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The Green Life: Do Cleaning Products Have Dirty Secrets?

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December 17, 2012

Do Cleaning Products Have Dirty Secrets?

Mr. Green is Bob SchildgenHey Mr. Green,

How damaging to the environment are Scotch Brite pads and their ilk?

—Robbyn, in Novato, California

It all depends on which ilk of pad from which company. 3M’s Scotch Brite has joined the green parade by developing a line of environmentally friendly products such as its “Greener Clean” scouring pad. It’s made from natural agave fibers, unlike those composed of plastic and unspecified mineral substances, or metal pads infused with chemicals of unspecified provenance. Whether processing and transporting agave fibers has greater or lesser total environmental impact than making conventional pads is impossible to determine. I do fervently hope that such a use of agave, the source of tequila, is not diminishing the supply of this divine beverage.

A useful guide to sustainable home products is provided by the Environmental Working Group, which ranks almost 2,500 of them, from air fresheners to laundry detergent to graffiti and cat-odor removers. To find out if a product is safe to use and easy on the environment, check EWG’s ratings.    

If they give an item an “A” or a “B,” you can be reasonably sure that it won't harm you or the environment. Lower grades should, of course, be shunned.  Scotch-Brite’s toilet bowl scrubbers, for example, garnered an “F,” as have a shocking number of many other brands. For instance, more than half of the 213 bathroom products flunked because of “potentially significant hazards to health or the environment—or poor ingredient disclosure.” So, aside from the known dangers, we can’t even find out what’s in a lot of the stuff we spritz, waft, spray, sprinkle, rub, daub, and dump in our homes and businesses. The same secrecy dominates cosmetics and  personal care products, so it may be safer just to smell and be smelled than seek protection from mystery molecules cooked up in corporate laboratories.

Got a question? Ask Mr. Green!

READ MORE:

A Real or Fake Christmas Tree: Which is Greener?

Ask Mr. Green: Are Plastic Food Containers Too Toxic to Reuse?

Mr. Green: How to Throw an Ecofriendly Kegger


Illustration by Little Friends of Printmaking.

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