Green cleaning products are in. From kitchen sprays and bathroom scrubs to dishwashing detergents and liquid soaps, manufacturers all seem to be going au naturel.
These products cost more, but with their trendy graphics and emerald labels comes the comforting reassurance that we're "going green:" staying healthy and protecting the environment at the same time.
But are we? A host of multi-syllable, unpronounceable chemicals tend to lurk inside many of these earth-friendly-looking bottles, if they are listed at all, since federal law doesn't require manufacturers to do so on cleaning products. And on the rare occasion that they do, it's hard for most people to know what these names mean, much less whether they're safe.
So what does "going green" actually mean, when it comes to cleaning products?
Jeff Bishop, technical advisor to the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), the nonprofit organization that regulates industry standards and certifies cleaning, inspection and restoration companies, tells WebMD that the most accurate term is "cleaning green," not "green cleaning."
"If you clean things to a sanitary state or higher, you're creating a more habitable environment," he says. "If I use a product that is perfectly safe but it doesn't get rid of germs and bacteria and people get sick, what good does it do? The ideal is to marry the two together, but the important thing is to make sure you're cleaning."
Allen Rathey agrees. Rathey is president of the Healthy House Institute, a consumer resource dedicated to providing information about healthier homes, and founder of the HousekeepingChannel.com.
"Green cleaning is a term that is, in some ways, somewhat redundant," he says. "If you are removing contaminants from the environment, which is what cleaning is all about, you really are producing a healthier, greener environment."
The problem, Rathey is quick to add, is that much of the cleaning we do isn't cleaning, it's polluting, which is the whole reason the green movement began. "It's basically an interim term [that we are using] until we grow up and learn that cleaning is not polluting," he says.
Green Cleaning: The Basics
What, then, is green cleaning (or cleaning green)?
"It's a combination of products, equipment, and procedures," Bishop says. That means in addition to using products that are safe and environmentally friendly, we must also use non-polluting equipment and procedures.
When vacuuming, for example, he says that a good quality vacuum (which typically costs $250 to $300) together with a good filter will go a long way toward purifying the air and eliminating dust, soil, and residue.
Rathey says that steamed vapor cleaners are also an excellent investment. The best ones are expensive ($500 to $1,500), but they use one of the most effective cleaning products of all, hot water, and work on everything from dirty floors to greasy ovens. He also likes microfiber cloths and mops, which can remove high levels of soil and oil.
As for green cleaning procedures, Bishops emphasizes the importance of prevention. Following these steps, he says, will help keep dust, soil, and contaminants to a minimum and decrease the need for cleaning products:
- Use entry mats outside your home and always wipe shoes before entering. This will remove 83% of the abrasive soil that is tracked inside.
- Remove your shoes at the front door.
- Vacuum at least twice a week.
- Use a high-quality HVAC filter (not fiberglass) and change every month.
- Have your carpets professionally cleaned at least once a year by a qualified specialist.
- Get water leaks fixed immediately, to avoid mold.