Environmentally friendly household cleaning products are now almost as easy to find, effective and economical as conventional cleaners. “The world is waking up. People are understanding that you can have safer, effective products, and everybody wins,” says Scot Chase, vice-president of the environmental marketing firm TerraChoice, who has followed green purchasing trends for years. Although there are no sales statistics for Canada, Jean-François Bernier, CEO of the new Montreal-based company Bio Spectra, says sales of the company’s Attitude brand are almost doubling every four to six months.
Most “green” cleaners spurn ingredients that may cause reproductive harm or lead to chronic health problems such as asthma—a disease that disproportionately affects professional cleaners and has been linked to certain chemicals in conventional cleaning products. Furthermore, green cleaners offer natural ingredients instead of synthetic ones (although natural doesn’t necessarily mean safe) and more concentrated formulas. They may also be free of petroleum distillates and phosphates, which can harm aquatic ecosystems, and packaged in recycled or recyclable materials.
“There is ample scientific evidence of potentially harmful compounds in many household cleaning products and that it’s prudent to limit our exposure,” says Susan Kennedy, a professor in the school of environmental health at the University of British Columbia who studies occupational risk factors for lung disease. But there are big gaps in our knowledge; researchers don’t know what the long-term and cumulative effects of certain cleaning agents may be.
The industry is largely unregulated—manufacturers can make vague claims about products, such as “all-natural,” and aren’t required to disclose ingredients. One way to ensure you’re buying green is to select products with the stamp of a third party, such as EcoLogo (started by Environment Canada and run by TerraChoice). EcoLogo uses independent auditors to verify what’s in a product and certifies only those that meet its rigid environmental criteria. The Attitude brand by Bio Spectra has a stamp, and there are several others, including GreenLine, developed for Wal-Mart Canada, and Nature Clean, one of the granddaddies in the industry. Clorox Green Works is awaiting third-party certification.
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