People-Friendly, Planet-Friendly Cleaning

green homeUsing extra care when you choose household cleaners is good for you and good for the environment. Know exactly what you are using and follow these guidelines for safe, effective household cleaning.

Avoid Products that Contain these Chemicals:
TNonyl- and octyl-phenols are used to make alkylphenol ethoxylate (APE) detergents and are suspected hormone disrupters. In Europe, these products contain the slightly more expensive but safer alcohol ethoxylates instead.

Know Product Safety Levels
I use only cleaning products displaying an HMIS (Hazardous Materials Information System) and/or NFPA numerical rating listed on Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).

These ranking systems take into account a product’s hazards regarding health, fire, reactivity and other specific areas, on a scale of 0 to 4 with 4 being severe in each category. Displaying these values is not mandatory and entails a financial commitment for testing on the part of the chemical vendor to provide data above and beyond what is required by law.

Don’t use cleaners that carry a rating higher than a 2. As a guideline:
4 “Danger” = May be fatal with brief exposure. Specialized protective equipment required.
3 “Warning” = Corrosive or toxic. Avoid skin contact or inhalation.
2 “Warning” = May be harmful if inhaled or absorbed.
1 “Caution” = May be irritating.
0 No unusual hazard
When in doubt about the safety of a cleaning product, I contact the manufacturer and ask for the Materials Safety Data sheet (MSDS). Contact information should be on the label. Alternatively, try http:/ at the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Look for cleaners that have credible third-party certification.
One example of third party certification is the Green Seal label The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also lists environmentally preferable product information at

Don’t confuse “clean” with “fragrant”.
Fragrances are sometimes used to mask odors associated with an unsafe ingredient, so don’t be lulled into complacency by that “cinnamon potpourri” or “vanilla bean” scent. Also, some fragrances cause adverse effects in chemically sensitive people. To be on the safe side I use unscented products whenever possible.

Disinfecting isn’t always necessary and sometimes isn’t best practice.
Unnecessary use of disinfectants is similar to unnecessary use of antibiotics, leading to the spread of “superbugs.” I use disinfectants where food is prepared and on surfaces touched by people who are ill. Otherwise, I just use basic cleaning products that are adequate and better for public health in the long run.

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