When it comes to nasty ingredients, products made for scrubbing and sanitizing are some of the worst offenders, and they’re also more difficult to vet. “There are no regulations that require ingredient labeling for cleaning products, unlike food and cosmetics,” says Johanna Congleton, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and author of the organization’s Guide to Cleaning.
To make it easier for you, we washed dishes and wiped counters with all kinds of products to identify some better brands we think you should know about.
Many of them have cool founders and pretty packaging—and they all actually work (these aren’t DIY blends of baking soda and vinegar that everyone raves about but somehow never fulfill their spic-and-span promises). Very few are perfect when it comes to truly “clean” ingredient lists, but they’re all a serious step above inhaling formaldehyde (seriously!) every time you open that can of Comet. —Molly Gallagher
For the chic-and-healthy Brooklynite
Sacha Dunn co-founded Common Good, the healthy household cleaning brand, with her husband Edmond—and the duo wins the award for chicest packaging and simplest formulas. (Products include as little as three ingredients, which is unheard of in the cleaning aisle.)
“Once we started looking into [other] formulations, we realized there were hidden things we weren’t happy about like dyes and synthetic fragrances,” she explains, about her inspiration for the line. Common Good’s products are good for the planet, too, since you can refill the glass bottles at shops in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
For more information, visit www.commongoodandco.com
(Photo: Common Good)
For non-toxic newbies weaning themselves off Scrubbing Bubbles
Created in San Francisco in 2000, Method’s line is a staple at Target stores across the country and you’ll likely recognize its popular tear-shaped hand soap bottles. Its products are a great alternative to serious ingredient offenders like Scrubbing Bubbles since they look, feel, and work like more conventional brands (and they’re one of the more affordable options).
Method is known for making products that are good for the environment—all of them are independently reviewed and certified by eco-label Cradle to Cradle—which means they’re generally better for you, too.
The company maintains a detailed ingredient glossary on its website that provides definitions and explanations for 113 ingredients, and while they do list the sketchy ingredient “fragrance” (a labeling loophole where bad things can hide), a rep from the brand told us “all fragrance materials must be shown to be non-irritating, non-toxic, and non-allergenic, and must be fully biodegradable.”
For more information, visit www.methodhome.com
For the mostly-natural, convenience seeker
If you’ve ever been to a hip restaurant, taken a class at a boutique fitness studio, or shopped in a grocery store for that matter—you’ll recognize Mrs. Meyer’s products.
The company makes essentials like dish soap, toilet bowl cleaner (which I found to be really effective, without reeking of bleach), all-purpose sprays, and more, in fresh, flowery, modern scents like geranium, basil, and lemon verbena.
The formulas are pretty clean ingredient-wise and are printed clearly on the bottles (transparency, yay!). Mrs. Meyer’s does list “fragrance,” but says it’s made with a combination of essential oils and “safe synthetic fragrance materials.”
Major plus: The products really made my test kitchen (and bathroom) sparkle.
For more information, visit www.mrsmeyers.com
(Photo: Mrs. Meyer’s)
For the fragrance averse
When conventional cleaning products weren’t making Patricia Spencer’s kids’ allergies any better—and weren’t even leaving her surfaces clean—she decided it was time to start her own brand.
Grab Green’s line includes all-purpose cleaners, glass cleaners, detergents, dish soaps, and more, and they’re all on the affordable side, with full ingredient lists available on the website.
The real draw: They have a fragrance-free collection for the scent-sensitive—or for those who just like to get their pads as clean and natural as possible.
For more information, visit www.grabgreenhome.com
For the healthy mom (and the celeb influenced)
When stylish, down-to-earth super-celeb Jessica Alba became a mom, an allergic reaction to baby detergent led her down a path that would ultimately lead to The Honest Company, the line of non-toxic home, skin-care, and baby products that she co-founded with Christopher Gavigan, the former CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World.
As the name would suggest, The Honest Company is super transparent. Ingredient lists are printed on all of the bottles (good news!) and the products don’t contain any synthetic fragrances, so they leave behind a nice, barely-there scent.
The company educates, too, by providing a list (online and in shipments) of super toxic ingredients like phthalates, formaldehyde, parabens, phosphates, and chlorine—which it promises will never appear in their products and says you should avoid in other places. It also invests in research to help shed more light on how chemicals in consumer products affect your health.
For more information, visit www.honest.com
(Photo: The Honest Company)
For the eco-conscious cleaner
Seventh Generation is like the grandfather of natural cleaning brands. It was founded in 1988 and eventually grew to become a multimillion dollar company by making recycled paper towels, plant-based dish soaps, and chlorine-free bleach—all packed with biodegradable or recyclable materials and made with a minimal carbon footprint. (It probably doesn’t hurt that company recently received a $30 million investment from Al Gore.)
The takeaway: It’s affordable, makes every kind of product you’d need, and easy to find, which is rare when it comes to products that are good for both you and the environment.
For more information, visit www.seventhgeneration.com
For the indie brand supporter
When Karen Troutt’s twin toddler boys were born she hated the idea of using anything synthetic or chemical-filled around them (sensing a theme here?). So, she started crafting batches of all-natural cleaners at home made with ingredients like baking soda, castile soap, distilled white vinegar, and essential oils.
Now, she makes them for everyone, with some help from her husband, who just happens to be a biochemist. “I’m using the same ingredients that our grandmothers and their mothers used,” says Troutt. She also makes a powdered hand soap, which is a breath of fresh product design amid a sea of pump dispensers.
The indie brand initially caught our eye because of the chic packaging, which you can spot on the shelves of local stores in Indiana, Florida, and Ohio (and at Whole Foods, soon), or order online.
For more information, visit www.gaianaturalcleaners.com
For the scent obsessed
Caldrea’s luxe, colorful bottles will look great next to your S.W. Basics Toner, but the brand’s attention to aroma is its biggest defining factor. Think laundry detergent and linen spray in Crimson Pear Ginger or a countertop spray in Plum Bergamot Clove.
The company eschews big offender ingredients like phthalates and ammonia but doesn’t disclose its full ingredient list when it comes to fragrance. Though it says it uses “a combination of natural essential oils from flowers and herbs with safe ingredients sourced at the level of personal care” and “some safe synthetics.”
For more information, visit www.caldrea.com
Keep reading for advice on how to choose a “cleaner” cleaning product.
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