Knowledge is power. Be a heavyweight.
Welcome, spring! It’s time to celebrate the return of green things growing, flowers blooming, birds chirping, and baby bunnies frolicking. Oh, and of course, spring cleaning!
Lots of us use the start of this season as a chance to shake off the winter dust and give our homes a good, thorough deep clean. But, cleaning products often come packed with unknowns, and the labels aren't the most helpful if you don't know what to look for.
Here's how to make sure you know what you're getting in your cleaning supplies, especially if you aim to make your home more Earth-friendly:
1. Be mindful of anything with these three signal words: caution, danger, and warning.
The Environmental Protection Agency uses these three words to let consumers know about the potential health impacts of using a product. "Danger" denotes the highest risk, "warning" an intermediate risk, and "caution" the lowest. If the cleaning product label is using one of these words, there should also be a symbol or a description of what kind of health risk the product poses. This can range from eye or skin irritation, a risk of poison if consumed, or a note that the product is flammable or combustible and should be used in a well-ventilated area. For example — the product in the photograph above — a supercharged stain remover — warrants a danger icon as a skin corrosive.
2. Find and follow an expert whose advice you trust.
One of my favorites is Lindsay Coulter, the Queen of Green, as she's known to her 25,000 followers on Facebook, who started sharing tips on how to live more gently on the Earth about a decade ago. Her goal is to help people go from thinking "I'm just one person, what can I do?" to "I'm one person, look what I CAN do!”
3. Look for one of these seals of approval.
As you might already know, cleaning products aren't regulated with the same level of government oversight as drugs, food, or cosmetics. Eco-labels help companies differentiate their products as safer, greener alternatives to the rest of the stuff on drugstore shelves. The three most popular eco-labels in the USA are the Ecologo, Green Seal, and the EPA's Safer Choice label. There's also a special EPA Design for the Environment (DfE) designation for disinfectant products that also meet the Safer Choice regulations. All of these labels mean that a product has been tried and tested by a third-party organization and has met all of their requirements for safer and sustainable ingredients.
4. Check the number in the triangle.
The world's oceans and landfills have enough plastic already, so if you can, it's great to look for products packaged in recyclable or biodegradable plastic containers. Biodegradability designations show what kind of plastic a product is made of and whether it can be recycled. The abbreviations you want to watch for? PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) and HDPE (high density polyethylene), along with the numbers 2, 4, and 5.
5. Keep an eye out for vague words like "parfum" or "fragrance."
The words "fragrance" or "parfum" can mean any number of ingredients — synthetic, organic, or both — that make up a specific smell. Some people with chemical sensitivities get terrible headaches from certain scents (for me, it's synthetic musk). If you're one of those people, one option is to look for products that are up-front about what makes them smell so good.
Your quest for cleaning-product knowledge doesn't have to end there.
In the U.S., cleaning-product companies are not required by law to include ingredient lists on their packaging, but some companies do it anyway. If you're interested in knowing what's in your cleaning products, you can look for products that disclose them. Or you can check if there's contact information for the cleaning company. You might have more questions; they'll have answers.
Here's to a stress-free spring clean!