Lots of brands claim to be “natural” or “organic,” but knowing the difference between products that are truly organic, nontoxic, and better for the environment and those that simply claim to be “green” can require a level of expertise most shoppers don’t have or care to acquire. You’d think you could just check the ingredient list, but unfortunately, there are still no federal regulations forcing manufacturers to list the ingredients in their products on packaging (though California and New York have both recently passed disclosure laws). And consumer advocacy groups can’t always keep up with the influx of new products.
One way to ensure that you know what’s in your cleaning products is to make them yourself. Ask any green-living expert or organic devotee, and they’ll tell you that the best natural cleaning products are regular white vinegar and baking soda, with a little lemon or orange thrown in. For most of us, however, that’s not an option. If you don’t want to mix and bottle your own cleaning products, or would like something with a more pleasant smell, there are many, many choices. We consulted experts ranging from authors, bloggers, TV hosts, and eco-conscious cleaning services on which kitchen sprays, laundry detergents, and all-purpose baking-soda scrubs are actually healthier for us, the planet, and our homes.
Best natural all-purpose cleaners
Bon Ami, known as an effective yet gentle household scrub, was recommended by two experts — Saudia Davis of Best of New York GreenHouse Eco-Cleaning and Cindy DiPrima of CAP Beauty — who use it as a scrubbing powder for everything from countertops and bathtubs to floor tiles and kitchen sinks when they need something stronger than plain baking soda. “I use Bon Ami, which has been around forever, and has a very simple ingredient deck,” DiPrima says. Bon Ami’s ingredients include limestone, feldspar, soda ash, baking soda, and a surfactant called alkylbenzene sulfonic acid.
In the same universe as Bon Ami is Meliora’s line of gentle cleaning scrubs. This one has the refreshing scent of peppermint and tea tree. “I like this product because it adds that extra kick to your cleaning power and can be used on several surfaces, including stainless steel, stove tops, and ceramic tiles,” says Gay Browne, author of Living With a Green Heart. “It’s tough, yet gentle and the peppermint–tea tree scent is a pleasant alternative to simple baking soda.”
Micaela Preston of mindfulmomma.com recommends this plant-based cleaner that she says works just as well as the chemical-filled ones. She’s a big fan of Better Life’s all-purpose spray, but the company also makes a stainless-steel polish, a product that not many other natural cleaning brands carry.
As anyone who’s ever read a Dr. Bronner’s label knows, their line of liquid Castile soaps are truly all-purpose. Of all the brand’s products, Preston recommends Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner. It’s powerful enough to clean your floors, dishes, furniture, and even your car, but gentle enough not to irritate your skin. Dilute as needed and marvel at how far you can stretch this stuff.
Danny Seo, green-living expert and editor of Naturally, Danny Seo, a sustainability-focused lifestyle magazine, recommends the eponymous Mrs. Meyers surface spray for its cleaning power and its addictive scent. “It doesn’t just smell amazing, it gets surfaces throughout the whole house really clean,” he says. “Plus it’s made with plant-derived ingredients and essential oils, so it’s gentle and won’t irritate skin.”
Orange peel plays a major role in a lot of natural cleaning products because it’s the source of a naturally occurring solvent and great at cutting grease. “We use only one natural cleaning product,” says Daniil Dimitrov, a cleaning expert from Fantastic Services in London, whose preferred product Citra Clean is made from natural citrus solvent. “It will clean any surface that you can spray, mop, or wipe with a damp cloth, and it also works in pressure washers and carpet cleaners. You get the idea: If it is dirty, this cleans it.” This consumer-sized spray bottle has nearly exactly the same ingredients and is easier than the industrial-size tubs to store at home.
Branch Basics was recommended by two of our experts — Browne and Kimberly Button, creator of GetGreenBeWell.com and author of the Ultimate Home Detox Guide. “This concentrated multipurpose, all-in-one cleaner is not only made of only plant- and mineral-based ingredients, but it also cuts out packaging waste,” Browne says. The concentrate is designed to be diluted with water and used for laundry, bathrooms (as a streak-free window cleaner), and even for hands and body.
Best natural dish soaps
Davis makes a lot of her own DIY household cleaners. But when she does buy something from a brand it’s Ecover’s dish soap. Jen Brady, chief green mama at Green Baby Deals, also suggests Ecover dish soap, saying that it scores an “A” on the Environmental Working Group, a green resource for consumers, and is gentle on hands but tough on dishes. “My kids are getting into the dishwashing stage and I feel confident letting them use this dish soap,” she says. The Amazon link is for a pack of six, if you want to go all-in.
Best natural fruit and vegetable wash
Seo uses this CFDA-certified organic hand sanitizer, but instead of putting it on his hands, he uses it to clean any bacteria and dirt on his fruits and veggies. It also removes the wax coating that often covers apples and cucumbers.
Best natural degreaser
For tougher greasier areas like stovetops, Val Oliveira, CEO of Val’s Services, a cleaning company in Chicago, recommends Krud Kutter. It’s both water-based and nontoxic, and it’s safe for children, pets, and the environment. “It makes our job easier every day, allowing our cleaners to cut through the inevitable accumulation of dirt, grime, and grease quickly,” Oliveira says.
The best natural floor cleaners
“Truly, the best way to clean wood floors is with simple white vinegar,” DiPrima says. This one is scented with lavender to take some of the edge off.