Your Guide to Decoding Green Cleaner Labels

Yesterday, June 8th, was World Oceans Day. The oceans hold about 97% of all the earth’s water, so it’s no surprise that the health of our oceans is so strongly connected to the health of our planet and us as people. Even more than sea life and potential drinking water, the oceans actually generate most of our oxygen and regulate the climate as well. I thought it would be fitting to talk about one way that we can better protect our oceans: with our cleaners.


I know standing in front of the shelves and shelves of cleaning products can be overwhelming. There’s so many different brands and within each brand there are a multitude of different options again. Not to mention the incomprehensible jargon and potential greenwashing that some companies slap on their products to manipulate our choices as consumers. In order to clear up some of the confusion, I’m going through 10 common labels and what they actually mean. Here is your guide to decoding green cleaner labels.


Your Guide to Decoding Green Cleaner Labels

10 Common Green Cleaner Labels Decoded


1. Biobased (USDA Certified)

This is a product that has been certified to be composed in whole or in “significant part” of biological products or renewable plant, animal, and marine materials.


2. Biodegradable

This is the product’s ability to break down in the environment after entering rivers, water treatment plants, or landfills. While most ingredients do biodegrade well, others can stick around for years or decompose into hormone-disrupting chemicals. It is also important to note that no one regulates this label.


3. Cold-Water Friendly

These detergents are just as effective when used with cold water. This is a great way to save energy (and money) by not using hot water in your laundry. Treehugger reported that 90% of total energy used by a typical washing machine is used to heat the water while only 10% is required to power the motor.


4. Cruelty-Free

This signifies that the product was not tested on animals. Typically this certification is either in the form of the Leaping Bunny label or PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies seal.


5. Free and Clear

These cleaners do not have fragrances or dyes in them. Fragrances and dyes are completely unnecessary and usually synthetic. They don’t get anything cleaner, but they can set off sensitivities or allergic reactions.


6. HE

This stands for high-efficiency which requires less water than non-HE detergents. This is because they actually create less suds. Bubbles, by the way, are not necessarily indicative of cleaning power. You can read about the science of soap and bubbles here if you’re interested.


7. Organic (USDA)

Organic cleaners have been made from ingredients produced by organic agriculture. This practice allows the use of naturally occurring substances, but restricts synthetic fertilizers or genetic engineering. The cleaner must be certified to carry this label.


8. Phosphate-Free

We’re now discovering that all the excess phosphates going down the drain have devastating effects on lakes and rivers, and thus also the process of filtering our drinking water. Cleaners with this label have removed phosphates from their ingredients.


9. Nontoxic

There is no official definition or certification to use the term “nontoxic.” The message it’s sending is that the ingredients will not harm our health or environment, but there is no guarantee with the claim. Be wary.


10. Safer Choice

This label is governed by the US Environmental Protection Agency. It means that the each ingredient in the cleaner has been studied by the EPA scientists and has been found to meet their human health and environment criteria.


What green cleaner labels do you look for? Are there any others I missed in my list?

Your Guide to Decoding Green Cleaner Labels

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