EWG deems Method, Biokleen and Seventh Generation products worse than Clorox bleach

Well, it’s been an interesting week. Environmental Working Group just released their brand new Guide to Healthy Cleaning and it’s freaking some folks out big time.

toxic cleaners, green cleaning products, green cleaners

First the basics

EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning contains information and safety assessments for more than 2,000 cleaning products, 197 brands and more than 1,000 ingredients. The guide rates popular household cleaning products with grades A through F based on both what’s inside that bottle and about the information the company is willing to disclose about their products.

To grade products, EWG staff scientists spent 14 months reading product labels, digging through company websites and technical documents, researching ingredients and contaminants and more.

Some results

EWG notes that…

  • Just 7% of all cleaners managed to adequately disclose their ingredients.
  • Some 53% of cleaning products assessed by EWG contain ingredients known to harm the lungs.
  • 22% contain chemicals reported to cause asthma.
  • Most manufacturers did provide some ingredient information on their official websites but package label data was lacking. In many cases, companies offered minimum value and often-vague information about what they put in their products.

Read more about the results of this guide AND scoring facts at EWG.

Green cleaning product reviews

EWG has a worst of the worst “Hall of Shame” cleaning product list you can look at to see the top most dangerous cleaning products. To see safer products takes a bit more work. You can search by product name, brand name, or simply browse EWG categories, like “kitchen cleaners,” “bathroom cleaners,” and all-purpose cleaners'” among others.

How reliable are the ratings?

Well some people are frightfully upset because their favorite green cleaners scored Fs or Ds on the EWG list. Method was a biggie. A lot of folks use Method and are very upset because overall, Method products scored horribly on the EWG list. None of Method’s products scored an A or B and most got well below a C, mostly due to  “non-specific ingredient ingredient disclosure” info.

If you’re a Method fan, you may want to read my friend Beth’s post because she got a statement from the company about their sadly low scores.

Other people were even more upset. Like say, The Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA) who released a press release super fast, telling consumers not to panic after reading the EWG guide. CSPA notes, “The “Healthy Cleaning Guide” that was recently released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) contains reviews and assigns grades that reflect incorrect and incomplete information. Unfortunately, EWG is misleading consumers about cleaning products that are used safely by millions of consumers every day.

Not that I agree with CSPS. It’s their job to represent all cleaners – toxic or not. However, I did personally question some of the ratings on the EWG list and thought the list had some other cons as well.

toxic cleaners, green cleaning products, green cleaners

What I think of the EWG scoring system

I try to make homemade cleaners, but sometimes do go with store-bought green cleaners, so I decided to look up a bunch of stuff I’ve used and rated here at Growing a Green Family.

My favorite store-bought toilet cleaner is Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner, Emerald Cypress & Fir Scent. This scored an A at EWG as did the few Dr. Bronner’s products they rated (all As).

Other stuff I like and use and yes, even recommend here, got extremely poor scores. For example, my favorite laundry soap, Biokleen, got a flat out D due to high concerns about “acute aquatic toxicity.” The other concerns were all moderate or low, yet it scored a D. In fact it was rated the same as Tide laundry detergent and insanely Biokleen got the SAME score as Clorox Commercial Solutions Bleach. Seriously? Biokleen and Bleach are 100% the same?

Oh and by the way, the EWG list notes that bleach carries little environmental concerns and only some or moderate concerns when it comes to human health. Really? Let me direct you to one of my favorite old-school posts on the dangers of bleach – which notes much the same as other bleach research by the way.

What scored lower than bleach on the EWG list? Well…

  • Earth Friendly Products Baby Laundry Soap
  • Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Gel
  • Biokleen Dishwash Liquid, Lemon Thyme
  • BabyGanics The Grime Fighter All Purpose Cleaner, Fragrance Free
  • Almost every single Method product.
  • Almost every single Mrs. Meyer’s product.
  • Planet Ultra Powdered Laundry Detergent, Hypo-Allergenic
  • And lots more.

What exactly are they scoring?

Apparently, EWG’s scoring process, as noted by them, goes something like this…

Available information on the toxicity or safety of substances in cleaning products was collected and organized. EWG considered the credibility of the data source, the comprehensiveness of the information and the severity of the health and environmental effects associated with the substances under evaluation.” This information was combined using EWG-developed scoring algorithms to produce a hazard/safety score for each ingredient in the database. Finally, the scores for each substance in a product were combined to give an overall ingredient hazard/safety score for that cleaner.

A final score for a product was then calculated by using the following tactics

  • First, the overall ingredient hazard/safety score was combined with a “disclosure” score. Disclosure is the amount of information the manufacturer provides to consumers about the ingredients in a product.
  • After the ingredient hazard/safety and disclosure scores were combined, additional modifications were sometimes made to the score based on specific criteria. For example, a product with a very low or high pH (and therefore corrosive), or that violated a regulation, received additional demerits.
  • A product that was certified as “green” by an EWG-reviewed and approved program received an improved score.
  • The final product score for a cleaner was then translated into a letter grade. A letter grade of “A” indicates very low toxicity to health and the environment with robust disclosure of ingredients, while a grade of “F” signifies that the product is highly toxic or provides little to no ingredient disclosure. A “C” score indicates an average cleaner that poses no overt hazards and provides some disclosure of ingredients.

Huh?

The rating system is hyper confusing. Call me crazy, but I’m hard pressed to believe that Earth Friendly Products baby laundry soap, made with “Vegetable and coconut based soap, earth salt, coconut based fabric softener, N.O.P. certified chamomile and lavender essentials oils and water” and made by a company with some major eco-perks is more deadly and lame than Clorox bleach.

I’m really, really not getting the rating system used here.

No use reviews or ease of use included

This EWG guide is missing a seriously important piece of the puzzle – if products work or not AND ease of the normal consumer getting their hands on said products. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that NO ONE will re-buy a green cleaner that sucks and also green cleaners MUST be as easy to get as regular cleaners.

EWG has just four safe dish washing detergent listed (meaning that got an A), which is all good and fine, if the top three of the top four didn’t create issues for some people.

Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwasher Detergent Concentrated Pacs, Free & Clear made the top, which was nice, because that’s what I use. However, the other three that got top scores include…

  • Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwasher Powder, Free & Clear – which is terrible and doesn’t work. Try it, you’ll see.
  • The Honest Co. honest auto dishwasher gel, free & clear – which is not available in stores, but only by mail order and for ($5.95 shipping), thus creating emissions, higher prices and more work for parents.
  • Green Shield Organic Squeez Automatic Dishwasher Liquid Detergent, Lemongrass- which I’ve never, not once seen in a store near me and I’ve read some scathing reviews about how this doesn’t work at all.

So above, you’ve got one decent green dish detergent choice along with three that don’t work and/or are expensive or hard to find. Expensive + doesn’t work + hard to find = no one wants to use it = not the most useful guide ever.

So… what to do?

You know, I really love EWG. I like Skin Deep, I like their Dirty Dozen guide and I even kind of liked their sunscreen guide, though, as you may remember I took issue with some of their sunscreen rating system. However, I’m seriously just confused by their new healthy cleaning guide. Especially since it doesn’t at all take into account how a product actually works. Plus, I can’t get over how wonky it is that  toxic bleach comes out ahead of many zero-bleach products.

Overall, I need to spend more time with the list before I make a total judgment call. But, in case you trust EWG 100% check out this list of their best, most highly recommended cleaners.

What do you think of the EWG Healthy Cleaners Guide?

Honestly, with all this confusion, maybe you should just skip the store-bought cleaners and make your own.

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Comments

  1. says

    I do think the Guide to Healthy Cleaning needs a bit of tweaking…however, I do appreciate the lower scores for ingredients that are vague… like most of Biokleens. I’d rather know exactly what they used instead of surfactants derived from… that means nothing. Flame retardants can be derived from vegetables but that doesn’t make them any safer. Not to mention that Biokleen recently changed their formula (very annoyed by that) so I’m ok with their horrid rating…can’t really speak for the other brands though. So I think they probably did the best they could do. Unfortunately cleaning product do not have to list their ingredients and so EWG is left wondering if it’s a safe ingredient based on such and such or if it’s a toxic one. I’d rather them error on the side of caution and bad grades. Maybe then cleaning companies will give more details on their ingredients.

    As for wanting some consideration for how they work…that’d be nice but it’s different for everyone and that wouldn’t be consistent for EWG. Not to mention that they don’t rate Skin Deep that way either..I mean there are some pretty pathetic natural deodorants out there that still get good ratings. EWG only rates on ingredients. Safemama.com is good for ratings based on ingredients and effectiveness (at least I know their Sunscreen Cheat Sheet works that way)

    So it’s not 100% perfect but I honestly think they are as perfect as the cleaning companies will let them right now…maybe when Biokleen and 7th Gen see that they’ve been rated worse then bleach they will see how important it is to fully disclose their ingredients.

  2. says

    Ugh, its times like this I wish I had a chemistry degree! This is kind of frustrating as I love a lot of low-scoring products and seem to find myself asking the same questions as you. Since when did being a responsible consumer become so hard?!

  3. Jennifer Chait says

    @Brittany – yeah I also usually like lower scores for non-disclosure, but still, disclosure, while a big piece of the puzzle, doesn’t mandate safety akin to a better score in my opinion. I didn’t know that Biokleen changed their formula recently. I remember when I first reviewed them (like six years ago or something) and I noted in my review, “They need to disclose stuff on their website.” But, on the other hand, when you open a container of Biokleen anything, it doesn’t choke you to death with fumes, like all bleach products and most conventional products do – so I’m not sure where to stand here.

    I’m especially frustrated that EWG is recommending “safe” stuff you can’t actually get your hands on or that doesn’t work. For example, the ONLY fabric softener that got a top score is off the market and one of their only four top dish detergents works so bad that I wouldn’t recommend it to my enemy.

    I agree that EWG can’t make a perfect scoring system and I like Safe Mama too – but I didn’t love her sunscreen guide due to the crazy high costs you’d have to put out to get the ones on her list.

    Maybe when Biokleen and 7th Gen see that they’ve been rated worse then bleach they will see how important it is to fully disclose their ingredients.” – Agreed!

  4. Jennifer Chait says

    @Katrina – I know right. Like 7th Gen sent me some stuff to review, and most of it was fine, but I refuse to review the antibacterial wipes they sent me, because how the heck do I REALLY know if they’re antibacterial. I don’t have a microbiology lab in my house. I’m frustrated that there’s nothing decent on the market too and wish actual US regulations would just fall in line so we didn’t have to work so hard just to get a basic house cleaner.

  5. nicolle says

    I am so irritate with Biokleen and all the rest of the “natural” companies. There is no reason I should have to spend hours researching about cleaning products, for crying out loud. I hate that our world has come to this! I make so much of what I use, but it is such a gamble and I haven’t found anything that really works.

  6. Amanda says

    Yikes, I use Planet’s laundry detergent because I was allergic to a lot of other detergents and it was highly rated by many eco-mom websites. I may have to rethink this. Very unfortunate.

  7. Jennifer Chait says

    I know Nicolle – I’m irritated too. You’re not wrong, there’s absolutely no reason why any busy family should have to spend hours on end researching just to buy a cleaner. It’s total insanity. The government really needs to get on board with chemical reform, so this ends.

  8. Jennifer Chait says

    I used to use Planet years ago too. It’s frustrating. It’s so lame that it’s either make all your own stuff or pay a million $ for “safe” stuff or go toxic. The entire situation is very annoying.

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