Many people who care about non-toxic & sustainable cleaning are unknowingly buying toxic “green” products, like I did so many times. I put together this comprehensive guide to non-toxic and sustainable cleaning to make it easy for everyone to make safer choices for their homes and our planet. I’ve included the best non-toxic products in each category as well as green products to avoid.

The same principles we apply to what we eat and what we put on our skin should also guide how we clean our homes because the chemicals found in common household cleaners have just as big of an impact on human health and the environment.

The recommendations  here are based on my own experience as well as the amazing resources available at the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning and some excellent reviews from across the internet. Many heartfelt thanks to those who contribute to the growing knowledge base on sustainable and non-toxic living.

Contents

 

DIY vs Buying

I love DIY, but experience has shown me that DIY is better on paper than in practice.

Problems with DIY Cleaning

  • I personally don’t like my home smelling like vinegar.
  • I don’t want to zest a lemon and a grapefruit and make a paste with baking soda and cream of tartar every time I want to wipe down the counters. I always end up making more of a mess before I get to cleaning.
  • I don’t want to devote this much time to thinking about what I’m cleaning with….there’s already enough to think about in life.

Luckily I don’t have to deal with any of these issues because there’s a happy middle between conventional and DIY.

There are non-toxic alternatives made by green companies that I’m really happy to support. I love supporting businesses that manufacture the kind of products we need for a healthier and more sustainable future.

Benefits of Buying From The Right Company 

  • A simple and elegant solution that doesn’t leave a vinegar-y mess.
  • Ready when you are. Makes quick work of cleaning.
  • Using your vote as a consumer to support ethical and sustainable business.

Buying from these companies is literally using my vote as a consumer to influence the future. When choosing a non-toxic alternative I consider the environmental implications throughout the manufacturing process, not just from the finished product. It’s not enough that the final product doesn’t harm the environment (and by extension us), it has to also be made with a sustainable manufacturing process that isn’t taxing on the environment.

Considerations When Buying Alternative

  • Non-toxic and environmentally friendly product.
  • Doesn’t have to be “all natural” but it does have to be made without any chemicals that have even a low risk of human or environmental harm based on EWG criteria.
  • Sustainable manufacturing process.
  • Sustainable and biodegradable packaging.
  • Bonus points for commitments to environmental and social programs.

How to Use This Guide

Full disclosure: the products I recommend are affiliate links, so I make a small commission if you happen to purchase anything. The products I suggest avoiding link back to the EWG page or other data detailing the reasons to avoid them.

A lot of time and energy went into this guide so I hope it provides you with valuable information. Please feel free to reach out in the comments section below with any comments, questions or suggestions. If you do make a purchase through my links, thank you for your support <3

Kitchen

Best Non-Toxic Dish Washing Liquid

Just like laundry detergents, dish detergents contain some of the harshest and most toxic chemicals we use in our homes. Surfactants found in common household detergents have been reliably linked to reproductive toxicity, carcinogenicity and environmental damage. Conventional dish washing liquids are also full of synthetic fragrances, which contain thousands of unnamed petrochemicals, some of which are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.

The worst thing about dish detergents is that unlike laundry detergents, they make frequent and sustained contact with our skin. Unless you put on gloves every time you wash the dishes (who does that?) you’re exposed to harsh surfactants and unknown chemicals in synthetic fragrances every time you wash.

A note on gloves. I personally don’t wear gloves when I wash the dishes. For one, I have small hands and find them really cumbersome. Two, I like a minimal home and don’t like fumbling with an extra step. Three because they’re in such close proximity to water they invariably start to smell after a while, which also brings to mind four, (bonus) I generally don’t like having to clean my cleaning implements. My motto in cleaning and in life is that it’s working when you don’t find yourself thinking about it.

Also, I like using my hands. Dish washing can be meditative. I like using a product that’s safe and nice to use. Plus, the environment. Even if my hands are protected, surfactants still make their way down the drain and into groundwater, oceans and atmosphere.

Puracy Natural Liquid Dish Soap in Green Tea & Lime

EWG and a lot of happy users rate this as the best non-toxic dish detergent for washing dishes by hand.

Also Good

Green Dish Washing Liquid To Avoid For Now

There’s nothing worse than making a conscious choice to buy green only to later learn that you haven’t actually bought something non-toxic and sustainable.

As always, big brands (Palmolive, Kirkland, Up & Up etc) are almost never non-toxic and usually get F ratings on EWG. Even if they say they’re “free and clear” or “fragrance free, dye free” or “eco friendly” or anything else it’s always best to double check on a big brand (and a green brand) before buying. For that reason I don’t bother listing them here.

The products listed here are ones that most of us would probably think of as green, but for one reason or another the products don’t make the cut. This includes products from luxury brands, which many people (myself included) would probably assume are non-toxic just because of the (real or perceived) higher quality.

Best Non-Toxic & Eco-Friendly Kitchen Sponge

Sponges are not eco-friendly. Common kitchen sponges are made of non-biodegradable materials in an ecologically taxing manufacturing process. But you may be wondering why a kitchen sponge needs to be non-toxic? Many kitchen sponges on the market are impregnated with triclosan in order to keep odours and bacteria at bay.

TRADITIONAL SPONGE

Look for cellulose (plant based and biodegradable) preferably from green manufacturers.

Pura Naturals Plant Based Sponge with Walnut Scrubber

Also Good

Trader Joe’s Pop Up Natural Plant Cellulose Sponges – I love the convenience and price of these they just don’t have as much scrubbing power as the Pura Naturals Sponges.

ALTERNATIVE

Tawashi Japanese Palm Fiber Brushes

These little brushes are a fantastic product. They’re natural so they aren’t produced through an ecologically taxing and chemical dependent manufacturing process so they’re even more eco-friendly than cellulose. Plus they can also be used as root vegetable scrubbers. Bonus.

Cleaning

Normally I don’t like to clean my cleaning implements, but there’s an exception to every rule. Kitchen sponges can pick up some pretty gross odours. Biodegradable and eco-friendly sponges and brushes can last much longer with regular (natural) disinfection.  Cellulose and plant fibre brushes can be freshened up covered in water for thirty seconds to one minute in the microwave or a pot of boiling water.

Best Non-Toxic Dish Washer Detergent

BEST PODS

Seventh Generation Detergent Packs in Free & Clear

BEST POWDER

Biokleen Automatic Dish Powder

BEST GEL

Better Life Dishwasher Gel

Green Dish Washer Detergent to Avoid For Now

 

Best Non-Toxic Kitchen & Countertop Cleaner

Attitude Certified Eco Friendly Multipurpose Cleaner

Green Kitchen & Countertop Cleaner to Avoid For Now

* This is the same product recommended in best multipurpose cleaner because you don’t necessarily need a dedicated kitchen & counter cleaner unless you have stone countertops that need special care (see section on Stone Countertop Cleaner under Home Cleaners below.) Instead you could opt for a multipurpose cleaner. See the section on Best Non-Toxic Multipurpose Cleaners for more information.

Best Non-Toxic Degreaser

Fit Organic Cleaner and Degreaser

Green Degreaser to Avoid For Now

 

Best Non-Toxic Oven Cleaner

Baking Soda

Okay, I normally don’t like doing the DIY thing but, there aren’t really any oven cleaners that are non-toxic by EWG standards. Simple baking soda actually come highly recommended. If your oven has a cleaning mode, run the cleaning mode and then make a rough baking soda and water paste to scrub down any particles that have remained. If you don’t have or don’t want to run the self cleaning function, you can just use the baking soda and water paste. I’ve also heard of baking soda being combined with vinegar for extra cleaning powder, but I really don’t like my kitchen smelling like vinegar. Wipes excess with a kitchen rag and you’re set.

Green Oven Cleaner to Avoid For Now

 

Best Non-Toxic Cooktop Cleaner

Baking Soda

Again, there really isn’t a safe commercial product yet so opt for a baking soda and water paste. You could also use non-toxic multipurpose cleaners or degreaser, or Dr. Bronner’s.

Best Non-Toxic Stainless Steel Cleaner

Olive Oil

There aren’t any stainless steel cleaners that have both good EWG ratings and good user ratings. So olive oil it is.

I have a family member who raves about baby oil as being the best, most effective and most totally streak free stainless steel cleaner she’s ever used. As they say “like removes like” so it makes sense that oil would be good at removing oil based mess from grease or fingerprints.

However, baby oil is petrochemical derived so I prefer to avoid it, but olive oil or any sediment-free cooking oil you have on hand serves the same purpose. If the surface is really dirty you could start with a multipurpose cleaner. Just avoid baking soda or rough sponges as they can scratch and damage the shiny finish on stainless steel.

Green Stainless Steel Cleaner to Avoid For Now

Bathroom

Best Non-Toxic Multipurpose Bathroom Cleaner

greenshield-organic-bathroom-cleaner

GreenShield Organic Bathroom Cleaner in Bergamot Mint

Also Good

  • AspenClean Bathroom Cleaner
  • Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Bathroom Cleaner in Lemon Verbena and Lavender are not great but okay in a pinch.

Green Multipurpose Cleaner to Avoid For Now

Best Non-Toxic Tub, Tile & Shower Cleaner

Seventh Generation Tub & Tile Natural Cleaner in Emerald Cypress & Fir

Also Good

Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Bathroom Cleaner in Lemon Verbena and Lavender are not great but okay in a pinch.

Green Tub, Tile & Shower Cleaner to Avoid For Now

Best Non-Toxic Toilet Bowl Cleaner / Deodorizer

Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner in Emerald Cypress & Fir

Also Good

Green Toilet Bowl Cleaner to Avoid For Now

Best Non-Toxic Drain Opener/ Clog Remover


Earth Friendly Products Earth Enzymes Drain Opener

Also Good

Green Drain Opener to Avoid For Now

Home General

Best Non-Toxic Multipurpose Cleaner

Attitude Certified Eco Friendly Multipurpose Cleaner

Also Good

Green Multipurpose Cleaner to Avoid For Now

Best Non-Toxic Stone Countertop Cleaner

Unless you have specific care instructions for your stone countertops you could just as easily use the recommended multipurpose kitchen cleaner Attitude Certified Eco Friendly Multipurpose Cleaner or just soap and water.

Earth Friendly Products Stone Countertop Cleaner in Natural Parsley

Green Stone Countertop Cleaner to Avoid For Now

Best Non-Toxic Glass & Window Cleaner

Simple Green Naturals Glass & Surface Cleaner in Rosemary Mint

Also Good

Green Glass & Window Cleaner to Avoid For Now

Best Non-Toxic Multipurpose Floor Cleaner

BEST LIQUID


Babyganics Floor Cleaner Concentrate in Fragrance Free (rinse free)

TOTALLY CHEMICAL FREE

Polti Vaporetto Handy Multi-Surface Portable Steam Cleaner

More on steam cleaners at the bottom of the page just above Sources.

Also Good

Green Multipurpose Floor Cleaner to Avoid For Now

Best Non-Toxic Wood Floor & Furniture Cleaner

BEST LIQUID

Truce Wood Cleaner Concentrate

FYI this also works for wood furniture and stainless steel.

TOTALLY CHEMICAL FREE

Polti Vaporetto Handy Multi-Surface Portable Steam Cleaner

Also Good

  • Martha Stewart Clean Wood Floor Cleaner
  • Citra Solv Citra-Solv Citra Wood Natural Wood & Furniture Polish in Valencia Orange
  • Clean+Green Wood & Tile

Green Wood & Furniture Cleaner to Avoid For Now

Best Non-Toxic Carpet Cleaner

BEST DETERGENT

Biokleen Carpet & Rug Shampoo

BEST SPRAY

Simple Clean Naturals Carpet Care

TOTALLY CHEMICAL FREE

Polti Vaporetto Handy Multi-Surface Portable Steam Cleaner

Also Good

Green Carpet Cleaner to Avoid For Now

Best Non-Toxic Upholstery & Fabric Cleaner/Deodorizer

BEST SPRAY

Attitude Little Ones Fabric Refresher in Fragrance Free / Soothing Chamomile

BEST DETERGENT

BuggyLove FabricLove No Wash Stain Remover 

TOTALLY CHEMICAL FREE

Polti Vaporetto Handy Multi-Surface Portable Steam Cleaner

Also Good

Green Upholstery Cleaner to Avoid For Now

Best Non-Toxic Home Fragrance/Air Freshener

READY MADE

Aura Cacia Aromatherapy Room & Body Mists in Eucalyptus Harvest / Ginger Mint / Relaxing Lavender / Tangerine & Grapefruit / Refreshing Peppermint  / Tea Tree Harvest 

I’m also a big fan of the Motivating Yoga Mist in Sweet Orange & Peppermint, the Panic Button! Essential Solutions Mist with lavender, neroli and petitgrain, and the Pillow Potion.

EASY DIY


For a fraction of the cost you can also combine a few drops of essential oil with water in opaque glass spray bottles. This is what I’ve been doing for years. Some of my favourite scents are lavender, lemongrass, and lemon. You could also achieve a more complex scent with an aromatherapy blend like this Rocky Mountain Oils Tranquillity Blend with Orange, Tangerine, Patchouli, Lime, German/ Roman Chamomile mix, Ylang Ylang, Lavender, & Citronella.

Also Good

Green Fragrance / Air Freshener to Avoid For Now

(It almost goes without saying that big brands like Air Wick, Glade, Febreeze, Renuzit and the like aren’t non-toxic. But just in case it needs to be said, they are definitely not non-toxic irrespective of form i.e. spray, cone, oil, diffuser etc.)

Laundry

Best Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent

As mentioned above, the water treatment process doesn’t remove the chemicals that go down our drains with our cleaners. These chemicals end up in our environment, where they bioaccumulate in the food chain and make their way back into our bodies.

Laundry is one of the worst offenders. Laundry detergent may seem innocuous enough, but like most detergents it has some of the harshest chemicals we use in our homes in the form of surfactants.

One such class of surfactants are nonylphenol ethoxylates or NPEs. NPE’s are reproductive toxins that bioaccumulate in the environment. They promote the growth of breast cancer cells and mimic the effects of estrogen. NPEs have been banned in many states so most national manufacturers have phased out their use, but they can still be found in products from smaller companies.

Most detergents are also full of synthetic fragrance.

I cross references the EWG guide with user reviews and company business practices to find the best non-toxic and environmentally sustainable laundry detergents.

Best Pod

Grab Green Natural 3-in-1 Laundry Detergent Pods Fragrance Free  

These are also rated well in GardeniaLavender with Vanilla, &  Vetiver and for Delicates.

Best Liquid

Better Life Laundry Detergent (Lavender Grapefruit)

Best High Efficiency (HE)

Biokleen Liquid Laundry Detergent 

The Attitude line of laundry detergents in Pink Grapefruit, Nighttime Chamomile, and Fragrance Free are also rated very well for HE machines. For a full list of ratings for HE laundry detergents please see here.

Best Detergent + Fabric Softener Combo

Attitude Laundry and Softener 2 in 1 in Mountain Essential (also HE)

Best Alternative

Tangie Organic Laundry Detergent

This product is really special. It’s non-toxic, fragrance free, biodegradable, eco-friendly, is made with a sustainable manufacturing process (using solar ovens!) and doesn’t require a new disposable plastic container each time you buy detergent. Plus, at $0.6 per load it’s also a really budget friendly option. Best part is that is has a really devoted following and great reviews because it actually works…really well. Here’s a review.

Also Good

Green Laundry Detergent to Avoid For Now

Big brands (Tide, Purex, Gain, Kirkland, Walmart etc) never make the cut, even if use the words “free & clear” / “free and gentle” / “natural ingredients/instincts/botanicals” / “sensitive” or any other words like that. Those words aren’t legally defined so they can suggest that they mean something when in fact they mean nothing. Big brands almost always get F ratings on EWG. Plus, its better to support small and sustainable business.

These detergents had questionable ingredients according to EWG.

Best Non-Toxic Fabric Softener

Apparently a few years ago there was a huge controversy about the dangers of fabric softener. A blogger wrote bunch of claims about the dangers of fabric softener, but unfortunately they were fabricated. (See what I did there?) The entire thing caused a big stir, gave fabric softener a scary reputation, and even earned its very own Snopes mention in Dryer Sheets Full of Toxic Chemicals?

That incident might lead many people to think that fabric softener is fine when that’s far from the truth. It might not be as bad as some bloggers claim, but even just the use of synthetic fragrance is enough make me shy away from using conventional fabric softener.

There are also a few other reasons I found.

  • Peer reviewed publication reports reproductive toxicity in animals.
  • EPA reports moderate risk to human health.
  • EU Ecolabel data reports high risk to aquatic life (bioaccumulation).

I suspect that a lot of people use fabric softener more for the scent than for the anti-static or wrinkle prevention (which #tbh I didn’t even know was a thing.) If you’re one of those people, like I am, you might really miss adding this finishing touch on your laundry. A non-toxic fabric softener is a good option. It gives you the anti-static and wrinkle prevention (for those who care about that kind of thing) and also gives the rest of us a nice scent without the toxins.

Best Liquid

Attitude Fabric Softener in Nighttime (Chamomile) / Pink Grapefruit / Fragrance Free

This fabric softener gets an A on EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning. It also has really great reviews and doesn’t break the bank. Note that Yland-Ylang and Tangerine and Lavender & Grapefruit (discontinued but just FYI) don’t have good ratings on EWG so avoid them if you can.

The only issue with this product otherwise is that you might have a hard time finding this in stores. If you don’t do the online buying thing there are still some pretty good in store options you can probably find.

Best Sheet

Seventh Generation Fabric Softener Sheets Free & Clear / Blue Eucalyptus & Lavender

This product isn’t rated quite as well by EWG (B instead of A) or by consumers (4/5 instead of 4.5/5) but its still a big improvement on most fabric softeners and a great step towards a non-toxic and sustainable home. Note that the dryer sheets are good but the liquid should be avoided.

Best Alternative

heart-felt-dryer-balls

Heart Felt 100% Organic Wool Dryer Balls

If you want something even more eco-friendly, wool dryer balls eliminate static and wrinkles sustainably.

If you have some material lying around you can even make the yourself or support small business and pick some up on Etsy. They last forever. You can also add a few drops of sustainable lavender oil if you’re missing the scent.

Green Fabric Softener to Avoid For Now

Most big brands (Downy, Gain, Kirkland, Snuggle, Walmart, Up & Up etc) use synthetic fragrance. It goes without saying that you should be extra cautious buying those bands. As far as green brands go there are a few that should be avoided including:

If in doubt you can look it up.

*** This list may change. Manufacturers change formulations all the time in response to changing environmental regulations and consumer pressure for better non-toxic and eco-friendly products.

Best Non-Toxic Bleach

I’m a big fan of bleach for cleaning.  It’s like cleaning magic. There’s nothing that disinfects a dirty kitchen sink or deodorizes smelly travel mugs like bleach. I use it for a lot of things around the house.

But of course the fact that it isn’t natural made me suspicious so I had to do some research. Bleach is a great example of a chemical that seems like it would be really bad (carcinogenic, endocrine disruptor, environmental toxin etc) but actually it isn’t.

Chlorine bleach is very dangerous if it comes into contact with ammonia or acids. It releases a noxious yellow-green colored gas that’s been used in chemical warfare. Otherwise (and surprisingly) chlorine bleach is relatively safe for human use. Chlorine bleach also hasn’t been shown to bioaccumulate or be damaging to the environment.

However, there are still some problems with chlorine bleach. For one, if you’re like me and you want to avoid worrying about identifying all the possible forms of ammonia and acids that bleach could come into contact with in your home, chlorine free is safest.

For chlorine free bleach there are still two important considerations. First, the conventional manufacturing and packaging processes used by most manufacturers rely heavily on petrochemicals and aren’t sustainable. These chemicals make their way into the atmosphere and water system and then back into our bodies. Second, most also aren’t cruelty free.

If these things matter to you and you use bleach in your home the best option for human, environment and animals is chlorine free bleach from companies with an explicit commitment to environmental sustainability and cruelty free practices. I trust both of these companies. I’ve read their ingredients, I’ve looked them up, and I trust that their commitments aren’t just a marketing tactic. Both of these products are cruelty free and made with sustainable manufacturing processes.

Best Liquid

Seventh Generation Chlorine Free Bleach

This is an easy switch from regular bleach. You can use it for virtually everything.

Best Pods

Grab Green Bleach Alternative Pods

These bleach pods are great if you only use bleach for laundry. They’re convenient. You don’t have to measure. Simply as that. If you use bleach for other things, the chlorine free liquid might be a better bet for you.

This statement comes directly from Grab Green.

At Grabgreen we seek out opportunities to use packaging and ingredients that are recyclable, sustainably harvested, biodegradable and that utilize post-consumer resins. We also love animals and ensure our products are never animal-tested!

Green Bleach to Avoid For Now


Steam Cleaners: Chemical Free For Every Room & Task

A steam cleaner is a great way to eliminate dozens of household cleaners.

Polti Vaporetto Handy Multi-Surface Portable Steam Cleaner

I love my steam cleaner. A steam cleaner is an investment that pays for itself in money saved on dozens of cleaning products. It uses steam to clean and naturally disinfect surfaces all over the home including kitchen and bathroom counters and handles, mirrors and glass, tubs, shower curtains, carpets, floors, sofas, cars and more. There are a lot of great options out there, this is just one. The Polti Vaporetto is highly rated, has 18 attachments for a variety of cleaning jobs, and is really easy to maneuver and use.

I wasn’t able to compare the ecological impact of a steam cleaner versus traditional cleaning liquids in any meaningful way. In general there are also a lot of variables to consider in traditional cleaning liquids: how long they last, how often you clean, how many types you use, how they are manufactured etc etc. However, I do believe in minimizing the amount of intensely manufactured things that I buy and the amount of chemical products in my home (even natural ones.)

If you have serious chemical or scent sensitivities are just concerned about your general exposure to household chemicals a steam cleaner is one of the best multipurpose cleaning aids you can own.

Sources

http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/nutpollution.html

https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/problem

http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/chemicals/nitratenitrite2ndadd.pdf

http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/watermgt/General/know_your_nitrogen.pdf

http://davidsuzuki.org/issues/health/science/toxics/the-dirt-on-toxic-chemicals-in-household-cleaning-products/

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/air/cleaner_air/

http://www.preventharm.org/Images/129/bpanpedatareport.pdf

http://www.toxipedia.org/display/toxipedia/Nonylphenol+and+Nonylphenol+Ethoxylates

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maria-rodale/five-mustknows-on-the-dan_b_4737654.html

http://www.ewg.org/release/fda-finally-bans-toxic-triclosan-antibacterial-hand-soaps

http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2014/aug/quats-disinfectant

Author

I write about wellness and ideas that make you better, whether that's a new book, a better way to travel, a skin treatment that works or an ergonomic aromatherapeutic work space. You are the biggest and most important project you'll ever work on. When you take the time to nurture and invest in yourself the returns will multiply through all facets of your life. If you want to have it all, begin with yourself.

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