Buyer’s Guide: Natural Cleaning Products
The labels on cleaning products can be confusing, particularly if you seeking a non-toxic, eco-friendly solution. Ahead, learn how to distinguish between, and how to choose among, the best natural cleaners available today.
Going “all natural” to protect your family is a noble goal—and one that’s not always easy to achieve. Many products claim to be “natural,” “eco-friendly,” or “non-toxic,” but the cleaning industry is largely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Manufacturers are only required to specify ingredients that are active disinfectants or potentially harmful to your health. Few companies list all their ingredients on the label, making informed buying tricky—but not impossible. Read on to learn how to choose the best natural cleaning products for your home, and don’t miss our top picks:
- BEST OVERALL: Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap
- BEST TOILET CLEANER: Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner
- BEST BATH AND KITCHEN CLEANER: CLR Bath and Kitchen Cleaner
- BEST COOKWARE CLEANER: Bon Ami Powder Cleanser
- BEST FLOOR CLEANER: Aunt Fannie’s Floor Cleaner Vinegar Wash
5 Tips for Picking Eco-Friendly Household Cleaners
Err on the side of caution by following these tips.
1. Use trustworthy research.
You can easily search the Internet with questions or concerns about natural cleaning products, but results will include both opinion and well-tested research. Base decisions on trusted sources, like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning, a database, compiled by scientists, containing more than 2,500 product reviews as well as articles and independent research.
2. Be wary of greenwashing.
Product packages may proclaim “all-natural” and “nontoxic” to signal product safety, but with no government regulation on such terms, labels could be misleading. “Some products are marketing themselves as nontoxic but they’re made with potentially toxic chemicals,” says Samara Geller, a researcher with EWG. Other red flag terms include “eco-friendly,” “environmentally friendly,” “green,” “sustainable,” “biodegradable,” recyclable,” “nontoxic,” and “cruelty-free.” Instead of relying on hype, find companies that back up their claims with specific, detailed facts, listed on their labels or websites.
3. Seek seals for security.
Choose products that have been certified by Green Seal, an independent standard-setter for green industries. Also look for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice seal, which indicates that formulas have been subjected to toxicity research and testing. If products have not been tested on animals, they typically bear the Leaping Bunny certification in the United States.
4. Shop for safer ingredients.
Cutting out chemicals isn’t as difficult when you know which naturally derived disinfectants or stain removers will do the job just as well. Follow the below cheat sheet on what to look for on labels when replacing your current cleaning products with more natural options:
- If you enjoy fragrance, shop for products naturally scented with essential oils and botanical extracts and avoid products with phthalates or butane.
- If you need antibacterial or antimicrobial power, rely on tea tree oil, hydrogen peroxide, and citric acid rather than harsh triclosan or quarternary ammonium compounds (QUATS).
- If cleaning glass, look for vinegar on the label and skip sprays that list 2- butoxyethanol (butyl cellosolve) or ammonia.
- If stain fighting, choose hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, or lemon juice rather than products with chlorine bleach or chlorinated phenols (often found in toilet bowl cleaners).
- If you need to scrub, search out cleansers with mildly abrasive minerals such as feldspar and calcite. Steer clear of troclosene sodium, dihydrate—an allergy hazard, included in products like Comet.
Our Top Picks
The best natural cleaning products should be safe and effective. So in selecting the recommendations below, we focused on those with top scores (A and B grades) from the Environmental Working Group.
1. BEST OVERALL: Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap
Made mainly from water and oils like olive, palm kernel, coconut, jojoba, and hemp seed, plus Vitamin E and citric acid to reduce pH levels and increase skin softness, Dr. Bronner’s stands out as a longtime favorite of eco-conscious consumers, and it receives an A grade from EWG. While more expensive than many liquid dish soaps, it’s highly concentrated, so a little goes a long way.
2. BEST TOILET CLEANER: Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner
The toilet is the last place to skimp on cleaning, but this gentle product can get the job done thanks to lactic acid and sugar-derived glucosides. Lactic acid is known for its descaling properties, as well as being a natural antibacterial. Glucosides are natural surfactants that make cleaners more effective by increasing the wetting and spreading power of a liquid. EWG gives this toilet bowl cleaner an A, citing low concern for toxicity, cancer, and environmental damage. While it does contain fragrance, the scents are naturally derived from essential oils and extracts.
3. BEST BATH AND KITCHEN CLEANER: CLR Bath and Kitchen Cleaner
Finally, an “industrial strength” cleaner—without phosphates, ammonia, or bleach. Instead, it boasts lactic acid, produced by fermenting sugars, to naturally descales hard water buildup, calcium deposits, lime, and dirt from kitchen and bathroom surfaces. CLR Bath and Kitchen spray also certifies as a Design for Environment cleaner, certified by the EPA. Because of its heavy-duty strength, EWG rates it a B, due to some allergy concerns around propylene glycol butyl ether.
4. BEST COOKWARE CLEANER: Bon Ami Powder Cleanser
Made of finely ground feldspar and calcite—two naturally occurring minerals—Bon Ami Powder Cleanser is excellent for cleaning pots and pans, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, tubs and showers, most countertops, and stoves. It consistently ranks highly among experts and customers alike, with an A grade from EWG. While it is a highly effective scouring agent, it’s not intended for brushed/polished stainless steel, glass/mirrors, some enamels, and lacquered or decorative surfaces.
5. BEST FLOOR CLEANER: Aunt Fannie’s Floor Cleaner Vinegar Wash
For wood, tile, and even linoleum floors, Aunt Fannie has the solution: water, vinegar, and myristyl glucoside (derived from coconut, palm kernel oil, or corn sugar). Essential oil-scented varieties, such as Eucalyptus and Fresh Mandarin, minimize the acidic vinegar odor. For safety, keep children and pets away from any essential oil-infused products because, as yet, there’s little scientific data on these oils. Still, Aunt Fannie’s receives an A grade from EWG.
Lastly, know that because each person may have unique sensitivities, you may ultimately have to test a few products to determine the best match for your home and health needs. Be sure to patch-test all products before widespread use. For sprays, clean a small, contained area, and wipe with a paper towel. For toilet and floor cleaners, liquid soap, and non-chlorine bleach, use a limited amount once or twice and monitor for any ill effects.