We’ve long been fed this idea that cleaning our homes has to be an almost dangerous endeavor, that toxic chemicals are necessary to kill all the nasties that could be lurking around. But that’s simply not true, and toxic cleaners aren’t just bad for bacteria, they’re harmful to us and the environment, too.
Luckily, there is an increasing number of eco-friendly, non-toxic cleaners that get the job done just as well. But if you’re new to the world of eco-friendly cleaners, it can be hard to know where to start. In this guide, we’ll talk about the main factors to consider when choosing the best cleaner for you. At the end, we’ve also got a list of our 10 favorites to help you begin your search.
How to Choose an Eco-Friendly All-Purpose Cleaner
Since all-purpose cleaners could literally touch every surface of your home, it’s important to consider both the makeup of the cleaner as well as your own situation.
Labeling: Make Sure It’s Transparent About Ingredients and Cleanable Surfaces
One of the worst things about cleaning products is that they are not required to disclose ingredients, so we really have no way of knowing what’s in them. If a cleaner has ingredients on the bottle, you already know that it’s head and shoulders above the rest.
For the Most Natural Cleaners, Look for Familiar Ingredients
Surprise, surprise! You don’t actually need dangerous chemicals to clean things effectively. In fact, some of the best cleaners include ingredients that you might be able to buy yourself. Some ingredients that you might find are baking soda, vinegar, essential oils, and good old-fashioned soap.
Just be aware that vinegar and some essential oils may be unsuitable for certain surfaces, so always check to see the usage instructions before you get to cleaning your whole house. This is especially important for those looking to clean easily damageable surfaces like leather and unfinished wood.
Avoid Harsh Chemicals and Artificial Fragrances and Dyes
It’s hard to say “avoid chemicals” since even the cleanest, greenest cleaners will likely have a few chemical-y or scientific-sounding ingredients on their label, and it’s impossible to decipher every single one. Some commonly known chemicals to avoid include ammonia and bleach.
Luckily, by checking to see if the cleaner even has an ingredients list, you’re likely cutting out the worst chemicals for you (because guess what, the ones that are full of harmful chemicals don’t want you to know exactly what’s in them).
But there are still a couple of seemingly benign things to avoid including artificial fragrances and dyes. Artificial fragrances are full of phthalates, which are known hormone disruptors, as well as volatile organic compounds that can cause headaches and respiratory distress. Dyes, on the other hand, are simply added chemicals without added benefits.
Be Wary of Greenwashing: Look for Reputable Stamps and Certifications
Greenwashing is when a product claims to be more healthful than it really is in order to look more appealing. This happens all the time in food products, but did you know that it can also happen in cleaning products?
Official Seals Guarantee the Product Has Been Rigorously Tested
It’s kind of trendy to be eco-friendly right now–that may even be the reason you’re here. In response to that, a lot of products now claim to be “natural,” “green,” or “organic.” But unlike food items, there’s no regulatory system to define what these terms mean for cleaning products.
A lot of times, these “green” versions of chemical-laden products are simply the same formulation minus one or two ingredients. So in order to really figure out what’s good and what’s not, you’re going to have to look past the appealing organic-looking labels, no matter how enticing they may be.
An easy way to cut past the greenwashing is to look for reputable stamps and certifications. Some examples of stamps to look for are Green Seal, EcoLogo label, or EPA Safer Choice Label. All of these involve high standards and rigorous testing.
Environmental Working Group Ratings: A Simple Guide to Toxicity and Transparency
The Environmental Working Group is an environmental advocacy group that conducts research and oversight on agriculture, toxins, and corporate accountability. To get a quick, simple overview of how green a product is, look towards the EWG’s A-F rating system available on their website.
The EWG considers a number of factors when coming up with a product’s grade including ingredients, transparency, and government toxicity datasets.
While it isn’t perfect—not all products are rated, products can be penalized for listing general ingredients instead of specific ones, and these ratings are based on calculations rather than testing—it’s a decent measure of how “green” you can expect a product’s ingredients to be.
Don’t Choose Antibacterial Unless You’re Immunocompromised
Many scientists think that the next big health crisis is going to be antibacterial-resistant bacteria due to our overuse of antibiotics and antibacterial cleaners. We’ve been tricked into thinking that bacteria equals dirty and dangerous, when in fact the majority of bacteria have no effect on us or are even helpful.
So on top of creating antibacterial-resistant strains of the bad bugs, using too many antibacterial products actually disrupts the good bacteria too. Unless someone in your household has a compromised immune system and requires a squeaky clean environment, you can put the antibacterials away and stop freaking out about germs.
Top 10 Best Eco-Friendly All-Purpose Cleaners to Buy Online
Now that you know what to look for in an eco-friendly all-purpose cleaner, here’s a list of our 10 favorites for you to consider.
10. CleanSmart Daily Surface Cleaner (2 Pack)
Non-Toxic Disinfectant for Families with Children or Pets
This disinfecting cleaner is the definition of non-toxic and is great for households with young children and pets. It’s made only from hypochlorous acid and water, which breaks down into a saline solution and is safe for eating surfaces without rinsing.
However, this cleaner is best used as a surface cleaner and won’t cut through grease very well. Some reviewers also note issues with the spray nozzle, so you might need to transfer it into another container.
|Cleans||Any non-porous surface|
9. Puracy Natural All Purpose Cleaner (2 Pack)
Effective Everday Cleaner
This cleaner contains only plant-based, biodegradable ingredients and can cut through most messes including grease, oil, adhesives, and spills. It is naturally scented and is light enough for even those with sensory sensitivities.
While this spray is great on everyday messes, it isn’t quite strong enough to handle really caked on grime. Additionally, some reviewers report streaking when not using a microfiber cloth, so if you’re against microfiber, be prepared for possible residue.
8. Greenerways Organic All-Purpose Cleaner
Organic, Essential Oil-Based Disinfectant
Although it is entirely inedible, this cleaner includes only organic ingredients, so you know it’s all natural. It is antibacterial but uses only essential oils to do so, so expect a lingering botanical scent.
However, while it disinfects and wipes down surfaces well, it isn’t a very strong cleanser, so it may not work on more grimy spots. Additionally, at just 16 ounces per bottle, it may be too small to justify the price for some.
|Certifications||EcoCert, USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project|
7. Method All Purpose Cleaner, Ginger Yuzu (8 Pack)
Effective, Non-Toxic Cleaner in Bulk
For those who like to buy in bulk, this 8-pack of non-toxic, wallet-friendly cleaner could be for you. This cleaner is made from corn- and coconut-based surfactants, has not been tested on animals, and comes in a bottle made from recycled plastic.
It is highly effective even on tougher messes, doesn’t leave streaks, and has a pleasant scent. However, a few reviewers note that the delivery packaging may cause some bottles to arrive damaged.
|Cleans||Counters, tile, stone, wood, glass|
6. Better Life Natural All-Purpose Cleaner, Clary Sage & Citrus (2 Pack)
Super Tough, Truly All-Purpose Cleaner
This cleaner is plant-based, non-toxic, and tough on even difficult messes like soap scum, hard water stains, and cooked-on food splatters. Plus, it’s safe for use on fabrics and can be used as a pre-spotter. It also comes unscented, if you prefer.
The reason for the C rating from the EWG is that one of the ingredients may be bad for marine life, but if you’re using it on surfaces within your home, that shouldn’t be an issue.
5. Biokleen All Purpose Cleaner, Super Concentrated
Concentrated Cleaner Makes Up to 32 Gallons
If you don’t mind an extra step, this concentrated cleaner can be used for everything from daily countertop wiping to heavy-duty bathroom cleaning just by mixing it at different concentrations. For everyday use, this bottle will make up to 32 gallons.
It is fully non-toxic, made in the USA, and produced in a facility that does not share any lines with hazardous materials. The company is also certified Ozone safe and runs on clean energy offsets.
4. Aunt Fannie’s All Purpose Cleaning Vinegar
Vinegar-Based Cleaner to Protect Your Microbiome
This cleaner is made with only food-based ingredients and promises not to disrupt the delicate microbiome in your home with any unnecessary antibacterials. It’s great for light to medium cleaning and is safe for children and pets.
However, this vinegar-based cleaner should not be used on stone countertops and floors as well as some wood surfaces. Also note that it does have a mild vinegar scent until it dries.
|Cleans||Most surfaces except stone and some woods|
3. Earth Friendly Products ECOS All-Purpose Cleaner, Parsley Plus
A Green Cleaner that Smells Green
This cleaner is great for use during the winter if you like your home to smell like spring. This cleaner uses the power of parsley to clean and deodorize, leaving everything smelling simply fresh.
It cleans counters, floors, and cabinets with ease and even leaves mirrors and windows streak-free. It is made from plant-based ingredients, is not tested on animals, and is pH balanced.
|Certifications||EPA BfE, USDA Biopreferred|
2. Pure Cold Pressed Orange Oil Concentrate
2 Ingredients Do Just About Everything
This cleaner can be used for almost anything. This concentrated cleaner has just two ingredients–orange oil and a coconut-based surfactant–and works against all types of grime, on fabric, and even acts as a weed killer and ant repellant.
However, the orange oil can be irritating to the skin when undiluted and is quite flammable. But as long as you’re careful about storage, this could very well be your Holy Grail cleaner.
1. Frosch Natural Baking Soda Multi-Surface All Purpose Cleaner Spray
Super Sustainable, Powerful Cleaner
This baking soda-based cleaner is gentle but can cut through even tough grease without being abrasive. It is particularly good for use in the kitchen and bathroom and leaves a distinctly “clean” smell.
On top of that, it’s cruelty-free, fully biodegradable, sustainability-certified, and comes in a bottle made completely from recycled materials.
|Cleans||Most surfaces except unsealed wood, waxed or oiled surfaces|
Are Eco-Friendly Cleaners Effective?
There’s this pervasive idea that although eco-friendly cleaners are better for us and the environment, they aren’t very great at cleaning.
While it may be true that some traditional cleaning products are super effective because they’re toxic (the chemicals in oven cleaners, for example, melt fat and protein AKA the stuff that humans are made of!), that doesn’t mean that eco-friendly options aren’t effective.
Many are just as effective as their toxic counterparts right off the bat. Those that are not may require more setting time or an extra layer of product, but they work in the end. And ultimately, isn’t it worth a little extra effort for a cleaner that isn’t going to harm you?
There you have it–a quick (not dirty) guide to finding the best eco-friendly cleaner for you. By switching out your cleaning supplies, you’re not only doing good for the Earth, but also for the health of you and your family. And considering all-purpose cleaners are used for so many things, that could be huge.
By Jacqueline Oshiro
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