The best way to choose cleaning products that don’t knock you out with toxic fumes every time you wipe down the counter? Let us choose them for you.
But for times when you’re not able to arm yourself with our list of “better brands,” or don’t recognize the ones you see on the shelf, we spoke to Johanna Congleton, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and author of the organization’s Guide to Cleaning, to get some tips on how to choose the least harmful option.
1. Look for an ingredient list. “There are no regulations that require ingredient labeling for cleaning products, unlike food and cosmetics,” says Congleton. So if a company chooses to list them, it’s usually a good sign (if not a definitive one). Transparency tends to mean a brand’s got less to hide. And if you don’t see ingredients on the bottle, check the brand’s website, since many disclose more ingredient intel there.
2. Avoid these ingredients. Congleton says asthmagens (chemicals that cause asthma and can irritate the respiratory system) are super common. A few to look out for are quaternary ammonium compounds, such as benzalkonium chloride and ADBAC, chlorine bleach, ethanolamines (can be listed as MEA, DEA, TEA), and ammonia solutions. Triclosan, found in many antibacterial soaps, is another big one to skip, since it “may cause endocrine disruption, is highly toxic to aquatic environments, and can lead to bacterial resistance to antimicrobials,” she says. Some of the worst cleaners contain highly toxic methoxydiglycol (in Mop & Glo) and butoxydiglycol (in Scrubbing Bubbles).
3. Avoid these products. As part of EWG’s healthier cleaning guide, the organization identified some of the worst offenders when it comes to loading up on toxic chemicals, like Spic and Span and Febreze Air Effects. At the very least, you can stay away from these.
And don’t worry, skimping on chemicals doesn’t mean your house will become a bacteria breeding ground.”There’s research that shows soap and water can be just as effective as things that contain disinfectant,” Congleton says. “I don’t think that cleaning with a milder products, or even in some cases soap and water, is less effective than using something toxic.” —Molly Gallagher
For more information on better-for-you household cleansers, check out Safer scrubbing: 8 better-for-you cleaning brands