Nearly half of us would pay more for safer cleaning products

New EPA label can help consumers find them

Published: July 31, 2015 06:00 AM
The EPA's new Safer Choice label is now on products nationwide.

If you're like many Americans, you're willing to pay more for cleaning products that are safer for your health and the environment. That's according to a recent Consumer Reports' survey of 1,000 adults nationwide, which found that 44 percent said they would do so and another 46 percent answered "maybe."

But trying to decipher labels to find safer cleaning products has been a challenge—until now. A new "Safer Choice" seal from the Environmental Protection Agency can help you with this task. It can now be found on all sorts of bottles, from bath and kitchen cleaners to pet stain removers to laundry detergent in stores such as Costco, Home Depot, Staples, Target, and Walmart.  

And in many cases, the safer cleaning products aren't more expensive. A price comparison of cleaners bearing the new Safer Choice label from manufacturers such as Bissell, BoulderClean, Earth Friendly, CLR, Holloway House, OdoBan, and PrideClean showed that they often cost about the same as cleaners without the seal, and were sometimes even less expensive.

To earn the Safer Choice label, products are screened by EPA scientists for potential health and environmental risks, and are considered free of substances that can be harmful to your health and the environment. They cannot contain ingredients such as triclosan, for example, which is found in some antibacterial dish detergents. Consumer Reports' experts have evaluated the label and think it's useful.

Find the EPA's list of Safer Choice products, and for more on labels, check out Consumer Reports' Greener Choices.

—Sue Byrne

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What's on the bottle and what it means

Very little cleaning-product labeling is regulated, says Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., director of Consumer Reports' Consumer Safety and Sustainability Group. An exception is sanitizing and disinfecting claims for non-hand soaps, for which a company must submit safety and efficacy data to the Environmental Protection Agency. We take apart some common terms:

Nontoxic. You’d think that a product with that claim wouldn’t cause adverse health effects. But there’s no standard definition.

Plant-based. The contents may have come from something natural, but they could have been processed into something chemical.

Fragrance-free. It doesn’t mean fewer ingredients, says Pat Slaven, Consumer Reports’ lead tester of cleaning products. Many manufacturers add a neutralizing odor to mask the less-than-pleasant scent of certain active chemicals.

Organic. Only the USDA Organic seal ensures that 95 percent of the contents are organic. Without that seal, it can be tough to know which ingredients meet the standards.

Gluten-free. So long as they’re not washing down dinner with laundry detergent, even people with celiac disease can safely use most cleaners.

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