It’s a big green world out there and finding environmentally safe cleaning products can be a daunting task.

There’s no standard definition for what constitutes an "environmentally safe" product.

Compounding the matter, there are lots of companies making claims that seem dubious and cannot be verified.

But, if you follow a few guidelines in choosing cleaning products, you can successfully avoid many of the troubling health and environmental side effects that used to be much more prevalent in the industry.

Here is a list of attributes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended at one time to the General Services Administration in helping guide the latter agency’s green cleaner purchases:

  • Irritation potential—The potential for adverse skin reactions from dermal exposure to the product.
  • Chronic health risks—The likely chronic health risks from dermal and inhalation exposure to the product.
  • Time to ultimate biodegradation—Toxic chemicals usually degrade to less toxic forms. The faster a chemical degrades, the lower the exposure potential.
  • Bioconcentration factor (BCF)—The higher the BCF value, the more likely the ingredient is to accumulate in the food chain.
  • Percentage of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—VOCs are known to contribute to indoor air pollution and smog formation.
  • Amount of product packaging—Products with reduced packaging (sold as concentrates) decrease the volume of waste that must be disposed of.
  • Presence of ozone depleters—Ozone depleting components should be minimized.
  • Potential exposure to the concentrated cleaning solution—The product dispensing method should include safety precautions designed to minimize exposure to the concentrated solution.
  • Flammability—Non-flammable products are preferable.
  • Presence of cosmetic additives (fragrances and dyes)—Cosmetic additives can be considered unnecessary additives that increase overall life-cycle impacts and that could increase health and safety and ecological concerns. However, cosmetic additives may be required to help custodians distinguish among cleaning products and determine proper dilution strengths.
  • Energy needs—Products that work effectively in cold water reduce energy consumption.
Buying environmentally safe cleaning products offers several benefits. The most immediate benefit is the reduced exposure of building occupants  to harmful chemicals and toxins. In addition, these products reduce the water and air pollution that typically accompanies the harmful varieties of cleaners.

Oftentimes, the best option is to make your own natural cleaner.

But, if you are not inclined to make your own green cleaner, there are brands and certifications you can look for in the stores.

There are several all-natural and safe cleaners on supermarket shelves. Brands such as Simple Green, Method, Shaklee and Seventh Generation are a few options.

Whichever brand you decide to purchase, make sure you seek out plant-based ingredient formulas and stay away from solvents, phosphates and other harsh chemicals.

In the alternative, look for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Design for the Environment label. This mark indicates that the product meets the EPA's standards for ingredients that are deemed safest in terms of environmental and human health.

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