Here's What "Green" Cleaning Product Labels Really Mean
Plus, the seals and certifications to look for when shopping for cleaning supplies.
When you're standing in the cleaning supplies aisle at the grocery store, it can be tough to make a quick decision between "eco-friendly" cleansers and "green" cleaning sprays. What do all of the supposedly earth-friendly terms and certifications really stand for? We dug into the verbiage, seals, and certifications, so you won't have to wonder the next time you're in the aisle debating between five different types of disinfecting wipes.
Cleaning products labeled "green" claim to be safer for your heath, as well as the health of 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? Depending upon if you're looking for products that are better for you or the environment (or both!), find a related third party seal or certification, below, that indicates the product adheres to a certain set of standards. Then, keep an eye out for it when shopping.
"Non-toxic" claims that the product or ingredient has not been linked to any adverse health effects, either in the short of long term. However, like the buzzwords above, it is not regulated, so any product can use this terminology.
This label means that the company vows to not 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 also 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 a rigorous set of standards. Search its database to find more brands.
The use of the term "organic" can be particularly confusing—while the word "organic" on 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 it can also be applied to household cleaners. So if you really want to make sure your multi-purpose cleaning spray is organic, check for the USDA seal rather than the word.
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 on the USDA seal on the product, it tells you what percent of the product is biobased, according to results from the USDA and American Society for Testing and Materials. For example, taking a look at some products in my cleaning cabinet, I noticed a Mrs. Meyer's dish soap that's 88 percent and an Everspring dish soap that's 97 percent biobased. The idea behind promoting biobased products is that they reduce our reliance on petroleum-based products, in turn lowering our need for fossil fuels.
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.
Since many of the terms and buzzwords don't actually have set standards to back them up, ECOLOGO (like Green Seal) is another third-party certification you can look out for. 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, and product stewardship and innovation." The specific standards vary for floor cleaners, disinfectants, carpet cleaners, and more.