By changing the way you clean, you're not just benefitting the environment, but your family's health, too, since you're avoiding synthetic and potentially harmful chemicals. Image Credit: Shutterstock

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Natural. Green. Many household cleaning products are tagged with these labels, but just how many of them are truly organic and non-toxic?

It can be hard to discern, since the words are not legal definitions or subject to regulations – so essentially, they don’t really mean anything.

To find the best eco-friendly, organic cleaning products, then, we turned to guidelines published by international groups such as the US-based Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The latter actually gives specific products grades, based on how toxic they are.

According to EWG’s guide on household cleaners, it’s best to avoid three categories of household cleaners:

  • Bleach and quat-based disinfectants – Chlorine bleach contains sodium hypochlorite. This, along with quaternary ammonium compounds, or quats, have been linked to respiratory damage and other health effects.
  • Air fresheners – Many air fresheners have been found to contain undisclosed and often untested chemicals. Instead, EWG recommends opening windows, using fans, and mixing a tablespoon of baking soda with a few drops of essential oil and water, instead, to form a natural air freshener spray.
  • Caustic drain cleaners – Several drain cleaners include severely toxic chemicals, and they can give off harmful fumes that linger long after the cleaning product has gone down the drain. Instead, the EWG recommends using a drain snake or making a fizzy drain opener with half a cup of vinegar and half a cup of baking soda.

We also spoke with Param Singh, chief executive officer of Dubai Housekeeping (@dubaihousekeeping on Instagram), a professional cleaning services company in Dubai. He shared his advice on how best to introduce sustainable cleaning to your home. Scroll down to read his recommendations.

In our curated list below, based on our expert’s advice, research and top-rated reviews, you’ll find greener alternatives that are approved by environmental agencies. These products are known to not just have excellent environmental credentials, but also act as efficient, powerful cleaners that can be used across a variety of surfaces.

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1. Best Overall: Bon Ami Powder Cleanser (3-Pack) 

Ever since it was first released in 1886, Bon Ami’s powder cleanser has claimed to clean without leaving any scratches – and it’s true. This gentle household scrub received an A grade from EWG for its brief list of biodegradable, hypoallergenic ingredients – from feldspar mineral powder to limestone and baking soda. Thousands of happy reviewers on Amazon say they’ve used it all over their house. It can scrub away both kitchen grease and bathroom soap scum, it can polish your cookware, and it can leave your countertop sparkling. Even its packaging is partially eco-friendly: it’s made from 65 per cent postconsumer recycled materials.

2. Best All-Purpose Cleaner: Dr Bronner’s Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner (2-Pack) 

When it comes to multi-purpose cleaners, Singh says: "These versatile workhorses are great for everyday cleaning on countertops, sinks, appliances, and sealed floors. Look for brands that use natural ingredients like vinegar, plant-derived surfactants, and essential oils for safe and effective clean-up." Dr Bronner’s most popular product is its line of biodegradable castile soaps, but Sal Suds takes it up a notch, with a concentrated solution made from plant-based ingredients and surfactants, along with essential oils for a light, pleasant fragrance. Although it comes in a plastic bottle, it’s large enough to last a long time – it can even be diluted to stretch it out for longer – and the bottle be recycled. The all-purpose formula is powerful enough to tackle floors, dishes, furniture and even your car. Do note that it contains sodium lauryl sulfate, which may cause allergy issues for some people. The EWG gave this product an A rating.

3. Best Dishwasher Pods: Dropps Dishwasher Detergent Pods, Lemon 

Formulated with sustainable, plant-based ingredients, Dropps’ detergent pods are fully biodegradable, so there’s no plastic in either the product or its packaging. The pod membrane completely dissolves in water, and its box is made with recyclable and compostable cardboard. Despite its clean ingredients, the pods effectively tackle even the toughest stains, like 24-hour baked-on food, with no pre-rinse required. The pods are free of dyes, phosphates, chlorine and phthalates. The EWG gave it a B rating, for possible allergy and respiratory concerns from its use of fragrance.

4. Best Dishwashing Liquid: Ecover Zero Dish Soap (6-Pack) 

A natural dish soap produces immediate and rewarding results. Singh said: "Gentle on hands, yet powerful on grease, these dish soaps use natural ingredients like coconut oil or castile soap for effective cleaning. Some might even incorporate essential oils like lemon or grapefruit for a pleasant scent." A simple, fragrance-free liquid dish soap, Ecover Zero received grade A from the EWG for its gentle, effective formula. The dishwashing liquid uses non-toxic, biodegradable ingredients that don’t dry out your skin, but are still tough enough to deal with stuck-on food and stains. Reviewers say it lathers well and leaves no residue or smell; even people with sensitive skin share rave reviews.

5. Best Bathroom Cleaner: Seventh Generation Zero Plastic Bathroom Powder Cleaner 

A water-activated powder made with biodegradable ingredients, Seventh Generation’s bathroom cleaner comes in a recyclable steel container. It’s an excellent solution for cleaning your bathroom’s most touched surfaces, like sinks, counters and tubs. Its mineral-based powder is tough on soap scum and grime, but features no dyes, chlorine bleach, fragrances or plastic. It’s best used by sprinkling the powder on a cloth or sponge, lathering it up with water and then cleaning the area. While this powder cleaner garnered low environmental concerns, the EWG gave it a C rating for some skin allergy concerns, due to ingredients like alcohol alkoxylates. So, it’s best avoided by those with sensitive skin.

6. Best Floor Cleaner: Bona Multi-Surface Floor Cleaner 

If your all-purpose cleaner isn’t cutting it, Bona’s multi-surface cleaner should get the job done. The product received the EPA’s Safer Choice certification for its biodegradable, water-based formula that’s safe for people, pets and the planet. This unscented cleaning product leaves all unwaxed, stone, tile, laminate and vinyl floors sparkling clean, without streaks or residues. We picked a 3.7-litre refill bottle that you can easily add to your mop’s tank; it will last you for months. Reviewers also say it’s extremely fast-drying.

7. Best Stain Remover: Biokleen Bac-Out Stain and Odour Remover

When time is of the essence, Biokleen’s Bac-Out is an excellent natural cleaning product that quickly gets rid of stains and odours. The plant-based solution involves a unique blend of live enzyme cultures that break down and absorb organic material, like dirt and urine, and turn odours into carbon dioxide. It even effectively cleans up coffee spills! Do note that while it works well on all sorts of stains, it's most effective on organic matter. Mechanical grease stains, for instance, won’t be as easily tackled by this product.

8. Best Degreaser: Krud Kutter Concentrated Stain Remover 

For more serious grease and grime stains, opt for EPA Safer Choice-certified Krud Kutter. This water-based, non-toxic and odourless degreaser works great on tiles, kitchen surfaces, and even carpets. It can eliminate oil stains, cut through grease, and even remove dried latex paint. Reviewers say just two or three sprays are all it takes for the stain to come right off. It’s also safe to use on pots and pans.

9: Best Laundry Detergent: Tru Earth Laundry Detergent Eco-Strips 

Traditional laundry detergents often come in heavy boxes or plastic bottles, and almost always involve some spillage. Tru Earth’s strips, however, give the entire laundry process an eco-friendly overhaul. There’s no measuring and no mess involved, since one strip equals one load (so it’s half a strip for a smaller load). The fragrance-free detergent is hypoallergenic, as well as paraben-, phosphate-, and chlorine bleach-free. Each strip weighs just 3g, but packs the same power as 40g of a traditional powdered detergent. The strip dissolves completely in water, and removes tough stains, retains the vibrancy of colours, and restores whites.

Why opt for sustainable cleaning products?

A simple change, like switching to a natural dish soap, can work wonders for your hands, and the environment. Image Credit: Pexels/Cottonbro

Our everyday choices can have a lasting impact on our health and our planet.

Singh explains: “Often, exploring eco-friendly cleaning products is a gateway to a more sustainable lifestyle. It's about making conscious choices for ourselves, our loved ones, and their future on the planet.”

Singh himself chooses environmentally friendly products at Dubai Housekeeping, and carefully evaluates products based on certifications and testing, before permitting his cleaning staff to use them in residents’ homes.

He has found that eco-friendly cleaning products are much safer to use and dispose of. Singh said: “They typically contain plant-based ingredients and avoid harsh chemicals, leading to less water pollution and safer indoor air quality. They're also gentler on the skin and eyes, and reduce one’s exposure to potentially harmful toxins. While the upfront cost might be slightly higher, these products are often concentrated and require less per use, making them cost-effective in the long run. By switching to eco-friendly cleaning solutions, you're making a positive impact on your environment and your well-being.”

Are natural cleaning products less effective than their chemical counterparts?

Even though eco-friendly cleaners and disinfectants make a whole lot more sense, many people are hesitant to use them because of the perception that they don’t clean as well, or as effectively.

Singh debunks this myth, saying: “False perception! While some non-toxic cleaners might require slightly different techniques compared to their conventional counterparts, they can absolutely tackle tough stains.”

He broke down why natural cleaners work just as well:

  • Natural powerhouses: Many natural ingredients like citrus extracts, vinegar, and baking soda boast powerful cleaning properties. For example, citrus oils are excellent at dissolving grease, while vinegar cuts through grime and disinfects.
  • Formulation matters: Effective cleaning relies on a well-formulated product, not just harsh chemicals. Eco-friendly brands often focus on creating a synergistic blend of natural ingredients that work together to tackle various cleaning challenges.
  • Technique is key: Sometimes, non-toxic cleaners might require a bit more elbow grease or a different approach than traditional products. For example, applying a baking soda paste and letting it sit for a while before scrubbing could be more effective than a quick spray-and-wipe with a harsh chemical cleaner.

At the end of the day, non-toxic cleaners are able to remove all the stains you’d expect them to – from coffee spills to oven grease. But Singh adds: “The key is to choose the right product for the job and perhaps adjust your cleaning technique slightly. Many eco-friendly cleaning brands offer detailed instructions and product recommendations based on specific cleaning needs.”

Tips to transition into a sustainable cleaning routine

If you’re ready to embrace a non-toxic cleaning experience, take note of a few thoughtful tips shared by Singh, before you dive in:

  • Start small: Don't overwhelm yourself. Begin by replacing one or two cleaning products with eco-friendly alternatives. This allows you to test effectiveness and adjust your routine gradually.
  • Embrace multi-purpose products: Opt for multi-surface cleaners that can tackle various cleaning tasks. This reduces the number of products you need to buy and minimises storage space.
  • Natural ingredients: Explore the wonders of natural cleaning solutions like vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice. They're readily available, inexpensive, and effective for many everyday cleaning tasks. Research and experiment with creating your own cleaning solutions using these natural ingredients. It's a fun way to personalise your cleaning routine and save money.
  • Power of prevention: Focus on preventing messes rather than cleaning them up constantly. Use doormats to trap dirt, wipe spills immediately, and declutter surfaces to minimise dust build-up.
  • Utilise reusable alternatives: Ditch paper towels! Invest in high-quality microfibre cloths that are washable and reusable for various cleaning tasks. Consider reusable dishcloths, sponges, and mop heads to reduce reliance on disposable cleaning tools.
  • Read labels and certifications: When buying eco-friendly products, read labels carefully. Look for certifications from reputable organisations that verify the product's environmental claims.
  • Sustainable storage: Repurpose old containers for storing your homemade cleaning solutions. This reduces plastic waste and adds a personal touch to your cleaning supplies.
  • Small changes, big impact: Remember, even small changes in your cleaning routine can make a big difference for the environment. Embrace the journey and celebrate your progress towards a more sustainable home!

Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.