When the Environmental Working Group emailed me to say they had updated the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, I grabbed some of the cleaners from under my kitchen sink to see how they stacked up.

EWG puts the guide out because the words “natural” and “green” on a label don’t necessarily mean less toxic. There is no federal law requiring most cleaning product manufacturers to disclose their ingredients on the packaging, so it’s hard for people to know if the “green” or “eco-friendly” cleaning products they’re using are actually better for their health and for the environment.

The guide scores more than 2,000 home cleaning products based on the toxicity of ingredients and whether the maker has fully disclosed the contents. It also has information about the various green certifications that are on the labels of products and any known animal testing that is done with the products.

So how did my cleaning products rate? They’re all over the place. The Bon Ami powder cleanser that I use all the time scored a solid “A.” It’s also certified as “Cruelty Free” meaning that it’s not tested on animals. However, if I decided based on that “A” that I should purchase other products by Bon Ami, I’d be mistaken. All of their other products received “D’s” and “F’s” from EWG.

Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Cleaner received a “D” because it “may contain ingredients with potential for chronic aquatic toxicity; acute aquatic toxicity; skin irritation/allergies/damage.” Eek. Aquatic toxicity, by the way, is the end result of the ingredients in the product making their way into our water systems after we rinse them down the drain or flush them down the toilet.

Clorox Green Works Glass & Surface Cleaner earned a “C.” The fragrance in it is a concern, as is the lemon oil that can be associated with “acute aquatic toxicity, respiratory effects, skin irritation/allergies/damage, cancer, general systemic/organ effects.” (Lemon oil sounds so benign, doesn’t it?)

The guide offers solutions; when the product you’ve searched for scores low, the guide gives you better options, which can be helpful if you're looking for a replacement.

You can also search room by room. The kitchen section of EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning rates 83 specific products, and only two of them score an “A.” The Bon Ami that I use all over my kitchen, however, isn’t considered a kitchen product by the guide.

The EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning is worth a good look. You may decide that you can live with some of the reasons why a product you love scores low, but you also may realize that you’re paying a lot more for a “green” product that doesn’t work any better than it’s conventional counterpart.

Or, you could make your own housecleaning products and know exactly what ingredients are in your spray bottle.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Environmental Working Group's updated cleaning guide
EWG grades the products many of us use to clean our kitchens and houses. How do your 'green' cleaning products rate?