1. Look for cleaners that have credible third-party certification. An example includes the Green Seal label. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also provides environmentally preferable product information.
2. Find out if your state or region has a green procurement program. Visit http://www.newdream.org/work/rpn.php for a list of approved products.
3. Don’t automatically disinfect when you clean. While disinfecting may be necessary on kitchen surfaces for preparing food or on the telephone if someone is sick, it is best to limit the use of disinfecting products because overusing antimicrobial products may lead to the spread of ‘super bugs’. While the disinfecting wipes kill some bacteria, a study was shown they did not get them all and could transfer the so-called superbugs to other surfaces of your home.
4. Don’t confuse fragrances with cleaning products. Some people are chemically sensitive to these kinds of ingredients. Fragrances can also be used to mask odors that may be associated with an unsafe ingredient. Use unscented products wherever possible.
5. Be wary of salespeople who tell you that their product is safe when used as directed.
This may mean that the cleaner could be considered dangerous when stored or handled as a concentrate. Products need to remain safe under all kinds of conditions for everyone coming into contact with them, including pets and children.
6. Avoid using cleaners that contain these chemicals: TNonyl- and octyl-phenols are used to make alkylphenol ethoxylate (APE) detergents and are suspect hormone disrupters. In Europe, these products contain the slightly more expensive, but safer, alcohol ethoxylates instead.
7. Look for labels that divulge ALL of the cleaner’s chemicals. While companies participating in valid green labeling initiatives report all of their ingredients, many smaller firms selling safe products do not have funds for certification. Reading labels thoroughly can reward these companies, too, with your business.
8. Contact the manufacturer of the cleaner(s) you are currently using and ask for the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS): Their contact information should be somewhere on the label. To date, workers have a right to this information. Alternatively, try http://hpd.nlm.nih.gov/index.htm by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
9. Use only cleaners containing an HMIS (Hazardous Materials Information System) and/or NFPA numerical rating listed on Material Safety Data Sheets. These ranking systems take into account a product’s health, fire, reactivity and specific hazards, from a score of 0 to 4 being severe in each category. Displaying these values is not mandatory and constitutes a financial commitment for testing on the part of a chemical vendor to provide more data than just what is absolutely required by law. For bathroom, general purpose, glass and carpet cleaners, avoid any product with a score higher than 2 in any of the above categories.
10. Stay away from cleaners that carry ‘Danger’ or ‘Warning’ statements. Remember, as a guideline:
4 : Danger : May be fatal on short exposure. Specialized protective equipment required.
3 : Warning : Corrosive or toxic. Avoid skin contact or inhalation.
2 : Warning : May be harmful if inhaled or absorded.
1 : Caution : May be irritating
0 : No unusual hazard.