Under the Sink, Part II: EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning

I’ve just gathered all our household cleaners and looked them up on EWG’s 2012 Guide to Healthy Cleaning. Before I reveal what I found, a bit of background on the guide.

EWG reviewed more than 2,000 products and gave them grades of A though F, using algorithms to account for hazardous ingredients, possible contaminants, toxic reaction products, and disclosure of ingredients. Grades dropped for acidic or caustic ingredients, violations of bans or limits, and the release of volatile chemicals. Grades improved for products certified as “green” by an EWG-reviewed and approved program.

“A” means extensive ingredient disclosure and low toxicity to health and the environment. “F” means highly toxic or little ingredient disclosure. “C” means no overt hazards and some disclosure.

Along the way, EWG discovered:

• Only 7% adequately disclose their contents.
• 53% contain ingredients know to harm the lungs.
• About 22% contain chemicals reported to cause asthma.
• Formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, is used as a preservative.
• Chloroform, a suspected human carcinogen, sometimes escapes in fumes released by chlorine bleach products.
• Some “green” brands, like Earth Friendly Products and BabyGanics, do not adequately disclose their ingredients.
• “Natural” doesn’t mean “non-toxic.”

Here’s how my cleaning products score (drumroll, please):

BabyGanics Dish Dazzler Dishwasher Detergent, Fragrance Free: F
BabyGanics Dish Dazzler Foaming Dish and Bottle Soap, Fragrance Free: D
Bon Ami Powder Cleanser: A
Arm & Hammer Baking Soda: A
Arm & Hammer Washing Soda: A
Distilled white vinegar: A
Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Hemp Pure Castile Soap (Baby Mild): A
Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder: D
BioKleen Bac-Out Stain & Odor Eliminator with Live Enzyme Cultures: D

Argh! I’ve always had faith in my trifecta of vinegar, baking soda, and Dr. Bronner, but I also thought my laundry and dish detergents would score better. They definitely fell for lack of disclosure, so it’s possible that they’re fine choices, but there’s no need to take the risk when other options exist.

Lucky for us, EWG points us toward “A” choices. I’m headed to the store to replace my poor performers.

Be sure to dig into the guide when you have a few minutes — there’s a lot of interesting information beyond the grading of products. Also, please consider a $5 donation to EWG to help it continue this fine work. You’ll get a pocket copy of the guide as a thank you.

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