The Truth About What’s In Your Cleaning Products

The Safest Cleaning Products Shopping List

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You buy cleaning products labeled as “green” or “all natural” because you feel confident that these products are safer for you and the environment. You also closely read the ingredients trying to avoid the nastier stuff.

Unfortunately, neither approach works. Why? Because claims of “green” or “all natural” are simply unregulated marketing terms and because the ingredients are not required to be fully disclosed on the label.

It doesn’t seem right, does it?

Here are the facts that will help explain the truth behind what’s in your cleaning products:

    • The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates laundry and cleaning products, air fresheners, and soap.
    • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates personal care products excluding soap.
    • The CPSC and FDA regulations are different. In this article, the focus is on laundry and cleaning products, so the CPSC regulations are relevant.
    • Regulations allow manufacturers a great deal of leeway on the ingredient list; they can list all, none or some of the ingredients.It’s a troubling thought that the ingredients listed are incomplete, isn’t it?
    • For fragrance formulations, if the manufacturer chooses to disclose fragrance as an ingredient, the general term “fragrance” can be used rather than listing the specific chemicals.
    • You may think that purchasing unscented products means a safer product. Unfortunately, many unscented products have fragrances to make the product smell unscented. Fragrances can be any one of 3000+ ingredients – many synthetic, petroleum-based and toxic.Kinda frustrating, right? You go to the trouble of finding an unscented product, but it might still have a scent?
    • Even the material safety data sheets (MSDS) do NOT need to list all product ingredients or list fragrance chemicals.
    • If the manufacturer deems the ingredient to be non-hazardous, then the ingredient does NOT need to be reported on an MSDS.
    • Some of the ingredients may be listed in general terms like “cleaning agents” or “softeners”, so you have no way of knowing what’s in it.Admit it. You’d like better disclosure, so you know what you’re using, right?

So the truth is, for the most part you simply don’t know what’s in your cleaning products. So what should you do?

Your Options for Safe Cleaning Products

If you truly want the safest, non-toxic cleaning products, you should make them yourself. Vinegar, salt, baking soda, lemon and tea tree oil in the right formulas can work amazingly well.

If you are recoiling at the notion of creating your own, you have other options.

Get The Safest Cleaning Product Shopping List. You’ll love it.

Pure Living Space compiled the safest cleaning products including all purpose, dishwashing, laundry, bathroom and kitchen cleaners. Simply print and take it with you shopping for the easiest way to find the right products.

Whole Foods has created an Eco-Scale rating system that requires all cleaning product ingredients be disclosed except proprietary fragrance and enzymes. This helps but still falls short of full disclosure. The Green and Yellow ratings mean that the product has no ingredients with “moderate” environmental or safety concerns. The ratings are supported by third party testing which is a good thing.

All products from Green Mission™ and GreenShield Organics have Green ratings while Earth Friendly Products, Ecover, Seventh Generation and Whole Foods Market Brand have a combination of Orange, Yellow and Green ratings so look for the Green and Yellow rated products. Clearly, if you can make your own, it’s better for you but these are good alternatives.

Perhaps starting with one home-created cleaning product would be a good way to ease into it. You could start by using vinegar and water (equal parts) to clean shower mildew or counter tops (except marble).

Then, move on to a great tile and grout cleaner. The ingredients are below. Tape the ingredients to the bottle so when it’s time to replenish, you don’t have to look up the recipe again.

  • 7 cups water
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • Apply and let sit for 5-10 minutes before scrubbing a bit

The Safest Cleaning Product Shopping List

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What to Do When Experts Disagree About Product Safety

What To Do When Experts Disagree About Wood Laminate Product Safety

You may have heard about or watched the 60 Minutes feature on formaldehyde and laminate wood flooring. Global Community Monitor filed a lawsuit against Lumber Liquidators saying it had conducted more than 50 tests on flooring products, and the results showed average initial formaldehyde exposures to be more than 100 times the amount allowed by CA Prop 65.

It’s a staggering number, and it probably caught your attention, didn’t it?

On the surface, it seems straightforward–the tests show the flooring is unsafe. However, here’s where it gets a bit tricky.

The experts disagree.

The Debate About Testing Methods

The tests that were the basis of the lawsuit used a “deconstructing test method” rather than industry standard test methods. Some experts alleged that the deconstructing method alters the way the product would be used in the home, and as a result, leads to unreliable test results.

Recently, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launched an investigation into Lumber Liquidators’ wood laminate flooring, and the CPSC intends to use industry standards to test the flooring rather than the deconstructing test method. It will be several months before the investigation is complete, but some experts believe that the CPSC will prove that the floors are safe.

So, when the experts disagree, what should you do?

You should use the preventative principle.

Take action to protect yourself and your family so there’s less chance of suffering from high levels of formaldehyde in your home.

Buy the safest products, learn the facts about formaldehyde, and follow steps to reduce formaldehyde in your home.

How to Protect Yourself When Buying Wood Laminate Floors – Buy the Safest Products
When buying wood laminate flooring, you can be sure you’re getting the safest flooring by following the EPA recommendations. Buy products that are labeled or stamped in compliance with:

  • California Air Resources Board Air Toxics Control Measure (CARB ATCM)
  • American National Standards Institute (ANSI):
    • Particleboard should conform to A208.1-2009 or CARB ATCM
    • MDF should conform to A208.2-2009 or CARB ATCM
    • Hardwood Plywood should conform to ANSI/HPVA HP-1-2009 or CARB ATCM

Is Formaldehyde Really That Toxic? Learn the Facts About Formaldehyde
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry provides convincing information that formaldehyde is dangerous to your health.

  • At room temperature, formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas that has a distinct, pungent smell.
  • Formaldehyde is quickly broken down in the air, usually within hours.
  • Emissions generally decrease as product ages.
  • Formaldehyde dissolves easily but does not last a long time in water.
  • Formaldehyde does not build up in humans.
  • The primary way you can be exposed to formaldehyde is by breathing air containing it.
  • Indoor air contains higher levels of formaldehyde than outdoor air. Levels of formaldehyde measured in indoor air range from 0.02-4 ppm. Formaldehyde levels in outdoor air range from 0.0002 to 0.006 ppm in rural and suburban areas and 0.001 to 0.02 ppm in urban areas.
  • Health effects: Nasal and eye irritation, neurological effects, and increased risk of asthma and/or allergy have been observed in humans breathing 0.1 to 0.5 ppm. Eczema and changes in lung function have been observed at 0.6 to 1.9 ppm.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen based on human and animal inhalation studies.
  • Children’s health effects: A small number of studies have looked at the health effects of formaldehyde in children. It is very likely that breathing formaldehyde will result in nose and eye irritation. It is not know if the irritation would occur at lower concentrations in children than in adults. There is some evidence of asthma or asthma-like symptoms for children exposed to formaldehyde in homes.

Want to learn more? Read the CPSC formaldehyde update. 

How to Reduce Formaldehyde in Your Home
Check out these ideas for reducing the formaldehyde levels in your home.

1. Open the windows to increase ventilation.

2. Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers to reduce heat and humidity.

The EPA states that the rate at which formaldehyde is released is accelerated by heat and may also depend somewhat on the humidity level.

3. Fill your room with plants that absorb formaldehyde. It’s scientifically proven that plants can absorb VOCs like formaldehyde.

See which plants work best to absorb formaldehyde.

4. Purchase a high quality air cleaner that is specially designed to remove formaldehyde from your air.

You’ll need a unit with a true HEPA filter and Carbon filter specially treated to remove VOCs like formaldehyde. All air purifiers are not created equal, so if you’re targeting the removal of formaldehyde be sure to check out Austin Air HealthMate Plus. It will solve your problem.

How Do I Test My Floors or Air for Formaldehyde?
Testing is neither easy nor cheap.

The EPA says it “has not tested or verified the accuracy of home test kits for formaldehyde”. However, the EPA does offer a list of California laboratories that currently participate in CA’s third-party certification program.

Please note that these laboratories are set up to work with manufacturers and not consumers. Click here for the list of California laboratories.

When Experts Disagree Use the Preventative Principle
If you’re in the market for laminated wood flooring, follow the EPA guidelines and look for products that are CARB ATCM or ANSI compliant. The state of California is typically on the leading edge in consumer safety and the ANSI compliance stamp is a meaningful certification, so search for products and manufacturers that are compliant.

If you’ve recently purchased laminated wood flooring, follow the four steps listed above to reduce the amount of formaldehyde in your air and you’ll breathe easier.



  • – Questions and Answers regarding laminate flooring
  • – Protect Against Exposure on formaldehyde
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