Gallery: GREEN HOME 101 – Guide to Green Cleaning


What does it take to lead a good, green lifestyle? With more and more ‘green’ products hitting the market, the conscientious consumer now faces a veritable morass of choices; small important everyday choices that can make a big difference in the long run. This fall, Inhabitat launches a special 8-part series will explore various aspects of the “green lifestyle” – what it means, what to look for, and where to look for more in-depth expert insight. We’ll start close to home with something as seemingly mundane as house cleaning.

By this point, everyone knows about the dangers of indoor pollution. According to the US EPA, levels from pollutants indoors can be two to more than 100 times higher than outdoors, and the number one culprit for indoor pollution are our very own cleaning products. Some of the top-selling daily products are the most dirty and toxic: Lysol Antibacterial Spray, which ads encourage parents to spray wherever children play, contains denatured ethanol (which can cause central nervous system depression) and alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, a known pesticide.

Most glass cleaners contain glycol ethers that have been shown to cause reproductive effects if exposed to high enough levels. Pledge contains silicones, butane gas, and propane. All, while good at cutting through gunk, are bonified VOCs. Most air fresheners contain formaldehyde (which is highly toxic and is a known carcinogen) and phenol (a delightful chemical that can cause cold sweats, convulsions, circulatory collapse, coma, and even death). Even the most skeptical of consumers would prefer not to expose their children or pets to such harmful chemicals.


As Consumer Report’s and Greener Choices’ Eco-Label’s website reports, claims such as “non-toxic,” “eco-safe,” and “environmentally-friendly” are practically meaningless without a standard in place. Inhabitat readers are already pretty savvy consumers, but if you need a bit of extra help sussing out the best green cleaning products, use their nifty green report card function to research eco-labels. Otherwise, cut through the marketing by looking for a few obvious things. Look for specific ingredients that perform effectively in lieu of VOCs, rather than buying into the labels and witty names. For example, look for products that have grain alcohol instead of toxic butyl cellosolve. Use borax instead of bleach. Also, look for products that are “petroleum free” and avoid products that include phosphates (such as dishwasher soaps). You’ll also want to avoid any furniture polishes or PVC products that include phtalates.

A safe general rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce it, don’t use it. If you can’t tell what the active ingredient in a cleaning product is, then you might want to reconsider slathering it all over the house. Don’t fall prey to the anti-bacterial craze. The FDA has found that antibacterial soaps and hand cleansers do not work better than regular soap and water and should actually be avoided. Unless you live in a hospital or a clean room, there is no reason to eradicate all the germs from your home. Beyond these general guidelines, if you have a burning green cleaning question we urge you to consult Grist’s Green Guide for Cleaning which offers deep insight into the toxic world of cleaning products and their sustainable alternatives.


There are countless studies and field tests out there to help you in your quest to find the perfect cleaning products. Depending on where you sit on the clean to green spectrum, here are a few of our top picks:

Seventh Generation
Even though a recent study by the Organic Consumers Association found detectable levels of 1,4-dioxane (a petroleum-derived contaminant considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) in their dishwashing detergent, by and large Seventh Generation’s products are safe and sustainable. They get points for offering such a wide variety of products (including a bleach substitute) and being available everywhere from Target to your local corner market.

Mrs. Meyers
If the natural scent of freshly cut flowers isn’t quite enough to convince you of a clean house and you crave a bit of fragrance, Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Home offers a great variety of chlorine- and phosphate-free products with natural aromas such as basil, lavender, lemon verbena, geranium, and baby blossom.

Simple Baking Soda
Humble and under-appreciated sodium bicarbonate is a great, cheap cleaning product to have on hand at all times. Use it to lift stains on carpet, add grit and scrubbing might to a home-mixed cleaning product, whiten up a load of laundry, and exorcise your fridge of funny smells. Just don’t mistake it for baking powder to avoid cake disaster!


For those of you with kids, health considerations, or delicate sensibilities, you could consider mixing your own cleaning products from household ingredients. Eco-Me specializes in 100% natural do-it-yourself kits that are good for you and the environment too. Eco-Me now offers 5 eco-tool kits for home cleaning, body and baby care as well as dog and cat pet care kits. Each kit is comprised of product containers with the “recipes” included on them, as well as the Eco-Me essential oils necessary to mix them (with the addition of common household ingredients such as water, baking soda, etc.). It’s a bit more labor intensive, but the products genuinely work and at least you know exactly what’s in it.

“Bosch is committed to preserving the environment through innovative approaches to the products we manufacture, as well as the partnerships we form with key leaders in sustainable construction and design. Sustainability, responsibility and continuous improvement are the tenets of our company and are shared by our partners across the United States.

Bosch practices low-impact manufacturing processes while designing the most efficient machines on the market. In fact, we introduced a global integrated management system for environmental issues that makes certain we maintain our high standards for environmental responsibility wherever our operations take us.

Bosch regards innovation as something more than exceptional product quality, functionality and design. Not only our technical developments, but also our commitment to society has an effect on the world of tomorrow.”

+ Bosch Green Thinking Resource Center


Lacking the skills or the patience to be a designer herself, Haily Zaki is a PR maven, freelance writer and secret agent in Los Angeles who contents herself by promoting, writing about, and surrounding herself with great design. Besides running Secret Agent PR and working with some of the best architecture and design brands in LA, Haily is a contributing writer for The Architect’s Newspaper, the Epoch Times, and any other publication that likes her stories. She’s also an organizer of de LaB (design east of La Brea) – part design lab, part social experiment for creative professionals who work, live or play on the Eastside of Los Angeles. She was first turned onto the idea of sustainable living when she worked with the Mapuche people in Southern Chile and hopes one day to move to the end of the earth to live in a green prefab pod writing torrid romance novels. For now, she focuses her energy on communicating through the media, training herself to be a good, green consumer, and not killing her tomato plants.


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  1. ashraf abbasi September 10, 2014 at 8:03 am

    I am an Iranian and I would like to buy one of your green cleaning products.
    please tell me how I do it.


  2. Abigael Wilkinson April 7, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Very informative,thanks!!!!!!!!!!!I use mrs meyers and seventh generation daily!

  3. Debbi Hewison January 24, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Really informative!!!

  4. Shayna Deck January 24, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I have been using Mrs. Meyers for about a year now and I love it! I think that we should always be conscious of not only the way we clean but also how we are cleaning. Or better yet keeping something clean before we have to use toxic chemicals to clean. One thing ive noticed is that Eco friendly cleaners are more expensive than the rest. If you go online you can find all the mrs. meyers products, seventh gen and shaklee products for cheap.
    I went searching and found it on a relatively new Eco store called Check it out it’s worth a shot and surprisingly had kits for cleaning with things like the twist sponge.. (which i also love!)

  5. radawson November 29, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    It’s true that common household cleaning products contain ingredients that are hazardous to the health. Even the sweet-smelling air fresheners have toxic chemicals. Studies and researches have proven the dangers of these cleaners. Moreover, these products are not only dangerous to humans; but they are also harmful to the environment. Laundry detergents, for instance, contain phosphates that contribute to ocean pollution. Residents should be aware of this and they should switch to natural cleaning products instead. Cleaning Service should not be an option either, because they also use chemical-based cleaning agents.

  6. Replenish Cleaner's Sma... October 19, 2010 at 1:08 pm

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  7. ZoeLifestyleMom June 20, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    One thing you need to be looking for when evaluating products and whether they are truly green is the DfE seal of approval, Designed for the Environment, which means that the products has undergone the scrutiny of the EPA and has passed tests that prove that the product is truly non-toxic, green, and safe for the environment. As part of a company that is leading the way in this cutting edge need, I am proud to say that our sister company was the first in the industry to receive such accreditation. And we have a complete line of products for indoors and out with more coming. We recognize that the the threat of toxins in our home and environment are the blame for the majority of the illnesses and disease that are rising with each generation. Please realize that not all products that claim to be green are indeed truly green.

  8. greenefficient August 4, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    We have found that green cleaning products add only a minimal amount of the health benefit to homes. Specifically, the processes in which the cleaning takes place offer an equivalent benefit. These processes include things like deeper cleaning of restrooms and door knobs.

  9. ClothUser February 3, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Great article. Another great alternative to cleaning products is the “Ultimate Cloth”. It lets you clean all the solid surfaces in your house without chemical cleaners. You just use water. A lot of places have it online, so you all should read about it. The cheapest place to get it I have found is

  10. Sound Earth December 19, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    It is alarming the advertising ploys companies use to scare people into using their product – you mention Lysol. I love the comment: if you can’t pronounce it, don’t use it. This is definitely true. However, many products don’t list the ingredients on their labels. Look for companies that disclose their product ingredients and their business practices.

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  12. Ellen October 21, 2008 at 11:10 am

    This is a good starter list but I’d like to add that everything goes better with Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. I’ve found that a shot of that in an old windex spray bottle filled with half water and half vinegar is really wonderful for lifting grease, etc., off most surfaces. And if you need heavy-duty stain removal, makes good green cleaners and so does (for stickier messier stuff).

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  14. NaturallyEarth September 27, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    Great information. I’ve been researching making my own products for less, but like to know who to buy when I’m lazy.

  15. ruthieritch September 27, 2008 at 9:32 am

    This is a really helpful overview. I had never realized, until I read the book Green Goes With Everything how my cleaning choices were affecting not only the environment, but also my own health. The Body Burden quiz they offer on their site was a real eyeopener for me.

  16. megfuzzle September 26, 2008 at 4:46 pm


    Shaklee is INCREDIBLY environmentally friendly – it\’s what NASA and the biodome use… for more information

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