12 Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products Experts Swear By
Rethink the way you clean your home to create a safer environment.
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Choosing cleaning products can be overwhelming—there are so many options, and endless ingredients to worry about. The push for eco-friendly cleaning products comes from both companies and consumers, with the goal of promoting sustainability while keeping your family safe from harsh ingredients.
These products pay special attention to ingredients and use plant-based formulas that can be biodegradable, non-toxic, and sustainable. They’re good for us and good for the environment, which makes them an excellent choice (especially for homes with pets and kids).
But what exactly makes something eco-friendly? Experts share insights with us, along with a list of green cleaning products that will brighten up your home and your cleaning routine. Choosing eco-friendly cleaning products is just one piece of the sustainability puzzle, and if you’re looking to make other changes, check out these articles on sustainable living, sustainable brands, and sustainable packaging. Plus, here are some easy ways to conserve water.
What makes a cleaning product eco-friendly?
Let’s start with the basics. What exactly makes a cleaning product eco-friendly? According to Samara Geller, a senior science analyst at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the term is actually unregulated and has no working legal definition.
While we generally have an image of an eco-friendly product being one that’s good for the environment, unfortunately, the term is sometimes used by companies trying to mask hazardous ingredients in their formulas. According to Geller, those ingredients will likely be referred to in super generic terminology, like “cleaning agent,” “colorant,” or “preservative.” Geller says “shoppers should look for a product with complete ingredient transparency so they can reduce their exposure to chemicals or avoid a particular substance they may be allergic to.”
While they may be labeled in a number of ways on a bottle, Geller suggests avoiding these ingredients:
- Quaternary ammonium compounds (quats)
- Isothiazolinone preservatives
- PFAS compounds
For more information, check out EWG’s label guide to how to read ingredients properly.
“Eco-friendly” isn’t the only vague label—the same goes for the term “natural,” which also has no legal definition and isn’t regulated. However, items that tout the term “plant-based” have formulas containing a certain percentage of bio-based ingredients, rather than ones that come from petrochemicals. However, the “plant-based” label doesn’t guarantee that all the ingredients in a formula are plant-based, so it’s another one to watch out for. In terms of regulated labels:
- The USDA organic seal indicates that a portion of the ingredients are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, but not all! Search for those products in the USDA organic integrity database.
- EWG-certified products are vetted by the namesake nonprofit, which tracks the chemical safety of products. Products with this label are free from any specified concerning chemicals and have transparent ingredient listings. Search certified products in the EWG consumer guides.
- The Environmental Protection Agency designates products as “Safer Choice” when they meet certain standards for ingredients and packaging. Search for Safer Choice products here.
Prioritizing health and safety
There are so many reasons to use eco-friendly cleaning products, but among the most important is health and safety. Geller notes that some products, like oven cleaners and toilet bowl cleaners, are made with corrosive chemicals that can burn eyes, skin, and even your respiratory tract. Products with hydrochloric acid or sodium hypochlorite (bleach) can also cause severe skin damage.
Environmentally friendly products also focus on producing less waste. They often have ingredients that can break down naturally and are packaged in recyclable or biodegradable materials. The key is to recycle cleaning product containers when you can so that they don’t end up in a landfill.
Did you know that 91 percent of plastic isn’t recycled and just ends up as pollution? Here’s what actually happens to the nine percent of plastic items that are recycled. For more on recycling, these are the most recyclable materials.
Aside from the packaging, it’s important to look at where products are made. Locally sourced goods create fewer carbon emissions, use less energy, and have a smaller carbon footprint than items that have been shipped from across the globe—especially those using fossil fuels, as opposed to natural resources. Those emissions (also known as greenhouse gases) contribute to climate change.
To get the skinny on sustainable cleaning, we asked Geller and Alexandra Wojenski, a team lead and sustainable cleaning expert at Grove Collaborative, to tell us about their go-to eco-friendly cleaning products.
Best all-purpose cleaner
Arm & Hammer Baking Soda
It won’t be a huge surprise for avid cleaners, but baking soda really is a miracle cleaner and a naturally occurring substance. You can use it to deodorize your fridge, clean kitchen counters, remove stains from carpets, polish silverware, and even whiten your teeth. You can use baking soda to make your own cleaning products at home too, like these DIY solutions made from baking soda and vinegar. However, here are 11 things you shouldn’t clean with baking soda.
- It’s affordable and available in most grocery and convenience stores
- It won’t irritate skin
- It’s a mild alkaline that cleans, deodorizes, and acts as a gentle abrasive
- It tends to leave a residue, even if you wipe it up fast
Best plant-based cleaner
Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap
Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap is made with all plant-based materials and is fully biodegradable—and the packaging is 100 percent recyclable too. Note that it’s three times more concentrated than most other liquid soaps, so you’re definitely getting the best bang for your buck, but always remember to dilute it. You can use it as an eco-friendly laundry detergent, for washing pets, mopping, and more. Wojenski even uses it as a produce wash!
- It’s so incredibly safe that you can use it as a shampoo and hand wash
- It can be mixed with baking soda to create a hard-working soft scrub
- Highly concentrated, so a little goes a long way
- If you clean a surface with castile soap, you’ll likely have to follow up with a more acidic cleaner to get rid of residue left behind
- It works less efficiently with hard water
Best reusable packaging
Grove Co. Multi-Purpose Cleaner
Grove Co.’s Multi-Purpose Cleaner is heavily concentrated, so you can use a one-ounce bottle of concentrated solution to produce 16 ounces of cleaner. “Most cleaners are primarily water and create extra waste both in packaging and distributing,” Wojenski says. This, in part, makes the concentrate a more sustainable choice. This two-pack of concentrate comes with a reusable glass spray bottle, so next time, you’ll only need to purchase the concentrate. The formula is 92 percent plant-based and biodegradable.
- It boasts two times more grease-cutting power than most natural cleaners
- Reviewers love the natural fragrances—there are four light, refreshing scents, plus an unscented version
- Comes with a reusable glass bottle
- It should only be used on non-porous surfaces, like glass, plastic, metal, and varnished wood
Best for floors
Aunt Fannie’s Vinegar Wash Floor Cleaner
Aunt Fannie’s Vinegar Wash Floor Cleaner is EPA-certified and healthy for both pets and children, so you can clean wood, stone, and tile without fear. The formula, comprised of vinegar, essential oils, and plant-based ingredients, boasts great grime-lifting powers. One verified Amazon reviewer was even wowed by its amazing ability to get rid of pet odors. Just remember to dilute it before using.
- It can be used with floor cleaning machines, buckets, and spray bottles
- The wash naturally reduces air odors without a strong artificial fragrance
- It has a slight vinegar odor that some may find unpleasant
Best for carpets
Biokleen Carpet & Rug Shampoo
This carpet and rug shampoo is EPA-recommended and the perfect product to use if you’re sensitive to strong scents. Made with a mixture of plant-based ingredients, it’s safe to use not just on carpets but for all washable fibers. Biokleen ensures that all their products are free of chlorine, phosphate, ammonia, and artificial color. This cleaner is specifically great for getting out tough stains.
- This 64-ounce bottle is a concentrate, so you get 32 gallons of solution from just one bottle
- It can be used on its own or with a carpet cleaning machine
- It dries scent-free
- It can get overly sudsy when used in a carpet-cleaning machine
Best for dishes
Common Good Dish Soap
You might think it would be easy to find an eco-friendly dish soap, but that’s not always the case. Common Good Dish Soap fights germs and breaks through grease, as well as using biodegradable ingredients and a recyclable bottle. It’s paraben- and phosphate-free and contains essential oils that won’t dry out your hands.
- It can also be used to wash fruits and vegetables
- It cleans and polishes stainless steel
- The soap moisturizes your hands
- It comes in only three fragrances: lavender, bergamot, and unscented
- It’s on the pricier side for dish soap
Best for burnt-on food
Grab Green Cookware & Bakeware Cleaner Pods
We can’t talk about cleaning your dishes without also mentioning your pots and pans—they’re notoriously hard to clean, and it can be time-consuming to let them soak. But Grab Green’s Cookware & Bakeware Cleaner Pods solve this issue because they easily remove burnt-on food messes without a ton of scrubbing, plus they’re formulated to work on stainless steel, enameled cookware, glass, and aluminum. To use, you’ll drop one of the plant-based pods in your cookware and fill it with warm water. Wait five minutes, then rinse. Reviewers have also used the pods to successfully clean air fryers and Instant Pots. Grab Green also makes cleaner pods for garbage disposals, dishwashers, laundry detergent, and more.
- They’re super easy to use, requiring little effort and time
- Pods are made of powder and are completely biodegradable, and they’re safe to use around kids and pets
- The package comes with only 15 pods, so you may not get as many uses as you would out of a bottle cleaner
Grove Co. Walnut Scrubber Sponge
When talking about eco-friendly cleaning supplies, you may not have thought about your sponges, but they’re easily one of the most-used cleaning items in the home. Not surprising, the bright yellow and green sponges you see on supermarket shelves aren’t made with natural coloring and are full of plastics, dyes, and chemicals. This walnut scrubber sponge is all-natural, with a tough scrubbing side made from walnut shells and recycled plastic, and a sponge side made with plant-based cellulose. Plus, it’s non-scratch, so it’s safe for most cookware.
- A thicker-than-average sponge provides better suds
- The walnut shell fibers help the sponge keep its shape
- Users can order them in monthly deliveries from Grove Co.
- Because it’s made of nuts, it isn’t approved for use near people with nut allergies
Best for laundry
Tru Earth Eco-Strips Laundry Detergent
While they don’t create the suds in your washer you’d normally see with a liquid or a pod, these laundry strips are hypoallergenic, entirely plant-based, and come in plastic-free packaging. With one ultra-concentrated strip, you can clean a whole load, or split it in two for smaller loads. Verified Amazon reviewer Aro wrote that not only were they powerful at cleaning up dirty tablecloths and napkins, but “I was pleased that the clothes simply smelled clean, no perfumes. Also the little bag the strips come in takes up much, much less space on the shelf than the old plastic jug. I was using a concentrated laundry soap, but these take up even less space.”
- Every ingredient is plant-based and wasn’t tested on animals
- Space-conscious, with one small pack cleaning up to 64 loads
- Formulated for sensitive skin and fragrance-free
- It’s pricier than most laundry detergents you’ll find
Best laundry pods
Dropps Laundry Detergent Pods
If you’re more of a pod person, Dropps Detergent Pods are here to help. They’re made of natural, plant-based ingredients and can help eliminate odors, even on soiled workout gear—in fact, the formula is made specifically to break into the tight-weave of performance fabrics. They can be used in any washing machine, and the packaging is recyclable, compostable cardboard. Win-win!
- Dermatologist tested, fragrance- and dye-free, and gentle on skin
- They protect the elasticity of workout gear
- They protect against fading colors in clothing
- It may take more than one wash to get out super stubborn stains
Best for bathrooms
Method Antibacterial Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Method has long been a go-to source for natural cleaning solutions, and this antibacterial toilet cleaner is no different. Typically, toilet cleaners have strong scents that are nearly as bad as the smells you’re trying to get rid of. This one smells like spearmint and uses ingredients like citric acid to fight off grime and germs (it kills 99.9 percent of them).
- The biodegradable formula is safe for septic systems
- Hypoallergenic formula minimizes the chance of an allergic reaction
- The solution kills influenza A flu virus, staphylococcus aureus, rhinovirus, and salmonella enterica
- This product does contain skin irritants
Best shower cleaner
Lemi Shine Shower & Tile Cleaner
It’s actually pretty tough to make bathroom cleaning products super eco-friendly. The EWG has given only four shower cleaning products “A” recognition, and Lemi Shine Shower & Tile Cleaner is one of them. You can use the plant-based formula on glass, tile, tubs, and fixtures, plus it includes their special GunkGuard formula, which helps keep surfaces cleaner longer. Verified Amazon reviewer Celine Kate noted that, “I had a stubborn shower stain. I was about to give up hope. My shower stall material is that stubborn cheap stuff that doesn’t clean easily. It took about five to six treatments, but now my shower is SPARKLY CLEAN! The bottle sprays foamy and thick. I am extremely pleased.”
- GunkGuard formula helps prevent soap scum buildup
- The company is majority women-owned
- It won the 2020 Green Pick Award by Parents Magazine
- Some users have complained about the finicky nozzle
Keep your home cleaner—and safer
We know this is a lot to take in, but hopefully it gives you some inspiration (and encouragement) to shop and clean sustainably. By buying eco-friendly cleaning supplies, you’re keeping your home safer while helping to prevent climate change. If you want to learn more about sustainable consumption, check out our revealing article on fast fashion and shop these eco-friendly gifts.
Why you should trust RD?
We reached out to two green cleaning experts to explain the meanings of eco-friendly terms and to choose their favorite products in this category.
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- Samara Geller, senior science analyst at Environmental Working Group
- Alexandra Wojenski, team lead and sustainable cleaning expert at Grove Collaborative
- Environmental Working Group: “Decoding the Labels“
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Organic Integrity Database
- Environmental Working Group: Consumer Guides
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Search Safer Choice–Certified Products
- National Geographic: “A Whopping 91 Percent of Plastic Isn’t Recycled“