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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.

Food

Summer BBQ Essentials

Don't break out the grill without these non-toxic finds!

Summer isn't complete without at least one BBQ! They're the ultimate excuse to get together with friends, enjoy the nice weather, and cook delicious food (even if you're doing meat-free Monday). If you're new to the BBQ scene, then you might not realize that an outdoor get-together can require some specialized gear. Standard BBQ gear can be made from harmful materials like melamine, plastic, and PFAS, which is why we wanted to find alternative products that were safer for our health. Our summer BBQ essentials roundup has everything you need and more to throw the best party ever! And don't forget to check out our tips for a non-toxic BBQ!


Stainless Steel Popsicle Mold

Stainless Steel Grill Basket

Glass Beverage Dispenser

Cast Iron Griddle Pan

Carbon Steel Grill Frying Pan

Moscow Mule Mugs

Enamelware with seafood pattern

Grill tools

Stainless steel Citrus Press Juicer

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Roundups

Non-Toxic Personal Care Picks at Costco

The best personal care at wholesale prices!

Costco has some great hidden gems among the massive package of toilet paper and free samples. That's why we did the research and found the best non-toxic personal care items. All these items have been vetted by us and are readily available both online and in stores.

Weleda Skin food

type A deodorant

Pura D'or Organic Aloe Vera Gel

Honest Company Truly Calming Lavender Shampoo + Body Wash

eos USDA Organic Lip Balm

Pangea Organic Facial Mask- Japanese Matcha Tea, Acai, & Goji Berry

Dr. Jacobs Naturals Castile Body Wash

Roundups

9 Stainless Steel & Glass Tumblers

For iced coffee, iced tea, and smoothies on the go

Getting iced coffee in a plastic cup with a plastic straw is a lot harder to do after watching that video of a plastic straw being removed from a turtle's nose. Plus there is also that pesky condensation that creates a pool of water at the bottle of your cupholder or on your desk. So we found the 9 best reviewed stainless steel and glass tumblers, so that you can have your iced beverages in style this summer. Many of the brands have different sizes ranging from 20oz to 30oz and variety of colors. We prefer stainless steel or glass because many of the acrylic or plastic tumblers may have chemicals similar to BPA. We also link to some stainless steel straws because not all of these tumblers come with straws. And if you're like us, drinking iced coffee through a straw is just synonymous with summer.

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Life

Banish Bugs With Our Recommended Insect Repellent Ingredients

Don't be an all-you-can-eat-buffet for annoying critters again!

Summer is here! But that means so are the biting insects…. Ugh. Mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, fleas, and biting flies seem impossible to avoid when the weather heats up. They're really annoying and they can post a pretty big health risk. Mosquitoes and ticks alone can transmit some scary diseases like Zika, Lyme, malaria, encephalitis, and dengue fever. And to make matters worse, a new CDC report shows the number of mosquito and tick-borne diseases are on the rise (1). To help protect yourself against these pesky insects, we're discussing the most effective insect repellent ingredients that are EPA registered (AKA safe and effective) and CDC recommended: DEET, picardian, and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

We know what you're thinking- synthetic chemicals are recommended?! In this case, the risk of disease is a bigger environmental health threat than using these two specific synthetic chemicals. Additionally, there have also been no scientific studies that show essential oils are effective in protecting against insect bites so we can't include them in our recommendations. You can try them and maybe they'll work for you, but there's no guarantee. If you really want our one DEET alternative, non-synthetic repellent recommendation, that has a transparent list of ingredients, and is scientifically proven to keep bugs away, stay tuned!

DEET

DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is considered to be the "gold standard" of insect repellent. It's a good choice if you're outside all day in a high-insect are because it repels the most insects, including both mosquitoes and ticks, and lasts the longest amount of time (2). When applied correctly (make sure to read the label!), there are very few negative reactions from DEET. A product with a concentration of DEET between 20-30% can provide protection from insects for most of the day (3). DEET can be used while pregnant and on children older than two months and has not been found to be carcinogenic. Although some may see dermatitis or an allergic reaction from long-term exposure to high levels of DEET (2) and oral ingestion has been shown to have neurotoxic effects like seizures (4).

Picaridin

Picaridin (icardian) is another repellent ingredient that repels ticks and mosquitoes. It's been widely used in Europe and Australia for years with positive results. A product containing at least 20% picaridin has similar short-term results as DEET, although picaridin does not provide long-lasting protection as well as DEET and has to be reapplied more often (2). Picaridin has not been studied as thoroughly as DEET, but it does not seem to have any major negative health impacts. Although uncommon it can cause skin or eye irritation, so make sure to read the directions when using a product containing picaridin (5). We've become big fans of Ranger Ready Picaridin 20% Insect Repellent Mist!

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (P-menthane-3,8-diol) is a natural oil extracted from the lemon-scented eucalyptus plant (6). It can be an appealing ingredient to people because it's an alternative to synthetic chemicals like DEET or picaridin. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is great at repelling mosquitoes, flies and gnats, but not so great against ticks (2). Products containing at least 30% of oil of lemon eucalyptus have shown to be almost as effective as repelling mosquitoes as DEET, but it has to be applied much more frequently (6). While it is natural, it can irritate the eyes or skin and is not recommended for children under 3 (7). Just a quick note: lemon essential oil and eucalyptus essential oil are NOT the same thing as oil of lemon eucalyptus though, so make sure to look for that exact phrasing in any ingredient lists.

Since oil of lemon eucalyptus is EPA registered and a natural ingredient, we think it's a great synthetic-ingredient alternative! We love Murphy's Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent Spray. It uses 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus as a way to repel those annoying bugs and lists all of the ingredients (ethanol and water). It's super super hard to find a complete list of ingredients in insect repellent products, so we think this is a huge plus.

So which ingredient should I choose?

It depends! Are you in an area with a high amount of mosquitoes and ticks? Are you outdoors for the entire day or maybe just an hour? Do you want to avoid synthetic chemicals or are you okay with it? Are you traveling to a place that has a high rate of diseases like malaria or yellow fever? The EPA has a quiz you can take in order to find the best insect repellent for your needs.

We recommend to always read and completely follow the directions listed on any repellent product you use, and wash your hands after applying a repellent. Generally you want to apply repellent when you're outside while holding the product at least 6 inches away as you spray. While spraying repellent on your clothes is okay (although DEET shouldn't be sprayed on synthetic fabric), it's not a good idea to spray it under your clothes (8). Long sleeved shirts, pants, long socks, and closed toe shoes can reduce the risk of a bite because less skin is exposed.

Now that you're fully up-to-date on the best insect repellent ingredients you can go back to focusing on what really matters: barbecuing, swimming, beach trips, and all of fun activities that come with summer!


References:

1. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6717e1.htm?s_cid=mm6717e1

2. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/prevention-of-arthropod-and-insect-bites-repellents-and-other-measures

3. https://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-guide-bug-repellents/ewg-repellent-guide

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=2506420

5. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/PicaridinGen.html

6. https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/pesticides/factsheets/oillemoneucalyptus.pdf

7. https://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/prevent-mosquito-bites.html

8. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/the-pre-travel-consultation/protection-against-mosquitoes-ticks-other-arthropods

Food

Canned Coffee is Convenient, But What About BPA?

Why they should be a treat instead of part of your daily routine

Now that we're all working from home, it's easy to get bored of our everyday homemade coffee routine. Sometimes we just want something different to wake us up in the morning or even a quick pick me up in the afternoon! That's where canned coffee comes into play. It's quick, convenient, and comes in a ton of flavors. But that convenience might come at a cost; there's been concerns surrounding the use of BPA in the lining of canned products. So, does canned coffee pose a risk to health? We looked at the research to find out.

The Problem With BPA in Cans

BPA, or bisphenol A, is a synthetic chemical that acts like estrogen in our bodies and it has been known to screw with important hormones like testosterone and thyroid hormones. Some of the common health problems associated with BPA include breast cancer, reduced sperm production, obesity, reproductive issues, disruption of brain development and function, and damaging effects to the liver (1). To make matters worse, there is more and more scientific evidence that even very low doses of BPA exposure can be harmful, especially for pregnant women and babies. Low doses of BPA exposure have been tied to abnormal liver function, chronic inflammation of the prostate, cysts on the thyroid and pituitary gland, and many more serious health effects during the early stages of life (5).

Even though BPA is definitely not a chemical we want to be exposed to, it's found basically everywhere, including our food. One common place to find BPA is the internal lining of canned foods or beverages. BPA can help prevent corrosion between the metal and the food or drink inside a can, but over time (or if stored under the wrong conditions like high temperatures), it can start to leach out and get into the food or drink (2). Even cans that say BPA free can have nasty BPA alternatives that have been shown to have similar hormone disrupting effects (7).

Studies have shown that canned soft drinks, beers, and energy drinks all had small traces of BPA in them. Beer was found with the highest concentration of BPA, followed by energy drinks. Soft drinks were found to have the lowest concentration of BPA. In order to find out where BPA in these drinks was coming from, researchers compared the canned drinks to the same drinks packaged in glass bottles. They found very little to no traces of BPA in the glass bottled drinks, which means that the source of BPA in the canned drinks was definitely coming from the cans themselves (2,3,4).

Even if there are only small traces of leachable BPA, it can still be harmful if we are consuming canned products on a regular basis.

Is Canned Coffee Safe?

With the recent increase in popularity of cold brew and other canned coffee drinks, there have not been extensive studies on BPA levels in canned coffee. However, one study of canned coffee drinks in Asia, where they have been popular for longer, did find that BPA was leaching into the coffee from the can. Interestingly, they also found that the more caffeine was in the coffee, the more BPA leached from the can into the drink. Meaning the more caffeine, the more BPA! (4,6) Now before you think you can get away with only drinking decaf canned coffee, keep in mind that caffeine only increases the leaching from the can, but it can still happen without it (6).

Even though the levels of BPA found in canned coffee were relatively small, because BPA is all around us in so many common products, we should try to limit our exposure as much as we can. This means that it's probably okay to drink a canned coffee every once in a while, but best practice is to not drink them every day. But if you're in the middle of a road trip and are desperate for some energy, don't get too stressed about grabbing a canned coffee!

Canned Coffee Alternatives

If you're starting to get worried about what coffee to buy when you're out and about or when you want something more than just plain coffee, don't stress! We thought of some easy and fun alternatives for your canned coffee fix that might make you forget all about it!

  1. Swap out the canned coffee for coffee in a glass bottle or tetrapaks whenever possible.
  2. Find some fun new ways to make coffee at home like using a Chemex or a nice French press!
  3. Go get a coffee at your local coffee shop. Support small businesses if you can!
  4. If you like canned coffee because of the flavors, try making your own caramel or mocha sauce at home. It's pretty easy and it saves money! For something icy and refreshing, we are partial to muddling some fresh mint with some cold brew.


References

vom Saal, F. S., & Vandenberg, L. N. (2021). Update on the Health Effects of Bisphenol A: Overwhelming Evidence of Harm. Endocrinology, 162(bqaa171). https://doi.org/10.1210/endocr/bqaa171 (1)

Cao, X.-L., Corriveau, J., & Popovic, S. (2010). Sources of Low Concentrations of Bisphenol A in Canned Beverage Products. Journal of Food Protection, 73(8), 1548–1551. https://doi.org/10.4315/0362-028X-73.8.1548 (2)

Determination of BPA, BPB, BPF, BADGE and BFDGE in canned energy drinks by molecularly imprinted polymer cleaning up and UPLC with fluorescence detection. (2017). Food Chemistry, 220, 406–412. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2016.10.005 (3)

Kang, J.-H., & Kondo, F. (2002). Bisphenol A migration from cans containing coffee and caffeine. Food Additives and Contaminants, 19(9), 886–890. https://doi.org/10.1080/02652030210147278 (4)

Prins, G. S., Patisaul, H. B., Belcher, S. M., & Vandenberg, L. N. (2019). CLARITY-BPA academic laboratory studies identify consistent low-dose Bisphenol A effects on multiple organ systems. Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology, 125(S3), 14–31. https://doi.org/10.1111/bcpt.13125 (5)

Kang, J.-H., & Kondo, F. (2002). Bisphenol A migration from cans containing coffee and caffeine. Food Additives and Contaminants, 19(9), 886–890. https://doi.org/10.1080/02652030210147278 (6)

Pelch, K., Wignall, J. A., Goldstone, A. E., Ross, P. K., Blain, R. B., Shapiro, A. J., Holmgren, S. D., Hsieh, J.-H., Svoboda, D., Auerbach, S. S., Parham, F. M., Masten, S. A., Walker, V., Rooney, A., & Thayer, K. A. (2019). A scoping review of the health and toxicological activity of bisphenol A (BPA) structural analogues and functional alternatives. Toxicology, 424, 152235. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tox.2019.06.006 (7)

Life

Throwing a Party with Less Plastic

A healthier way to eat cake, drink beer, and celebrate

Parties are always great. You get to see friends, have a good time, and figure out how to eat delicious food off a paper plate while not spilling whatever may be in your cup. While the chips, cake, and booze may not be the healthiest, there are other things you might not be thinking about that harm our health. The biggest offender at parties usually is all the plastic. The plastic cups, the plastic utensils, the fun table cloths with Yoda's face on them are all made of plastic.

While there are many reasons to avoid plastic - it's not good for the world, it requires oil to make, it's hard to recycle if there has been food on it - one that people often don't usually think of is that single-use plastic can affect our health, both immediately and long term. The chemicals in the plastic cups, or even used to make paper cups and plates oil and water resistant, can easily seep into food and drinks. As it does that, it gets into our bodies as we consume the fun party foods and can interfere with the ways cells communicate with our bodies. This interference has been shown in various research projects to lead to things like obesity, fertility problems, temperature disregulation, and even cancers (1).

We are never going to be completely free from plastic. It's everywhere, and for certain things, it's really convenient and necessary. But, it isn't necessary as often as we normally use it. And, one way to lower the risk of health problems and send a message to companies that create unnecessary plastic waste at the same time is to buy and use fewer plastic products or products with excessive plastic packaging.With a few simple swaps, you can make the party healthier for your guests (and yourself) by limiting the amount of plastic you use:

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