Most of us know that cleaning products can be incredibly toxic — if the strong fumes and the burning sensation on skin contact didn’t tip us off, the terrifying warning labels would certainly do the job. But when it comes to shopping for safer alternatives, it’s hard to know what ingredients to avoid – and many of these products don’t include a detailed ingredients list to begin with. That’s why the US Environmental Protection Agency has created a new Safer Choice labelling program to help identify less toxic products on store shelves.
The goal of the Safer Choice label is to help customers easily find products that have been reviewed by EPA scientists and found to be safer for families and the environment. Products certified by the program can’t include ingredients that are associated with cancer or reproductive harm, and they can’t qualify if any ingredients will pollute air or waterways. The products are also required to be non-toxic to fish and other aquatic life, since so many of these chemicals eventually end up in waterways. All Safer Choice products are required to include accurate ingredient statements and meet a number of sustainability standards. For instance, Safer Choice products may use recycled packaging or be produced using renewable energy.
The Safer Choice label doesn’t guarantee that products are completely nontoxic — cleaners marked with the label should still be kept away from children and pets, and used only according to the instructions on the package. So far there are more than 2,000 products that qualify for the label, and you can easily search the Safer Choice website to find products that meet your particular cleaning needs.
With this new label, the EPA is trying to do for household safety what it’s already done for energy-efficiency with the Energy Star program. As customers increasingly began to ask retailers for appliances with the label, companies rushed to meet the demand. Major retailers like Wegman’s, Safeway, Staples, Office Depot, and Costco are already going out of their way to offer Safer Choice products, and as time goes on, it’s likely we’ll see fewer and fewer unsafe cleaners on store shelves. The agency just highlighted the best product picks in the 2016 Safer Choices partner awards, highlighting the best Formulator-Manufacturer, Chemical Innovator, Purchaser/Distributor, Retailer, and Program Supporter. If you’d like to see some of the best companies in each category, visit the EPA website for the results.