Earth Friendly Cleaning Products Claims

Many 'earth friendly cleaning products' are appearing on our store shelves in response to consumer pressure on chemical companies. Who regulates and defines their claims to being 'biodegradable', 'non-toxic', or 'natural'? What do these terms even mean? The answers might surprise you.

I was so excited to see earth friendly cleaning products in my local grocery store! That excitement died down quite a bit as I read labels and did a little digging though. Many of the the wonderfully-sounding promises are un or poorly defined under the law. As well, earth friendly does not necessarily mean human-health friendly. Here's what I discovered that you need to know too...

INGREDIENTS LISTS

Except for ingredients classified as 'pesticides' (that's disinfectants in cleaning products) and toxins, listing of product ingredients is optional due to trade secret protection laws. Therefore ingredients lists can be non-existent, generic or incomplete. You may be able to get more information from MSDS safety sheets, but even there participation is strictly optional for household strength cleaners.

BIODEGRADABLE or DEGRADABLE

This is a poorly regulated term. It does indicate that the product (or the packaging) will break down relatively shortly in nature, but it does not guarantee how long that will take, or how much negative environmental impact there might be in the process. Check the ingredients to be sure.

READILY BIODEGRADABLE

This is very specifically defined to mean that the ingredient or product biodegraded by 60% in 28 days in a laboratory test.

CERTIFIED ORGANIC

This is a term that appears to point to earth friendly cleaning products, but in fact it is unregulated for household cleaners. To be certified organic, a product has to be certified by a third party, not the manufacturer. Just seeing claims of organic certification on a household cleaner is an indication that you need to do your homework and check the ingredients carefully.

DfE CERTIFIED

The US Environmental Protection Agency has a program called "Design for Environment". This certification indicates that the ingredients in a product are the safest known to be available for that particular application. The level of objective human and environmental safety will vary depending on the product type.

ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY

There are currently no standards for this term. There are also few recognized independent organizations providing reliable certification. Be cautious when you see this claim on products claiming to be earth friendly cleaning products.

FRAGRANCE FREE, FREE AND CLEAR, PERFUME FREE, or UNSCENTED

These terms mean that there is little or no identifiable odor to the particular product. However, they may still contain 'masking agents' - perfumes that hide any unpleasant odor from the product ingredients, but do not add a specific 'smell'.

GENERALLY RECOGNIZED AS SAFE

This designation can be given either by the manufacturers themselves, or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Therefore there is no guarantee that the claim has been reviewed by a neutral third-party agency.

INERT INGREDIENT

This term is most commonly found on the ingredients list of disinfectants and sanitizers or combo products. Labeling laws state that it is the disinfectant in a product that is the 'active' ingredient, and everything else in 'inert'. Inert ingredients could be toxic, safe, or anything in between.

NATURAL or NATURALLY DERIVED

This term is common among earth friendly cleaning products claims, but is not regulated. It indicates that at least one of the ingredients in the product is of natural origin, but not necessary all or even most of them. As with all the other unregulated labels, buyer beware and check the ingredients.

NON TOXIC

Believe it or not, this is also a non-regulated term. Watch out for any signal words to give you the true picture, check the ingredients, and look for products that disclose their ingredients.

VEGAN or VEGAN CERTIFIED

Vegan claims and certification are marketing tools and are not certified by a third party. Stick with reputable providers, or check the company website to be sure that there are no hidden unwanted ingredients.

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