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Created for Greatist by the experts at Healthline. Read more
It’s 2020, and we’re in the midst of a pandemic. Therefore, everyone is cleaning like their lives depend on it — because they kinda do.
Looking to use less-harsh cleansers around your home or office? Natural cleaning products offer an effective way to disinfect and clean while using ingredients from Mother Nature herself.
Still, you’ve gotta do your homework when it comes to what’s in cleaning products. Just because the label says “natural” doesn’t mean it’s free of all potentially harmful ingredients.
The cleaning market is crowded with natural, green, and organic cleaning products. Before you start shopping for the best natural cleaners, it’s a good idea to understand the different terms:
- Natural cleaning products contain ingredients that come from nature. But not all natural ingredients are necessarily green or organic, and not all natural products include only natural ingredients.
- Green cleaning products are made with ingredients that are better for the Earth compared to the potentially toxic chemicals that can be found in some other cleaners. “Green” can also mean the item’s packaging is made from sustainable materials.
- Organic cleaning products include organic ingredients.
Products not labeled natural, organic, or green aren’t necessarily bad or dangerous. But more consumers are choosing cleaners that don’t include potentially harmful substances.
There’s not a ton of research available on this, but a study back in 2000 suggested traditional cleaning products were more powerful than natural ones. Bleach, for example, may burn your eyes and throat, but it kills a whole lot of germs — and that can be a positive aspect of using it.
On the other hand, natural cleaners are less likely to irritate humans and pets. Traditional cleaning products may contain chemicals that can put people and pets at risk of respiratory problems, allergic reactions, headaches, and other side effects.
These chemicals can also contaminate soil and the water supply, which isn’t great for you or the earth.
Natural cleaning products are often more expensive than traditional cleaners but usually contain fewer harmful chemicals.
Cleaning chemicals to avoid
Some common chemicals that are known to be harmful:
- chlorine bleach
- diethylene glycol monomethyl ether (also known as DEGME or methoxydiglycol)
- alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride
- alkyl dimethyl ethylbenzyl ammonium chloride
- didecyldimethylammonium chloride
- dioctyl dimethyl ammonium chloride
- distearyldimonium chloride
- *DMDM hydantoin
- ethanolamines (mono-, di-, and triethanolamine)
- monoethanolamine citrate
- quaternary ammonium including benzalkonium chloride
- sodium hypochlorite (bleach)
- sulfuric acid
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), people should also avoid these types of products completely:
- air fresheners
- antibacterial products
- fabric softener and dryer sheets
- caustic drain cleaners and oven cleaners
Here are some factors we considered when choosing the best natural cleaning products:
- Types of ingredients. We examined the ingredients in each product to make sure they were naturally derived, avoiding products with outright harmful substances.
- Packaging content. Some products offer sustainable packaging, like recycled plastics or other biodegradable materials.
- Ranking with leading environmental organizations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and EWG publish annual reports that rank cleaning products. We gave preference to products that ranked well with either organization. (Note: These rankings constantly change as products’ ingredients and formulas change.)
- Cleaning ability. We evaluated how effective products were at actually, you know, cleaning. After all, spraying plant essences may smell great, but everyone is super sensitive about disinfecting and probably will be long after the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Awards and feedback. We looked at product reviews and certifications and gave preference to brands that held green and cruelty-free certifications.
How much does it cost to clean naturally? The natural products in this guide will use the following pricing structure so you know how much dough you’ll be spending:
- $ = under $5
- $$ = $5 to $10
- $$$ = over $10
Note: Because of high demand, certain cleaning products may be out of stock or prices may fluctuate.
Best all-purpose cleaners
1. Better Life All-Purpose Cleaner
- “C” moderate concern EWG rating
- Contains essential oils and/or botanical extracts
- Biodegradable and Leaping Bunny certified
- Free of parabens, ethers, synthetic fragrances, sodium lauryl sulfates, petroleum solvent, alcohol, ethoxylates, and dyes
A handy-dandy all-purpose cleaner can seemingly do it all, from wiping up messes on the kitchen counter to polishing up windows and even tackling the bathroom.
This one promises to do justice to everything from wall scuffs to bacon grease — and even upholstery. It’s also available in fragrance-free if scents aren’t your thing.
Scents available: Clary sage, unscented, and pomegranate
2. Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner
Infused with essential oils, this cleaner is ideal for walls, tile, and just about every other surface in your home. It also comes in a huge range of scents, so you can change things up depending on mood or season.
But if you’re sensitive to fragrances, be wary that it does contain some fragrance allergens.
Scents: Lemon verbena, acorn spice, apple cider, mum, basil, lavender, honeysuckle, geranium, Iowa pine, peppermint, orange clove, and rose
3. Seventh Generation Disinfectant Spray
Some reviewers say this stuff smells too fabulous to be a disinfectant, but others swear it works just as great as harsh cleaners on tough germs. According to the instructions, the aerosol has to be left on surfaces for 10 minutes and allowed to air dry.
The biggest downside is that it’s hard to get your hands on this product. It’s often completely sold out.
Scents: Fresh citrus and thyme; eucalyptus, spearmint and thyme; and lavender, vanilla and thyme
Buy Seventh Generation Disinfectant Spray from Amazon.
4. Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner
You won’t have that cheap piney scent with Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner, but it is made with plant-based surfactants and natural fir needle and spruce essential oils. Bottom line: Things will smell fresh.
Users love this multipurpose concentrate that can even do laundry. It’s available in a few concentrated solution sizes so you can dilute it for your needs.
Best kitchen cleaning products
5. Bon Ami Powder Cleanser
This powder cleanser uses natural soft abrasives to scrub through dirty messes in the kitchen and absorb odors. It’s similar to the classic Comet you grew up with but much less potentially harmful.
Buy Bon Ami from Amazon.
6. Better Life Stainless Steel Polish
- Free of sodium lauryl sulfates, sodium laureth sulfates, petroleum solvent, parabens, ethers, synthetic fragrances, dyes, ethoxylates, and alcohol
Cleaning stainless steel can be a pain in the rump, so it pays to have a product that can power through grease and grime without harsh chemicals.
Scent: Lavender and chamomile
7. ECOS Dishmate Dish Liquid
Like most dish detergents, this one promises to be tough on grease and food while keeping your hands soft — but it’s better for you and the environment. It also comes in several scents or fragrance-free if you need a hypoallergenic option.
Scents: Almond, pear, lavender, bamboo lemon, apricot, and free & clear
Buy ECOS Dishmate Dish Liquid from Amazon.
8. Seventh Generation Dishwasher Detergent Pack Pods (Free & Clear)
Dishwashing detergents can contain countless toxic ingredients, but Seventh Generation has made one without some of the biggest offenders. You get the convenience of pods, but without any harsh scents.
Buy Seventh Generation Dishwasher Detergent Pack Pods from Amazon.
Best window cleaners
9. Aunt Fannie’s Glass & Window Cleaner
Good old Aunt Fannie knows how to make a successful line of vinegar products — many of them have been recognized as some of the best all-natural cleaning products. This one cleans glass but can also be used on stainless steel and chrome.
Scent: Natural with a hint of lavender
10. Seventh Generation Glass Cleaner (Free & Clear)
This is another favorite that’s often sold out. The free & clear option has no fragrance at all. Plus, this cleaner works on stainless steel and other surfaces as a backup all-purpose spray.
Best wood cleaning products
11. Murphy Original Formula Oil Soap
Many of us grew up with this scent — it’s good to know that our grandmas were eco-cleaning all along! This longtime cleaning favorite is good for getting furniture, cabinets, tile, and linoleum clean (not that anyone has linoleum anymore, right?).
Buy Murphy Original Formula Oil Soap from Target.
12. ECOS Furniture Polish and Cleaner
Polish your mantle to a nontoxic, fresh-smelling shine with this product, which can also be used on particle board, Formica, and vinyl.
Buy ECOS Furniture Polish and Cleaner from Amazon.
Best floor and carpet cleaners
13. Method Squirt + Mop Wood Cleaner
This wax-free natural floor cleaner is great on sealed hardwood or laminate floors and has a light almond scent. Plus, it’s as easy as squirting on the floor and mopping things up.
Good news if you have a nut allergy: This product contains no nut oils or proteins. Bad news: It pretty much flies off store shelves.
14. Aunt Fannie’s Floor Cleaner Vinegar Wash Concentrate
This floor cleaner promises to make your sealed wood and stone floors sparkle and shine. Natural cleaning superstar vinegar takes center stage, and the essential oils give it an uplifting scent.
Scents: Sweet mandarin, fresh lime mint, eucalyptus, bright lemon, and lavender
15. Biokleen Bac-Out Stain + Odor Remover
This product helps eliminate stains and odors and stop them from returning. The live enzyme-producing cultures, citrus extracts, and plant-based surfactants are a powerful combination to help take the stink out of carpet, upholstery, and other fabrics.
Best bathroom cleaners
16. Seventh Generation Disinfecting Bathroom Cleaner
Let’s face it: Bathrooms get nasty, and you may be more likely to reach for the hard stuff when it’s time to clean your shower, sink, and toilet. This one can be used as a cleaner (wipe after spraying) or a disinfectant (leave on surface at least 10 minutes and let air-dry).
Scent: Lemongrass citrus
17. Ecover Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Looking for a natural cleaning product for your bathroom that doesn’t flush toxic chemicals down the toilet? This one cleans that nasty toilet bowl ring without the lung-burning bleach.
Scent: Pine fresh
Buy Ecover Toilet Cleaner from Amazon.
Best laundry products
18. Molly’s Suds Original Laundry Detergent Powder
- “A” lowest concern EWG rating
- Free of VOCs, toxins, fillers, carcinogens, and preservatives
- Non-GMO ingredients
- Vegan and Leaping Bunny certified
- Safe for septic systems and high efficiency (HE) washers
This laundry detergent powder requires just 1 tablespoon per load, so you’ll get a lot out of a bag. It also comes in gallon-size refill jugs if you just can’t get enough. It’s recommended for sensitive skin.
Scents: Unscented, peppermint
Buy Molly’s Suds Original Laundry Detergent Powder from Amazon.
19. Dropps Stain & Odor Laundry Detergent Pods
- “B” low concern EWG rating
- Free of dyes, chlorine, phosphates, and optical brighteners
- Lightly scented with essential oils and botanical extracts
- Compatible with all washing machines
- Sensitive skin formulation available
- Safer Choice certified
- Not tested on animals
- Compostable and recyclable packaging
Laundry pods are nothing new, but this optional subscription service gives you a never-ending supply of them — and they’re pretty eco-friendly in terms of natural ingredients and sustainable packaging.
Scents: Unscented, fresh scent, clean scent, lavender eucalyptus
Buy Dropps Stain & Odor Laundry Detergent Pods from Dropps.
20. Ecover Non-Chlorine Bleach
Bleach may kill, well, everything, but in the natural cleaning world, it’s kind of a no-no. Here’s a bleach without chlorine that still tackles stains and dingy white clothes.
Buy Ecover Non-Chlorine Laundry Bleach from Ecover.
21. Puracy Natural Stain Remover
- Vegan and gluten-free
- Leaping Bunny certified
- Biodegradable formula safe for the environment, gray water, and septic systems
- Free of SLS, SLES, sulfates, phosphates, animal by-products, chlorine, bleach, dyes, petrochemicals, caustics, and optical brighteners
Harnessing plant enzyme power, Puracy’s spray stain remover helps eliminate tough stains while being gentle on fabrics and the environment. The EWG rating on this one is unclear, but this product has quite the fan base (which means it’s hard to find and very pricey).
It’s getting easier to find out what’s in your cleaning products, especially with the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning. But formulas change, and the info on the site isn’t always updated in a timely manner.
While a cleaning product labeled “natural” isn’t necessarily safe or healthy, the makers of these products tend to focus on natural ingredients, and some make it a point to leave out harmful substances. Still, a natural product doesn’t necessarily come without potential harm.
Labels are confusing, and the science may not be strong enough for companies to stop using potentially dangerous substances. You’ve got to do your homework, because even the most natural products and the simplest packaging can still contain potentially harmful ingredients.
People react differently to various chemicals. If you or someone in your household has asthma or an allergy or sensitivity, you may want to opt for unscented products with less-harsh ingredients.
Check out how your favorite cleaning products rate online. Then determine if you want to swap them out for options that may be safer for you, your family, and the environment.
You may not be a chemist or an environmental scientist, but companies are generally being more transparent about their ingredients, so it’s easier to make more natural choices.