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Label Education: Cleaning

Natural, organic, safer choice, we break it all down for you

When it comes to household cleaning, we are big fans of creative ways to use baking soda, vinegar, and liquid soap. But, we get it, sometimes you might need to buy a cleaning product (because it's just more convenient, or serves a more specific purpose). With so many confusing all natural and green claims, how can you be sure that what you're buying is really better for your health or the environment? Quick answer: check out our healthy cleaning products roundups like for all purpose cleaners or bathroom cleaners, or look for products with the certifications below! More products than ever, including from common brands like Seventh Generation, Method, and even Green Works from Clorox, are certified and are easy to find.

If you want to learn more about common claims and terms you'll see on cleaning products (like biodegradable or plant-based) and what they mean, we've decoded them for you too. A quick tip is to always look to see if the bolded signal words Caution, Warning, Danger, or Poison are on the label. Opt for Caution, or even better, no scary words at all, for products that are least likely to cause irritation or harm during use.


Good luck, and no matter what products you use, always be sure to follow the label directions, open windows, wear gloves, and store cleaners safely away from curious babies and kids. And, check our 6 tips for cleaning your whole home. Happy cleaning!


Product Certifications

a) EPA Safer Choice

What is it? EPA program to help consumers, businesses, and purchasers find cleaning products that perform and are safer for human health and the environment. Additional certification for fragrance-free products. Read about the standard. Find products meeting the standard. Check out their FAQs

Environmental health: Every ingredient must meet safety criteria for both human health and the environment, including its links to cancer, problems with fertility and proper fetal development, danger to fish and other aquatic animals, and its ability to stick around in the environment. There are also criteria related to how well the product performs and the packaging material.

What key concerns are addressed?

  • Health impacts of ingredients
  • Environmental impacts of ingredients*
  • Product effectiveness
  • Sustainable product packaging
  • Ingredient disclosure

b) Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard

What is it? Product standard which provides designers and manufacturers with sustainability and social criteria across five quality categories, awarded at five levels. Also has requirements for continually improving what products are made of and how they are made. Search the product database. Learn about the five levels (Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum).

Environmental health: The five quality criteria are: material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness. For material health, chemicals that accumulate in the environment or can lead to irreversible negative health effects are banned. View the list of banned chemicals.

What key concerns are addressed?

  • Health impacts of ingredients
  • Environmental impacts of ingredients*
  • Water use
  • Energy and climate footprint
  • Sustainable product packaging
  • Waste reduction
  • Social considerations

Note: the specifics vary depending on the level of certification

c) Whole Foods Market Eco-Scale

What is it? Rating system for cleaners sold at Whole Foods Market. Four ratings: red, orange, yellow, green, with red-rated products not allowed. Whole Foods Market in-store brand cleaners are marked with the appropriate label. All cleaners sold meet the criteria for orange, yellow, or green ratings. View the criteria for the orange, yellow, and green ratings. See their list of 40+ unacceptable chemical ingredients.

Environmental health: Criteria address environmental impact, health and safety concerns, efficacy, sourcing (petroleum- or plant-derived), disclosure of ingredients, and animal testing.

What key concerns are addressed?

  • Health impacts of ingredients
  • Environmental impacts of ingredients*
  • Product effectiveness
  • Ingredient disclosure
  • Animal testing
  • Plant-derived/bio-based ingredients

Note: the specifics vary depending on the color of the rating

d) Green Good Housekeeping Seal

What is it? Environmental certification for cleaners and other products that have already earned the general (black) Good Housekeeping Seal, which evaluates effectiveness and product claims. "The Green Good Housekeeping Seal is an emblem that signifies to consumers that a product is making important strides towards being environmentally sound." Read about the criteria and restricted chemicals.

Environmental health: Criteria address water use, energy efficiency, ingredient and product safety, waste and packaging reduction, corporate social responsibility, and animal testing. Products are evaluated using a scale: a product does not need to score highly in each criteria category to receive the label, but products containing certain toxic ingredients are ineligible.

What key concerns are addressed?

  • Health impacts of ingredients
  • Environmental impacts of ingredients*
  • Water use
  • Energy and climate footprint
  • Sustainable product packaging
  • Waste reduction
  • Social considerations
  • Animal testing

e) SCS Certified Biodegradable

What is it? Verifies that products are readily biodegradable.

Environmental health: Helps to preserve water quality: products degrade safely and efficiently within 28 days, and the chemicals do not build up in the environment to harmful concentrations before they break down.

What key concerns are addressed?

  • Environmental impacts of ingredients*

f) USDA Certified Biobased Product

What is it? Verifies the presence and percentage of bio-based (or plant-based) contents in products or packaging, third-party tested at independent laboratories.

Environmental health: Doesn't directly address environmental health, but is helpful when navigating "plant-sourced," "natural," or "petroleum-free" product claims.

What key concerns are addressed?

  • Plant-derived/bio-based ingredients

g) USDA Certified Organic

What is it? USDA seal verifies that agricultural contents of products are grown and processed per organic standards. "Certified organic" means at least 95% of the ingredients are organic. "Made with organic" means 70-94% of ingredients are organic. Only "certified organic" products can bear the seal. Due to the agricultural content, organic cleaners are also biobased.

Environmental health: Cleaning products with the seal contain at least 95% certified organic agricultural products. For non-agricultural ingredients, only those on USDA Organic's National List are allowed. Organic ingredients used include organic plant oils, extracts, and derivatives (including fragrances), organic vinegar, and organic ethanol. While these may be relatively benign, organic certification doesn't evaluate the overall safety and effectiveness of products, so we recommend looking for more comprehensive certifications like EPA Safer Choice or Cradle 2 Cradle (Silver, Gold, or Platinum).

What key concerns are addressed?

  • Plant-derived/bio-based ingredients

Finally, if you're ever looking to buy institutional cleaners for use in a school, workplace, or business, look for these labels too: GreenSeal and ECOLOGO. They certify a handful of household products too: if you see them, they are good choices too.


Product Claims

*Defined here as impacts from water pollution or from chemicals building up in the environment.

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