What Is Green Cleaning?

Lemons and baking soda

CherriesJD / Getty Images

The term "green cleaning" can have a lot of definitions, but the main goal of the process is to use cleaning solutions and methods that keep us and our environment healthy and free of toxins. Exposure to chemicals and toxins can potentially cause irreparable damage to our bodies, water, air, and ecosystem. Green cleaning can fall mean using a green cleaning product or cleaning your home in a way that reduces waste that goes into landfills, for example. 

Fun Fact

If you're looking for a disinfectant, try green products that contain citric acid, peroxide, and lactic acid, all of which are effective sanitizers (though citric acid is less effective than peroxide).

What Is Green Cleaning?

For some, green cleaning means that they only use substances like baking soda, ​vinegar, and lemons to clean the home surfaces. These are considered to be natural green cleaners. Some households may seek out manufactured green cleaning products that are healthy for the environment (some are green brands). Green cleaning products typically have the following characteristics:

  • No phosphates
  • No chlorine
  • No artificial fragrances
  • No artificial colors
  • Biodegradable or recyclable packaging
  • Organically grown ingredients using sustainable farming practices

Some green cleaning products may certify that their items are fair trade, meaning that the product meets certain environmental and labor standards by those who produced it. Other green cleaning products may not be free of additives or harmful chemicals—but they may donate a portion of their profits to environmental causes.

Tip

Consider that a product may be branded green, but it may have already impacted the planet or our health in unseen ways, such as when its raw materials were sourced, or when the product was manufactured, packaged, or distributed.

How "Green" Are Green Cleaners?

To tell if a product is green, read the label. Not that different labeling programs classify cleaning products. The United States Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Design for the Environment program mandates that labels are put on products that meet EPA's criteria for chemicals. These products display the Design for the Environment (DfE) label. Others that are labeled as "low VOC" or "no VOC" means they have a lower concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or none at all.

In recent years, there has been quite a bit of debate about the differences between green and traditional cleaners. There are three gray areas when it comes to comparing green and traditional cleaners:

  • Labels with vague terms such as "environmentally friendly" and "non-toxic" are not regulated and potentially misleading which means that some green products may still have unhealthy ingredients in them.
  • When it comes to effectively killing germs and stopping the spread of infection, for example, it is vital to have a product that cleans and disinfects. However, some people who turn to the EPA-registered disinfectant list, for example, may be wary of some green cleaners not on the list, and instead stick to trusted favorites such as bleach
  • Green cleaning items have also faced a backlash because they can cost more than traditional cleaning products.

The American Cleaning Institute is vocal when it comes to educating people about which chemicals are in cleaning agents―and other groups have come out stating which substances to avoid. The EPA also keeps an easily accessible database of greener cleaning products in its Safer Choice program.

Whatever choices you make about your cleaning supplies and practices, there is a huge variety of environmentally friendly choices for green cleaning. With a little research, you may be able to green up your household cleaning routine to create a healthier, safer environment.