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Cleaning Industry: Simple Steps to Improve Your Grades

Date posted: 2012-09-18

by Ken Cook
President, Environmental Working Group

Since we released the new online EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning, with ratings of more than 2,000 different products, many consumers and several companies have asked us why some products get low grades.

The answer is different for every product. Our grading system is based on these factors:

  • Hazardous ingredients that pose threats to human health
  • Little or no specific ingredient information on the label
  • Contains ingredients restricted in some states and the European Union
  • Products that release volatile chemicals
  • Our grading system emphasizes full disclosure of contents right on the label.

We believe consumers should be able to read product ingredients when they are out shopping. They shouldn't have to spend time on the Internet or, worse, call the company.

Some products, including those marketed as "green" or "natural," scored poorly because their labels use only generic descriptions such as "preservatives," "color," "fragrance" or "solvent." What do those terms mean? They indicate the use of any one of numerous possible ingredients, but we don't know exactly which ones. Nobody can say without a detailed list of ingredients.

We don't accept marketing claims like "green" and "natural" at face value, and we don't think consumers should either. Would a student near the top of his class get an A if he didn't show up for final exams? We don't think so.

Nor are we willing to give products that don't disclose ingredients better grades than products that do - and are found to contain hazardous substances. That wouldn't be fair to anyone - especially American consumers, who need straight facts.

Manufacturers who contend their products' ingredients are benign can show us - and improve their grades dramatically -- by listing each and every one of them. On the label. Simple as that.

Some companies tell us they have recently reformulated their products. If that's so and the specific ingredients are on the newest label, our staff scientists will review them and add that information to our guide. But we will continue to display information about the products we found in stores and online retailers and rated over the past year, because those older versions are already under kitchen sinks and very likely still on store shelves.

Here's the good news.

Since we released our guide Tuesday (Sept. 10) manufacturers have been coming forward to offer to make public better ingredient information. We welcome their calls. That's good business and good for consumers.

We're already working with the cleaning industry to update scores, based on information coming to us, and the public, as manufacturers compete to offer demonstrably safer, greener products. We hope consumers will return often to our website to check out products they're considering purchasing. Scores and recommendations may have changed. This Updates section will feature the latest news on improvements in ingredients and labeling.

Consumer demand for safer cleaners, with labels that make full disclosure of their contents, is transforming the American market. We're proud that EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning is helping accelerate that transformation.

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About the ratings About the ratings
EWG provides information on cleaning product ingredients from the published scientific... continue reading →
EWG provides information on cleaning product ingredients from published scientific literature, to supplement incomplete data available from companies and the government. The ratings indicate the relative level of concern posed by exposure to the ingredients in this product - not the product itself - compared to other product formulations. The ratings reflect potential health hazards but do not account for the level of exposure or individual susceptibility, factors that determine actual health risks, if any. (Hide)
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