Greenwash of the Month: The High Price of Spring Cleaning
Believe it or not, there are many risks that can come with cleaning your home. Cancer-causing chemicals or fumes from cleaning products are released into the air, affecting indoor air quality, and accidental spills can cause serious skin rashes or burns.
Last month, CEH pushed for the enforcement of a 40-year old New York state disclosure law for cleaning products, so that consumers can truly know what chemicals are inside the products they use at home. It’s a simple, rational ask, but cleaning product manufacturers have fought for years to keep this law un-enforced. What are cleaning product manufacturers trying to hide exactly? CEH’s Ansje Miller remarked that, “If these products were truly safe, disclosing their ingredients shouldn’t be a problem.”
Still, the recent rise in demand for green cleaning in schools, hospitals offices and other commercial buildings has caused a rapid acceleration in greener cleaning formulations, technologies, and methods.
The catch? Because no enforced cleaning product ingredient disclosure law exists, many household cleaners that are hyped as “natural” or “safe” can inflict serious harm on unwary users. Some of the worst items we’ve seen lately include:
- Simple Green Concentrated All-Purpose Cleaner: The label claims this product is “non-toxic”, but it contains 2-butoxyethanol, a solvent absorbed through the skin that irritates eyes and may damage blood cells. This concentrated product is sold in a ready-to-use spray bottle despite listing instructions to dilute it, even for heavy cleaning.
- Easy-Off Oven Cleaner: The label claims to deliver “heavy-duty cleaning power for fast and easy cleaning of institutional, industrial and commercial surfaces” without fumes, and is CFC-free. Newsflash: CFCs were banned in the 1970s and therefore are not even legal to include in aerosol sprays anymore. This kind of claim is one of the most basic, obvious “sins of greenwashing—the sin of irrelevance.” Oven cleaners are some of the worst offenders of cleaning products, because they often contain harmful sodium or potassium hydroxide, which can burn skins, lungs and eyes. Easy Off is no exception—the sodium hydroxide in it poses these added health threats.
- Citra-Solv Cleaner & Degreaser: This product’s label claims to be a “safe, natural alternative” made from orange peels, but can damage the respiratory tract, eyes, and skin.
Our tips for navigating the hard-to-decipher labels and endless “green” cleaning product options at the supermarket? Avoid it all and make your own! It’s easy to mix up different kinds of effective cleaners with common ingredients you probably already have in your household! Check out our non-toxic cleaning recipes for an all-purpose cleaner, furniture polish, and more!