-toxic – Avoid products that have a danger, warning or caution label.
  • Free of chlorine bleach – Chlorine bleach and the wastewater from using chlorine bleach can react with other chemicals. Look for products that have a Processed Chlorine Free or Totally Chlorine Free label.
  • Made from renewable resources – Petroleum-derived products are flammable and made from a non-renewable resource. Choose renewable alternatives, like citrus, seed, vegetable and pine oils. 
  • Works in cold water – Cold water uses less energy than hot.
  • Low VOC - Low volatile organic compound (VOC) content.

Products to avoid [3]

Antibacterial products

  • The FDA states, “There currently is no evidence that over-the-counter antibacterial soap products are any more effective at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water” [4].
  • Additionally, the chemicals used in these products “may alter the way hormones work in the body,” and may make, “bacteria resistant to antibiotics [which] can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of medical treatments” [4].
  • Alternative: soap and water, green cleaners.

Air Fresheners – contain fragrances that can trigger allergies and asthma.

  • Alternative: Open a window or use fans.

Drain cleaners – are caustic and can burn eyes and skin.

  • Alternative: Use a plunger or drain snake, or baking soda and vinegar.

Ecolabels for Green Cleaners

When buying green cleaning products, not all labels and certifications are equal. It is important to buy products with independent third-party certifications that are backed by widely-respected and trusted organizations. If you don’t have time to research ecolabels, we recommend Green Seal, UL ECOLOGO and UL GREENGUARD

Green Seal logoUL ECOLOGO logo UL GREENGUARD logo

Click here to read more about ecolabels and product registries for green cleaners.

Looking for a specific type of cleaner? The Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning ranks over 2,000 products. Choose products that get an A.

Have other questions? Get in touch with a sustainability advisor by emailing sustainabilityatwork@portlandoregon.gov.

References

  1. Greening Your Purchase of Cleaning Products
  2. Potential Benefits of Green Cleaning Products and Programs
  3. Household Cleaner Ratings and Ingredients
  4. FDA Taking Closer Look at 'Antibacterial' Soap

More on green cleaners 

The Seven Sins of Greenwashing: Learn more about the ways products are greenwashed, and trends in labeling.

Hall of Shame: The Environmental Working Group cleaners database of over 2,000 products and 200 brands.

Safer Choice: Online database of products that meet the EPA’s Safer Choice Standard.

Eco-labels: Consumer Reports’ search tool of labels on popular products and what they really mean.

The Ecolabel Index: The largest global directory of ecolabels.

Navigating the ‘Wild West’ of Eco-Labels:  Science-Backed Tips for Consumers.

Shopping “Green”: Federal Trade Commission information for consumers on green products.

Institutional/Professional Purchasers: Information by the EPA.

Green Purchases: A guide for federal purchases, by the EPA.

Transparency and Certification:  The Yin and Yang of Sustainability, by Triple Pundit.