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. Unfortunately, there are still no federal regulations forcing manufacturers to list the ingredients in their products on packaging 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. But 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 options. We consulted a bunch of 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 our homes.
The best natural all-purpose cleaners
Bon Ami 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 when they need something stronger than baking soda. “I use Bon Ami, which has been around forever, and has a very simple ingredient deck,” DiPrima says.
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 its peppermint tea tree scent is a pleasant alternative to simple baking soda.”
As anyone who’s ever read a Dr. Bronner’s label knows, this liquid castile soap was designed for truly all-purpose use. As in, it cleans your body and your floors and your dishes. (Technically, you can even brush your teeth with it.) Dilute as needed and marvel at how far you can stretch this stuff.
Green living expert Danny Seo who hosts his own show on NBC called Naturally, Danny Seo recommended 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. 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 roll in a lot of natural cleaning products because it’s the source of a naturally occurring solvent and great at cutting grease. “We only use 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. Also works in pressure washers and carpet cleaners. You get the idea — if it is dirty, this cleans it.” This consumer-sized spray has nearly exactly the same ingredients and is easier to store.
Branch Basics was recommended by two of our experts — Kimberly Button, creator of the Ultimate Home Detox Guide, and Browne. “The multipurpose, all-in-one-cleaner not only is made of only plant- and mineral-based nontoxic ingredients, but it also cuts out packaging waste,” says Browne. The concentrate can also be used for laundry, hands and body (when diluted), and as a streak-free window cleaner.
The best natural dish soaps
Davis says that she usually makes her own cleaners, but that she uses Ecover’s dish soap. The Amazon link is for a pack of six, if you want to go all-in.
The Environmental Working Group, a consumer source for green product testing results and rankings, gave this baby-bottle wash and gentle dishwashing liquid an A for its natural and nontoxic ingredients. It can also be used to clean toys and teething rings.
The best natural floor cleaners
The ingredients in Truce’s cleaning supply products are natural (the company uses lots of vinegar, for example), but the company also uses a refill model that aims to eliminate packaging waste. If you have wood floors, this cleaner also uses olive oil to help nourish them and keep them smooth. Could also work on wood furniture or windowsills.
For a lot of consumers, going green includes limiting packaging that does harm to the planet. “Our mission is to make families happier by creating clean, healthy home environments,” says Abe Navas, general manager of Emily’s Maids, a natural home-cleaning service in Dallas, Texas. “We use this product because it’s organic and reusable. After you buy the bottle you can buy the refill blister packs at any time. It has a good price attached to it and it’s simple and easy to use.”