best in class

The 12 Best Natural Cleaning Products

Including all-purpose cleaners and more specific options for the kitchen, the bathroom, and hardwood floors.

Photo: Marcus McDonald
Photo: Marcus McDonald

In this article

Lots of cleaning brands claim to be natural or green, but knowing the difference between products that are truly organic, nontoxic, and better for the environment and those that simply claim to be requires a level of knowledge that’s actually difficult to acquire. Anna Reade, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says this is in part because terms like natural, green, and nontoxic are “unfortunately not regulated and are not legal definitions, so they don’t really mean anything.” Indeed, there are still no federal regulations that force manufacturers to list everything found in their products on packaging (though California and New York have passed their own disclosure laws). This makes it “pretty difficult to be really savvy at reading ingredient labels,” Reade explains.

In order to simplify the process, I consulted with green cleaning experts, from bloggers to #CleanTok stars to eco-conscious cleaning services. I also turned to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines as well as toxicity databases created by independent entities like the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which gives products letter grades based on how toxic they are. Of course, there’s no use in purchasing a natural cleaner with incredible environmental credentials if it’s not going to, well, clean. I looked for all-purpose natural cleaners that can be used across a variety of surfaces and come recommended by people who use them all the time and then tested them out for myself. Below, find recommendations for the best natural cleaning products, from all-purpose cleaners to more specific hero products you can use in particular areas of your home or workplace.

What we’re looking for

Ingredients

When shopping for natural cleaning products, it’s a good rule of thumb to look for shorter, simpler lists of ingredients in order to decrease your overall exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Even better: Look for ingredients that you actually recognize, such as baking soda, quartz and limestone, and distilled white vinegar, all of which our experts told us are known to be effective all-purpose abrasives that will help remove grease and stains in a variety of contexts. When it comes to lessening environmental impact, it helps to look for biodegradable formulas free of dyes and synthetic fragrances.

Safety

Here’s where things get tricky. Even if its formula appears to be natural or plant derived, a cleaning product may still be harmful to either your health, the environment, or both. For example, some fragrances can cause skin irritation and allergies as well as polluting waterways. A popular “natural” surface cleaner, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Basil Scent Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner, receives a D rating from the EWG because it contains ingredients like sweet-basil oil (linked to cancer, skin irritation, and reproductive and organ damage) and a fragrance linked to respiratory damage and aquatic toxicity. I prioritized natural cleaners that appear in the EPA’s “Safer Choice” database or received a B rating or higher from the EWG. (The EWG gives an A rating to products of “lowest concern” to personal and environmental health and a B rating to products of “low concern.”) While no single database is going to be comprehensive, Reade says that consulting a combination of them and doing some research of your own can go a long way: “If you’re taking any steps, then you’re lowering your overall exposure to chemicals, and that’s good.” Even if you can’t find a certain cleaning product in its database, it’s possible to search for specific ingredients to find out how safe they are.

Sustainability

Going green, as experts noted, doesn’t only mean using natural, nontoxic products but also limiting wasteful packaging. While single-use plastic still abounds even in the natural-products space, I looked for all-purpose surface cleaners that can be used around the home, concentrated formulas that will go a long distance, and large refill sizes.

Best natural cleaning product overall

Bon Ami Powder Cleanser
$10 for 2
$10 for 2

Ingredients: 5 | Safety: EWG A rating | Sustainability: Recycled packaging

Bon Ami, known as an effective yet gentle “scratch-free” household scrub, was recommended by two experts — Saudia Davis of “Best of New YorkGreenHouse Eco-Cleaning and Cindy DiPrima, co-founder and former chief creative of CAP Beauty — who use it as a scrubbing powder for everything from countertops and bathtubs to floor tiles and kitchen sinks. “Bon Ami has been around forever and has a very simple ingredient deck,” DiPrima says. That brief list of biodegradable, hypoallergenic ingredients includes limestone, feldspar mineral powder, soda ash, baking soda, and a surfactant called alkylbenzene sulfonic acid. You can use this powder cleanser all over your house: It fights both kitchen grease and weird bathroom gunk, will polish up your cookware, and is safe to use on stainless steel, copper, brass, granite, and porcelain, plus ceramic tiles. I’ve been using mine to clean up burnt-on stove spills with great success. For the sustainably minded, all of Bon Ami’s packaging is made from 65 percent postconsumer recycled materials. The EWG gives the cleanser an A rating.

Best concentrated natural cleaner

Ingredients: 11 | Safety: EWG A rating | Sustainability: Concentrated formula, refill sizing

As anyone who has ever read a Dr. Bronner’s label knows, its line of liquid Castile soaps are truly all-purpose. Of all the brand’s products, Micaela Preston of mindfulmomma.com recommends Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner, which is a little more abrasive against grime than its classic Castile soap line. Containing plant-based surfactants and essential oils for fragrance, it’s powerful enough to clean your floors, dishes, furniture, and even your car — although it does contain sodium lauryl sulfate, which may be an allergy issue for some. Though the packaging is plastic, gallon-size refill bottles are available, and you can dilute this (cruelty-free and biodegradable) formula as needed, meaning it can stretch out for a while. The EWG gives it an A rating.

Best natural multipurpose spray

Ingredients: 5 | Safety: No EPA or EWG rating | Sustainability: Refillable glass bottle

Strategist contributing writer Caroline Mullen gave us the blunt truth: Most natural multipurpose cleaners “just do not work.” This Humble Suds spray, she has discovered, is an exception. It contains just five non-scary ingredients (distilled water, grain alcohol, Castile soap, rosemary extract, and essential oil), and can be used for wiping dirty paw marks off the front door, soaking and scraping melted mozzarella from the stovetop, and, for Mullen, “cleaning the most forgotten and coffee-stained corners of my granite counters.” Unlike a homemade spray, this is made without vinegar, so it’s safe to use on all sorts of porous and semi-porous surfaces. And the relaxing tea tree–and–lavender scent “truly takes the edge off a frantic cleaning spree,” she says.

Best natural dish soap

Ingredients: 8 | Safety: EWG A rating | Sustainability: Concentrated formula

Davis makes a lot of her own household cleaners. But when she does buy something from a brand, it’s Ecover’s simple, fragrance-free dish soap. Jen Brady, chief green mama at Green Baby Deals, also suggests Ecover dish soap, noting that the EWG gives it an A rating and telling us that it’s 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.

Best natural dishwasher pods

From $42 for 120

Ingredients: 23 | Safety: EWG B Rating | Sustainability: Fully biodegradable product and packaging

If you’ve got a dishwasher in your kitchen and are looking to go as plastic-free as possible, KonMari consultant Kelley Jonkoff recommends these biodegradable detergent pods from Dropps, an environmentally friendly brand that was awarded EPA’s Safer Choice Partner of the Year in 2017. (Although this particular product, we should note, doesn’t make the EPA’s admittedly brief list of Safer Choice–certified household cleaners — possibly just because it’s newer on the market.) She likes that the “pod membrane fully dissolves in water and is broken down by microorganisms in the water-treatment system,” and that “the box just shows up to my house in compostable and recyclable packaging with carbon-neutral shipping.” You can buy a 64-load set or enroll in Dropps’s subscription service.

Best natural baby-bottle cleaner

Ingredients: 10 | Safety: EWG verified | Sustainability: Recycled plastic bottles

In search of a natural soap to clean baby bottles, I turned to the EWG’s (rather short) list of approved options. This vegan and cruelty-free dish cleaner from Attitude Living gets the group’s highest possible verified rating, certifying it as safe and environmentally friendly, with low-concern ingredients (notably in terms of developmental and reproductive toxicity, as well as skin allergies and irritation). It’s fragrance-free and hypoallergenic, and specifically developed to remove both breast-milk and formula residue from baby bottles. The brand says it will also work well on regular dishes.

Best natural floor cleaner

Ingredients: 10 | Safety: EPA Safer Choice | Sustainability: Refill sizing

If your multipurpose cleaner isn’t cutting it, another hardwood-floor option is this pH-neutral Bona cleaner, which Davis uses at her cleaning business and recommends to others. It’s EPA Safer Choice certified and doesn’t require any fancy or time-consuming self-mixing methods: Just spray and mop. The water-based, biodegradable, paraben-, phthalate-, and phosphate-free formula is safe for all unwaxed hardwood floors and won’t leave any residue. The company sells large refill sizes so you don’t have to keep purchasing additional plastic spray bottles.

Best natural toilet cleaner

Ingredients: 7 | Safety: EWG B rating | Sustainability: Recyclable plant plastic bottle

For tidying toilet bowls, Preston recommends this pine-scented cleaner. Not only does it remove tough stains, odors, and any calcification from your toilet, but the product is also packaged in a recyclable bottle made of plant-based materials. The cruelty-free formula is mostly plant based: water, citric acid to remove limescale, pH-regulating sodium citrate, lauryl glucoside as a surfactant, fragrance, the thickener xanthan gum, and the petrochemical glyoxal. The EWG gives it a B rating.

Best natural toilet cleaning tablets

Ingredients: 9 | Safety: EPA Safer Choice | Sustainability: Plastic-free packaging

If you’d rather opt out of plastic completely, these cheerful toilet-cleaning tablets come recommended by Cassandra Peterson, better known as Elvira. (She also told us about a number of other sustainably packaged household and beauty products, including her favorite zero-waste dental floss.) “They do a fantastic job, they smell amazing, like lemon and cedar, and they come in a cute metal canister,” Peterson says of Blueland’s bowl cleaners. “You just throw one in the toilet, leave it for 30 minutes or an hour, scrub, and … voilà! Your toilet is perfectly clean. And you haven’t smelled any horrible chemicals or bought any plastic.” On Peterson’s recommendation, I started using these tablets myself, and can confirm that they turn one of life’s grossest tasks into something bordering on enjoyable. The plant-based, cruelty-free tablets are free of bleach, hydrochloric acid, and dyes. They’re also on the EPA’s Safer Choice list.

Best natural odor and stain remover

Ingredients: 8 | Safety: EWG B rating | Sustainability: Refill sizing

Melissa Maker, whose YouTube channel Clean My Space has more than 1.3 million subscribers, recommends Biokleen’s most well-known product, Bac-Out, as a natural cleaner for carpets or any other kind of fabric or upholstery. She says it uses live enzymes to break down odors and remove stains from all kinds of textiles without damaging or bleaching. (She is also a fan of Nature’s Miracle, a Strategist favorite, for pet stains and odors.) The formula contains no ammonia, chlorine, or phosphates, with an ingredients list that is mostly plant derived — with the exception of the preservative phenoxyethanol. While Biokleen as a brand appears in the EPA Safer Choice database, it does not include this specific product. The EWG gives Bac-Out a B rating. 

Best natural degreaser

Ingredients: 6 | Safety: EPA Safer Choice | Sustainability: Refill sizing

If you’re tackling serious grease and grime, whether on kitchen surfaces, tiles, or even carpet, Val Oliveira, the CEO of Chicago-based cleaning company Val’s Services, recommends Krud Kutter. The water-based, nontoxic, odorless product appears in the EPA Safer Choice database and, according to her, is safe for children, pets, and the environment. “It makes our job easier every day, allowing us to cut through the inevitable accumulation of dirt, grime, and grease quickly,” Oliveira says.

Best vinegar-based natural cleaner

Ingredients: 3 | Safety: EWG B rating | Sustainability: Refill sizing

Perhaps the easiest 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 or baking soda with a little lemon or orange thrown in. “Truly the best way to clean wood floors is with simple white vinegar,” DiPrima says. “Any good white vinegar will do,” agrees TikTok #CleanTok star Ruby Cleans Things. But what if you don’t have the time to do kitchen chemistry right now? This affordable cleaner from White House contains just white distilled vinegar, water, and natural lemon extract, making it a good option for folks who don’t like the smell of vinegar alone but don’t feel like making a mixture of vinegar and essential oils themselves. It gets a B rating from the EWG.

Some more Strategist-approved sustainable cleaning products

Our experts

• Jen Brady, chief green mama at Green Baby Deals
• Saudia Davis, cleaner, “Best of New YorkGreenHouse Eco-Cleaning
• Cindy DiPrima, co-founder and former chief creative of CAP Beauty
• Melissa Maker, founder, Clean My Space
• Caroline Mullen, home and décor writer
• Val Oliveira, CEO of Chicago-based cleaning company Val’s Services
• Cassandra Peterson, better known as Elvira
Micaela Preston, founder of mindfulmomma.com
• Anna Reade, staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council
• Ruby Cleans Things, TikTok cleaning guru

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.

The Best Natural Cleaning Products