How to Identify Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products

Reusable spray bottle

What makes something eco-friendly? People and companies throw the label around a lot these days. That’s because it sells. With signs of climate change and pollution everywhere, even reluctant consumers are beginning to face facts — we have to try harder to protect our planet.

This makes ‘eco-friendly’ a highly marketable term. Unfortunately, it’s also unregulated. There are no laws dictating what can and cannot be labeled eco-friendly. Some unscrupulous companies take advantage of this. Despite having the slimmest possible claim to it, they’ll slap on the eco-friendly label in an attempt to ‘greenwash’ what they’re selling.

So, what can you do?

You’re a savvy shopper. But researching eco-friendly cleaning products can still get overwhelming. To make it easier to assess just how good (or bad) a given cleaning product may be for the planet, let’s break things down point by point.

The top three concerns to keep in mind

Simply put, there are three broad categories to think about when assessing if a product is really eco-friendly. Namely:

  • What is its carbon footprint?
  • What is its packaging made of?
  • What are the ingredients?

Simplifying carbon footprint

Search for carbon footprint on Google. You’ll find a long list of calculators, charts and tools designed to measure carbon emissions by grams or tons. But when you’re just trying to make a smart, planet-safe choice, you don’t need to worry so much about the specific numbers.

Instead, you can think more in relative terms. When looking for an eco-friendly cleaning product, ask these questions:

1. How big is it?

Bigger products have higher carbon footprints. This is because the more space an object takes up, the less efficiently it can be packed and shipped. Each object also requires a bigger fraction of the vehicle’s fuel to transport.

Today, the most common cleaning products are pre-diluted liquid solutions shipped in plastic sprayer bottles. These are relatively large and bulky. Alternatively, there are dehydrated cleaning tablets you add to water at home. Based on size alone, the tiny tablets win out as far more eco-friendly.

2. How heavy is the product?

Heavier products also have higher carbon footprints. This is because the higher the cargo weight, the more fuel it takes to transport it.

Pre-diluted cleaner solutions are over 90% water. Water is a very heavy substance by volume. Concentrate, powdered and dehydrated tablet-based products weigh much less overall, making them more eco-friendly.

3. How far has the product traveled?

Finally, the longer the shipping distance, the higher the carbon footprint. While the type of transport also matters a lot — rail transport is much less polluting than semi-truck, for example — it can be almost impossible to know what mode of transport was used. As a regular consumer, simple distance is a much easier metric to figure out.

So, say you live in Chicago. You have a choice between two similar products. One was made in Minneapolis, and the other was made in Melbourne, Australia. The Minneapolis product is the more eco-friendly option, since it traveled just a few hundred miles to reach you instead of nearly 10,000!

The packaging problem

When you’re looking for eco-friendly packaging, think beyond the present. The past and the future of the materials used are just as important.

Biodegradable vs. non-biodegradable

Biodegradable substances break down naturally. Non-biodegradable ones can’t. Usually, biodegradable packaging is more eco-friendly. This is because it won’t end up living forever in a landfill (or the ocean).

Biodegradable packaging includes:

  • Paper
  • Cardboard
  • Plant-based fabrics

Non-biodegradable packaging includes:

  • Plastic
  • Polystyrene foam

Recycle and reuse

Even if a packaging material isn’t biodegradable, it can still have eco-friendly properties.

Recycled plastic helps by delaying the entry of plastic waste into landfills. However, since just 9% of plastics overall get recycled every year in spite of recycling efforts, recycled plastic packaging only goes so far.

The shortfalls of recycling make reusable items a particularly attractive option. Look for cleaning products that allow you to repeatedly reuse the same sprayer bottle with just-add-water refills. Such products can help minimize the need for recycled plastics in the first place.

Always check the ingredients

Some cleaner ingredient names look like gibberish. Others are frustratingly vague. Rather than struggling to decipher every ingredient on the label, prioritize watching for red flags.

Be cautious of buzzwords

Terms like ‘natural’ and ‘green’ aren’t inherently bad. But remember that they don’t necessarily mean anything. Arsenic, cyanide, carbon monoxide and many other dangerous substances can all be accurately described as ‘natural and biodegradable,’ after all.

A quick search of the top active ingredients will help reveal the true nature of the product you’re considering. Truly eco-friendly cleaning products shouldn’t break down into harmful components. They also shouldn’t release anything into the air that contributes to ozone depletion or greenhouse gases.

When in doubt, the EPA can help

The top resource for checking concerning chemicals is the EPA. They have lots of information on dangerous substances, such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and ozone depleting compounds. Their resources are also based on hard facts and rigorous research. This is in contrast to less reputable sources, which may rely more on unverified anecdotes or fear mongering.

The good news? Many of the known worst offenders for cleaning product ingredients have already been banned or phased out. What’s more, the EPA is always reviewing research and making safety recommendations based on new data.

What makes Nature Lake tablets eco-friendly?

Nature Lake makes its claim of having more eco-friendly cleaning products on the grounds that:

  • Its tablets generate 200 times fewer carbon emissions during the shipping process.
  • It doesn’t require the constant repurchasing and discarding of plastic sprayer bottles.
  • It places no undue burden on any single aquifer or water supply, as the consumer adds water themselves at home.

To see the entire line of Nature Lake cleaning tablets, check out our products page. And stay tuned for new products! We’re always working toward expanding our eco-friendly cleaning options!

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