Have you ever been lured into buying a cleaning product based on what its package said? “Spring fresh,” “kills 99.99% of germs,” “industrial strength,” “new and improved formula,” “best natural cleaner” – all these proclamations sound very appealing to us. The simple reason we think we need all these products is marketing. We really don’t need them all. The good news is that a cleaning product doesn’t have to consist of harsh chemicals to be effective. Here you will learn about safe cleaning products as well as non-toxic cleaning products, by Branch Basics in particular.
Issues with common household cleaners
To begin with, there is something fundamentally important for you to know when it comes to cleaning products. Manufacturers are not required to disclose the ingredients they use. If they do disclose them, it is on a voluntary basis.
Warnings about poisons in household cleaners
Obviously, most cleaning products are dangerous to our health; otherwise, they wouldn’t have warning statements on their labels. For instance, some cleaning products cause immediate hazards such as skin or respiratory irritation, watery eyes, chemical burns, or even death. American Poison Control Centers report that household cleaning products and disinfectants are common causes of poisoning in both children and adults (source).
Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that manufacturers put such words as Danger or Warning or Caution on the label to mark a different degree of toxicity. In other words, a cleaning product may harm people through swallowing, inhalation, and skin application and even cause death (source).
Certainly, even knowing this much you are already eager to replace all your conventional cleaners with new non-toxic cleaning products. So, keep reading and you will learn about the safe cleaning products on the market. But first, let’s discuss what ingredients in household cleaners you must avoid at all costs.
Common harmful chemicals in cleaning products
Besides posing immediate danger, the chemicals in cleaning products can cause allergy, hormone disruption, reproductive problems, and cancer. The following are common harmful chemicals we become exposed to via inhalation, skin irritation, skin absorption, and ingestion simply by touching surfaces treated by these chemicals.
Ammonia and bleach
The other name for bleach is sodium hypochlorite, and it can trigger asthma attacks in people who already have asthma. Also, both ammonia and bleach can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. As a matter of fact, that is why ammonia is not a welcome ingredient in hair colors any longer. However, there are doubts that ammonia-free hair brands are better, and you can find out why in my post about that.
Quaternary ammonium compounds
These compounds, aka QUATs, QACs, or QATs, can cause nose and throat irritation. For example, benzalkonium chloride is a severe eye irritant and causes and triggers asthma. Besides, exposure to QUATs may cause allergic skin reactions. Also, the use of QUATs has been associated with the growth of bacteria that are resistant to disinfection. Sometimes this resistance also transfers to antibiotics. Thus, in laboratory studies, QUATs were found to damage genes. When benzalkonium chloride was used to clean the cages of mice, it decreased fertility in both sexes (source).
Cleaners that do not have ammonia, bleach, and QUATs are better options, but they are not necessarily safe cleaning products. That is to say, there are a few more ingredients that are contrary to the concept of non-toxic cleaning products.
To start with, this ingredient is a suspected endocrine disruptor. Animal studies show that triclosan disrupted the endocrine system and altered the body’s production of hormones. Furthermore, recent evidence suggests that triclosan may play a role in cancer development, perhaps through its ability to act as estrogen or inhibit fatty acid synthesis (source).
In addition, this recent human study found that asthmatic children with higher concentrations of triclosan in their bodies were more likely to be sensitized to inhaled allergens. In fact, just recently the FDA banned the sale of any hand and body soaps containing triclosan or 18 other disinfecting ingredients. It said that these products were no more effective at preventing illness than regular soap and water. So, if you are looking for safe hand soap, check out my non-toxic hand soap guide.
Phthalates and fragrances
Phthalates are used in fragrances found in air fresheners and cleaning and sanitizing products. Research indicates that phthalates increase the risk of allergies and asthma, and they are also endocrine disruptors (source).
Similarly, fragrances are mixtures of many chemicals and can contain up to 3,000 separate ingredients. Many of these chemicals can trigger asthma and allergies. To clarify, because there is no requirement for the manufacturers to list fragrance ingredients on the product label, you will most likely see fragrance as one ingredient. However, nowadays, thanks to consumer pressure, more and more brands disclose their fragrance ingredients. We will talk about some such brands below.
Thus, another tip for us in our search for safe cleaning products is to be on the lookout for triclosan, phthalates, and fragrance. Yes, it is important to read the ingredients, because even when some brands promote their cleaners as non-toxic cleaning products, they are not. Here is why.
Watch out for meaningless claims
It is imperative to know that even cleaning supplies that tout themselves as “green,” “non-toxic,” “eco-friendly,” and “all-natural” might not always be good for our health and the environment. The reason is that these terms do not have any legal definitions. In other words, manufacturers can say virtually anything they want on their product labels to sell their products. However, there is an exception – the USDA organic label, which tells you that the product is organic.
Are Method and Mrs. Meyer’s natural cleaning products brands?
It seems as though the popularity of these two brands is caused by people’s belief that they are all-natural and non-toxic. But let’s see if it is really so by taking a quick look at their all-purpose cleaners.
|Method All-Purpose Cleaner Clementine||Mrs. Meyer’s Rose Multi-surface Everyday Cleaner|
|Water, Decyl Glucoside, Lauryl Glucoside, C12-16 Pareth-7, Sodium Gluconate, Sodium Carbonate, Limonene (fragrance), Linalool (fragrance), Citric Acid, Colorant (synthetic) (source)||Water, Decyl Glucoside, [Fragrance: (Citronellal, Geraniol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Linalool), Rosa Damescena Flower Oil, Citrus Dulcis Aurantium (Orange) Peel Oil], Sodium Citrate; Lauryl Glucoside, Sodium Methyl 2-Sulfolaurate, Citric Acid, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Methylisothiazolinone, Benzisothiazolinone (source)|
Why Method and Mrs. Meyers’s are not non-toxic cleaning products
There are a few ingredients that prevent me from calling these cleaners safe cleaning products.
In the Method all-purpose cleaner, the ingredients include fragrance, an ethoxylated ingredient C12-16 Pareth-7, and a colorant. Firstly, both fragrance ingredients – limonene and linalool – are allergens and are rated between 3 and 5 on the Skin deep database (with 10 as most toxic). Secondly, C12-16 Pareth-7 is a product of ethoxylation. As such, it may have traces of 1,4-dioxane, which is a carcinogen. In addition, there is a synthetic colorant that may be contaminated with heavy metals.
As for the Mrs. Meyer’s multi-surface cleaner, it contains not only fragrance but also some pretty harsh preservatives. Firstly, the fragrance ingredients – geraniol, hexyl cinnamal, linalool – are allergens with a rating of 3 in the Skin Deep database (with 10 as most toxic). Then, methylisothiazolinone is a preservative that the American Contact Dermatitis Society named Contact Allergen of the Year for 2013. Finally, benzisothiazolinone is a known sensitizer.
While it is great that both Method and Mrs. Meyer’s disclose their fragrance ingredients, it doesn’t make their cleaners natural or non-toxic cleaning products. In addition, if you want to know whether other Mrs. Meyer’s cleaning supplies are safe cleaning products, please read my post Are Mrs. Meyer’s Cleaning Products Safe?
Branch Basics safe cleaning products
I am excited to introduce to you the Branch Basics company and their products. Three women who lead a very healthy lifestyle founded the company. Therefore, they spent a lot of time to make sure that the ingredients in their products are safe. And I can tell you right away that the ingredients are safe enough to be a body wash.
For a long time, I had had my reservations about Branch Basics, because I was not sure about their preservation system. Finally, I was able to interview one of the founders, Marilee Nelson. She impressed me as a thoughtful person with very high standards for the quality of the ingredients. Evidently, they spent a lot of time and money to design a product that would be good enough for the most sensitive people.
Let’s look at the ingredients of one of their non-toxic cleaning products that is called Branch Basics Concentrate.
Branch Basics Concentrate ingredients
Here is a list of ingredients for the concentrate:
Purified Water, Coco Glucoside (Sugar-Based Cleanser), Organic Chamomilla Recutita (Chamomile) Flower Extract, Decyl Glucoside (Sugar-Based Cleanser), Sodium Citrate (Food-Grade Emulsifier), Lauryl Glucoside (Sugar-Based Cleanser), Sodium Bicarbonate (Food-Grade Baking Soda), Sodium Phytate (Plant-Based Antioxidant).
Let’s discuss each ingredient and decide whether it really belongs in the category of safe cleaning products.
The glucoside cleansers in non-toxic cleaning products
There are three ingredients from the family of glucosides – coco-glucoside, decyl glucoside, and lauryl glucoside. Glucosides are common in baby shampoos and other shampoos, because they are perfect for colored hair and are gentle on the eyes.
Further, they are derived from non-petroleum sources such as corn, palm, potato, wheat, or coconut. Unlike with most cleansers (aka surfactants), no petroleum chemicals are added during the process of glucoside manufacture. That is to say, there are no contaminants in glucosides associated with petroleum.
Subsequently, according to the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) report, glucoside surfactants are not allergens or sensitizers, which is great news. However, the CIR Expert Panel states that there is a potential for dermal irritation. And they encourage manufacturers to formulate products in such a way that the risks of irritation are at a minimum.
On the other hand, for full disclosure, you should know that there are reported cases of allergic reactions to glucosides. Despite the wide use of glucosides, allergic reactions are rare though. If you want to know more about the research on glucoside surfactants, head over to my post The Best Safest Shampoo.
And again, when choosing a product or deciding on ingredient safety, I believe it is important to know the alternatives. Knowing the alternative for household cleaners, I am not concerned about glucosides. In short, I think Branch Basics made a good decision.
Other ingredients in safe cleaning products
There are two ingredients – sodium citrate and sodium bicarbonate. Let’s see what they do in non-toxic cleaning products.
Firstly, sodium citrate is an emulsifier and pH adjuster used to adjust the acidity to be more in line with our natural skin pH. Citrate, in the form of citric acid, is also found in citric fruits and juices.
Secondly, sodium bicarbonate is baking soda that functions as an abrasive agent, pH adjuster, and skin protectant.
Botanicals in the Branch Basics non-toxic cleaning products
The botanical ingredient is organic chamomile flower extract, which has powerful healing and anti-inflammatory properties. To clarify, it is not toxic unless the process of extraction is contaminated. Therefore, what impressed me most about Branch Basics was the amount of time they spent to make sure that the organic chamomile was free of contaminants, and that the manufacturer was not adding trace amounts of chemicals without telling them.
The preservation system in the Branch Basics safe cleaning products
This is what I found out about their preservation system from Marilee.
It includes a combination of higher pH of 8.5 +/- 0.5, sodium phytate and a large amount of organic chamomile. Marilee assured me that “the large amount of chamomile used (which has antibacterial properties), the sodium phytate (which helps allow the chamomile to penetrate the cell wall of any contaminant more easily), and the formula’s pH – 8.5 +/- 0.5 ultimately result in a stable preserved product.” Even in a diluted form, their non-toxic cleaning products have been tested to last up to 2 years.
You can read more about sodium phytate in my The Best Safest Shampoo post.
Thus, I believe Branch Basics chose one of the safest preservation systems.
How to use the Branch Basics concentrate
The idea is that you get the concentrate and empty plastic bottles and dilute the concentrate following the instructions on their website (or here). This allows you to make cleaners for various purposes. To clarify, the bottles are not a must for the purchase, but they are convenient for dilution because of the different markings they have for various purposes.
In its concept, this concentrate works similarly to Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap. The difference is that Dr. Bronner’s main ingredient is saponified soap, which doesn’t work well with hard water. On the other hand, the Branch Basics concentrate has safe non-petroleum surfactants that are used even in kids’ shampoos and work well in cleaners.
Some of my favorite uses for Branch Basics safe cleaner is to mop the floors, dust our wooden furniture, and clean kitchen surfaces. It is also great for washing dishes.
Conclusion about safe cleaning products
In conclusion, to determine if a product is safe, we must always read the ingredients. The Branch Basics all-purpose concentrate’s ingredients put it into the category of non-toxic cleaning products. You can buy it on the Branch Basics website and in my Shop. Also, there are many other toxic free options for household and cosmetic products in my Shop. In addition, if you are considering a purchase but are not sure about the ingredients, I can assist you in making your decision via a private consultation.
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