If you're worried about the environment or your family's health, you can choose from the several low- and no-chemical alternative cleaning products currently available. But are any worth buying? To answer that question, we compare traditional vs. eco-friendly cleaners in terms of price, deals, and availability, and look at whether "eco-friendly" products are really eco-friendly.
What Are The Concerns?
While your parents and grandparents probably believed they'd achieved better living through chemistry, modern day researchers have found potentially dangerous links between the chemicals commonly found in traditional cleaning products and both the environment and your personal health.
On the health side, chemicals like ethylene glycol monobutyl acetate, sodium hypochlorite, and cationic detergents can cause problems ranging from skin irritation and dizziness to brain damage. As for the environment, these products can pollute streams and upset the balance for wildlife.
Eco-friendly and organic cleaning products are generally considered to be more expensive than their traditional counterparts. For comparison's sake, we checked the prices on several similar cleaning products through Amazon's Prime Pantry service.
SEE ALSO: What Is Amazon Prime Pantry?
Here are the prices of a few traditional cleaners:
- Formula 409 Multi-Surface Cleaner, 32 oz.: $2.89 (9 cents per ounce)
- Mr. Clean Multi-Purpose Cleaner with Febreze Freshness, Meadows and Rain, 40 oz.: $3.47 (9 cents per ounce)
- Pine-Sol Multi-Surface Cleaner and Deodorizer, Lemon Fresh, 48 oz.: $2.97 (6 cents per ounce)
And here's what you'll pay for three eco-friendly cleaners:
- Method All-Purpose Natural Surface Cleaner, Clementine, 28 oz.: $3.49 (12 cents per ounce)
- Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner, Honeysuckle, 16 oz.: $3.69 (23 cents per ounce)
- Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Cleaner, Lemongrass Citrus, 26 oz.: $2.87 (11 cents per ounce)
These are the prices of a few traditional detergents:
- Cascade ActionPacs Dishwasher Detergent, Fresh Scent, 60 Count: $11.03 (18 cents each)
- Finish All in 1 Powerball Automatic Dishwasher Detergent, Fresh Scent, 32 Count: $6.99 (22 cents each)
- Finish Max in 1 Powerball Automatic Dishwasher Detergent, 67 Count: $14.07 (21 cents each)
And this is what you'll pay for three eco-friendly detergents:
- Method Smarty Dish Naturally Derived Dishwasher Detergent Tabs, Fragrance Free, 20 Count: $5.39 (27 cents each)
- Seventh Generation Dishwasher Detergent Packs, Lemon Scent, 20 Count: $5.27 (26 cents each)
- Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Automatic Dish Packs, Lemon Verbena, 20 Count: $7.36 (37 cents each)
Though the low-chemical alternatives did cost more than the traditional products we found, the results weren't exactly what we expected. The eco-friendly items were more expensive, but in many cases the price difference was negligible.
Take Method's all-purpose cleaner, for example. That product came in at only 3 cents more per ounce than Formula 409's multi-surface cleaner, blowing away our preconceived notions that environmentally friendly alternatives were always much higher.
Finding Deals In-Store and Online
That being said, if you're on a budget, consider a couple of things beyond the base price of cleaning products. For one, eco-friendly cleaning products aren't as well-stocked or even as available as traditional cleaning products at many brick-and-mortar stores. This makes finding sales and coupons for those products a challenge.
We checked the weekly ads at six grocery and drugstore chains for cleaning product sales. In all six cases, the only sales available were for traditional cleaners.
Eco-friendly products are also difficult to find at warehouse stores. While Boxed, the online-version of a warehouse club, does offer a limited selection of eco-friendly products, both Sam's Club and Costco have few options.
Online, the playing field is different. Many major retailers like Amazon offer a full suite of eco-friendly cleaning products. You can also shop through the manufacturers directly, and many — like Method — offer sales and coupons through their websites.
Are "Eco-Friendly" Items Actually Eco-Friendly?
Price aside, not all cleaning products touting eco-friendliness are created equal.
For a product to be truly organic, it would need to carry the U.S. Department of Agriculture's certified organic seal. Some cleaners — like laundry detergents, cleaning sprays, and specialty items from Greenology Products — do carry the seal. Most other products fall somewhere in between, with labeling claiming "eco-friendly" or "natural."
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While many of these products are safe to use and may be better than traditional alternatives, that isn't always the case. You may be paying for a label and getting a chemical-based product. To be sure, compare the ingredients of anything you're buying.
EWG Product Rankings
The Environmental Working Group provides a database of many household products. Each product page includes ingredient information and a letter-grade ranking — and the results can be staggering.
We compared some of the more popular eco-friendly brands available through EWG's ranking database, with surprising results. Brands — and products within each brand — vary in rating. Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner in Honeysuckle, Basil, and other scents received a "C" ranking. Seventh Generation All-Purpose Natural Cleaner, Free & Clear, received a "C" as well; however, Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Cleaner, Lemongrass Citrus, came away with an "A."
Added fragrances can also make a big difference. With Method's all-purpose line, for example, seemingly identical cleaning products received shockingly different grades. Method All-Purpose Surface Cleaner, Ginger Yuzu, and Antibac All-Purpose Cleaner, Bamboo, both received a "B" grade. All-Purpose Surface Cleaner, Clementine, earned a "C," but three scents — cucumber, French lavender, and pink grapefruit — were graded "F."
To make sure what you're getting is as eco-friendly as advertised, check for a USDA certification, look for products with the fewest ingredients, or run what you're considering (scent included) by the EWG's database.
Readers, what do you think about eco-friendly cleaning products? Do you try to use them, and do you think they clean as well as traditional cleaners? Share your thoughts in the comments below.