Get Greener, Safer Products with EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning

Many of us make some of our own cleaning products as a way to do the least harm to people, animals, and the earth, while helping ourselves. When we need to turn to a store-bought product, we usually look for something "green." But as the Environmental Working Group's new 2012 Guide to Healthy Cleaning shows, green doesn't necessarily mean as healthy or eco-friendly as we might think.

EWG's guide offers a searchable database, which rates more than 2,000 products on their level of safety. As their website says:
"U.S. law allows manufacturers of cleaning products to use almost any ingredient they wish, including known carcinogens and substances that can harm fetal and infant development. And the government doesn’t review the safety of products before they’re sold. To fill those gaps, EWG’s staff scientists compared the ingredients listed on cleaning product labels, websites and worker safety documents with the information available in the top government, industry and academic toxicity databases and the scientific literature on health and environmental problems tied to cleaning products. They used that information to create EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, which provides you with easy-to-navigate safety ratings for a wide range of cleaners and ingredients."

To help them in rating the products, EWG focused on these criteria:

1. Does the product contain hazardous substances?
2. Do we know about all the ingredients?
3. Do other factors (such as a green rating or violation of regulations) come into play?
4. How does this product rate overall?

Because many companies don't disclose their ingredients, some products that might actually be greener and healthier may have received lower ratings. Additionally, although the guide does give a nod to animal testing, their research in that area doesn't appear to be very thorough, and doesn't seem to influence ratings much. (One example: I saw one brand rated a B from a company that conducts animal testing.)

When I first heard about the guide, I decided to search for my laundry detergent, only out of curiosity. I was confident that my detergent, which comes from a company that clearly states its concern for the health of people and the planet, would rate high. I was surprised to discover it received a D rating, (mainly due to weak ingredient disclosure practices). It was a good reminder that as committed citizens we need to make such choices with clearer eyes and more research, and not just rely on what companies tells us.

Find out how your favorite cleaning products rate.

~ Marsha

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