Here's What Green Cleaning Product Labels Really Mean

Plus, the seals and certifications to look for when shopping for cleaning supplies.

Eco-conscious shoppers have a lot of catchphrases to keep up with these days, starting with carbon-neutral, plastic-free, and plastic neutral. And really, what's the difference between natural cleaning supplies and eco-friendly cleaning products?

We dug into the verbiage, seals, and certifications on green cleaning labels, so you won't have to wonder the next time you're in the grocery aisle debating between five different types of disinfecting wipes or dish soap.

01 of 07

Green and Eco-Friendly

Cleaning products labeled "green" claim to be a healthier option for you and the planet. "Eco-friendly" refers to products that reduce their impact on the environment. However, both are marketing terms that are not strictly regulated.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has created "Green Guides" in an attempt to guide environmental marketing claims so products don't mislead shoppers. According to the FTC, many companies are guilty of greenwashing or marketing their products as "green" even if only certain aspects of the product's life cycle are green.

So what's an informed shopper to do? Find a related third-party seal or certification that indicates the product adheres to certain standards. Then, keep an eye out for it when shopping.

02 of 07


"Non-toxic" claims that the product or ingredient has not been linked to any adverse health effects in the short or long term. However, like the buzzwords above, it is not regulated, so any product can use this terminology. So even with this term on a label, you have to investigate the ingredient list on your own.

The ToxicFree Foundation can help. It's a private, non-profit organization with a slightly more stringent definition when it comes to toxicity. The foundation certifies ingredients as "toxic-free" if they are guaranteed to be completely free from harmful chemicals.

If an ingredient on a cleaning product label concerns you, you can look it up in the ToxicFree Foundation's database of green light ingredients (which are totally free of harmful chemicals). Don't see it there? Make sure it's not in their database of red light ingredients (which do contain unsafe chemicals).

03 of 07


Leaping Bunny logo for cruelty-free products
Leaping Bunny

"Cruelty-free" means the company vows not to test the product on animals. However, there is no government-sanctioned cruelty-free label. Instead, keep an eye out for the Leaping Bunny logo. Originally created as a third-party certification for cruelty-free beauty products, the well-recognized logo can now be found on household cleaners.

Brands like Cleancult, Dr. Bronner's, Mrs. Meyer's, and Caldrea have earned the Leaping Bunny seal of approval, meaning they comply with rigorous standards. Search the Leaping Bunny database to find more brands.

But beware of imitations. Because a bunny illustration has a strong association with cruelty-free products (PETA's cruelty-free logo is also a bunny), a particularly egregious example of greenwashing has sprung up: Some companies have been known to slap an unofficial bunny logo on their packaging to confuse well-meaning consumers. Not all bunnies are the cruelty-free Leaping Bunny!

04 of 07


USDA Certified Organic seal

The use of the term "organic" can be particularly confusing—while the word "organic" on the packaging isn't strictly regulated, the USDA does have its own "Certified Organic" seal. Products with the seal have met certain standards, such as never using GMOs and avoiding synthetic fertilizers.

This USDA seal is most commonly used on food but can also be applied to household cleaners. So if you want to ensure your multi-purpose cleaning spray is organic, check for the USDA seal.

05 of 07


biobased product label logo

While the word "natural" isn't very regulated for cleaning products, there is a USDA seal for "Certified Biobased" products. Are you noticing a theme here?

If you look closely at the USDA seal, it tells you what percent of the product is biobased, according to results from the USDA and American Society for Testing and Materials.

Biobased products aren't made from petroleum, and this lowers the need for fossil fuels. For example, Mrs. Meyer's dish soap is 88 percent and Everspring's dish soap is 97 percent bio-based.

06 of 07

Green Seal

Green Seal logo
Green Seal

Green Seal is a non-profit organization that awards products (and services) that have proven to meet certain standards for sustainability with a certification known as an "ecolabel." When certifying a product, the organization looks at the entire life cycle of that product, from raw material extraction to disposal.

The set of standards varies for each type of product. For example, the standards for paper products like toilet paper states that the product can't contain chlorine or colorants, must be biodegradable, and more. When you see a product with a "Green Seal" ecolabel, you know it has passed a strict set of standards.

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ECOLOGO product label seal

ECOLOGO (like Green Seal) is another third-party certification with strict standards to back up its claims. ECOLOGO Certified products have a reduced environmental impact in some or all of the following categories:

  • Materials
  • Energy
  • Manufacturing and operations
  • Health and environment
  • Product performance and use
  • Product stewardship and innovation

The standards vary for floor cleaners, disinfectants, and carpet cleaners.

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