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How do I know which cleaning products are the most environmentally friendly?

Tips for Finding Safe Cleaners

Besides looking for the Design for Environment (DfE) logo and knowing what marketing terms mean, consumers can also read product packaging to make sure environmental claims are qualified. All assertions should specify whether it's referring to the product, packaging or both.

Labels should include additional information explaining why the cleaner is environmentally friendly. Take, for example, a floor cleaner labeled "environmentally preferable." Somewhere on the container should be qualifying language about how the cleaner is preferable, such as "This product has no air polluting potential and is 100 percent biodegradable."

Similarly, seals of approval should come with an explanation and identify the third party doing the certifying. The organization should be independent from advertisers and have expertise in the area for which it's certifying.

Other indicators of environmental responsibility are the following: recycled, recyclable or refillable containers; concentrated products that require less packaging; cleaners free of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that can deplete the ozone; and degradable, biodegradable or photodegradable product contents or packaging.

Source reduction claims also should be specific. For example, a toilet cleaner ad that claims the solid waste generated by disposing of its container is "now 20 percent less than our previous container," is in good practice if the cleaner company can prove disposal of the new package contributes 20 percent less waste by weight or volume to the solid waste stream. Comparatively, the general claim "20 percent less waste" is ambiguous and therefore deceptive because it's unclear if the claim is referring to a preceding product or that of a competitor, according to the FTC's Complying with the Environmental Marketing Guides.

For more help in cleaning green, see some of the links on the next page.