Your grocer’s household aisle is brimming with a slew of cleaners boasting anti-bacterial claims, eco-friendly ingredients or a more-bang-for-your-buck message. Sifting through these products can be daunting, and a 15-minute indecisive standoff simply wastes time and energy.
And the hard part isn’t even over yet. Once that cleaner has scrubbed its last mildew stain, where does it go next?
To answer your questions, we consulted Brian Sansoni, vice president of Communication and Membership for the American Cleaning Institute.
1. Pouring cleaners down the drain
Q: Is it OK to pour some cleaners down the drain before recycling? If not, what should you do with the leftover liquid?
BRIAN SANSONI: The disposal method that makes the best environmental and economic sense is to use the cleaning product up before recycling the container. If you can’t, consider giving the product to a friend or organization that can. Just be sure to keep the product in its original container with the label intact.
Household cleaning products normally used with water or rinsed away with water are designed to go down the drain as part of normal usage. They are then treated by the same systems that treat other wastes from your home. So, pouring them down the drain is fine.
Most solid products (soap scouring pads, sticks, wipes, etc.) can be placed in the trash. For other products (such as oven cleaners, crystal drain openers and furniture polishes), check the product label; call the manufacturer’s toll-free number; visit the company’s website for disposal recommendations, or check with your local waste disposal facility.
2. “Green” ingredients
Q: Are cleaners that claim to be “green” regulated at all? Are there any specific ingredients to look for or avoid when shopping?
BS: Green is a marketing term, not a scientific one. ACI supports the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides, which promote truthful, accurate representations about environmental characteristics. Product claims need to be truthful and not misleading.
The American Cleaning Institute encourages consumers to be wary of unsubstantiated “studies” and headlines about ingredients to avoid. The best way to avoid real-world problems is to use a product as directed and to store it safely and securely, especially when there are children in the house.
The consumer products industry is extensively regulated by several statutes falling under the scope of various agencies, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Together, these authorities regulate the product throughout its entire lifecycle, including the manufacturing, transporting, labeling, packaging, advertising and disposal.
Responsible manufacturers ensure that their products go through comprehensive, extensive risk assessments, and also review scientific developments and monitor product use data that may affect the safety assessment process. An incredible amount of research and development goes on before these products ever hit the shelves.
3. Making your own cleaners
Q: We have heard about making your own cleaners from household ingredients such as baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice. While many sources back up these homemade ingredients, do they kill all of the bacteria around your home?
BS: “Grandma’s recipes” for homemade cleaners have been a part of household lore for years. Lately, these recipes have been promoted as a “safer” alternative to commercially formulated cleaning products. While you may feel comfortable using these ingredients in cleaning applications, perhaps because some are edible, there are important facts about these recipes to consider. Ignoring these considerations may mean missing some safety assurances, spending more, getting reduced performance and even losing the important health benefits of cleaning.
The use of the term “disinfectant” is regulated by the U.S. EPA. Any product labeled as a disinfectant has undergone extensive testing of its safety and germicidal properties. It must be registered with EPA and display the EPA registration number on the label.
Studies have shown that mix-at-home recipes that are suggested as alternatives to disinfectants are less effective than commercially formulated disinfectant cleaners, both in reducing microbial contamination and in removing soil. In fact, most mix-at-home recipes have no disinfectant properties at all.
Particularly when there are health-related reasons for using a disinfectant, such as on a cutting board that might be contaminated with Salmonella, or on a surface that has been in contact with someone who is sick, consumers should recognize that only EPA-registered disinfectants have been tested for their ability to kill germs.
In areas vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases, such as kitchens, bathrooms and children’s play areas, it’s especially important to disinfect properly. The use of a registered disinfectant according to the label instructions will help ensure that germs are removed.
4. The hazardous label
Q: Are household cleaners ever considered “hazardous” waste for disposal?
BS: Including household cleaning products in hazardous waste programs is often unnecessary and places an additional burden and expense on communities and individuals. Cleaning products do not typically contain ingredients that would harm the environment in the quantities that are disposed of by households.
The vast majority of cleaning products is water soluble and is formulated for safe disposal in either municipal or home wastewater treatment systems. Household hazardous waste programs are intended to handle products that may cause a problem if disposed of by common methods, such as down the drain or in the trash.
5. Effectiveness of green cleaners
Q: Do “green” cleaners with non-toxic ingredients really disinfect and clean as well as others?
BS: The use of the term disinfectant is regulated by the U.S. EPA [...] It must be registered with EPA and the label must display the EPA registration number and use instructions approved by EPA.
Over the last few years, industry research, development and innovation have led to more effective products on the shelves that contain certain environmental attributes that appeal to different segments of the marketplace.
The consumer is the ultimate judge of a product’s performance. At the end of the day, no matter what a product’s claims are, if it isn’t effective, consumers won’t likely purchase it again.
Disclaimer: Earth911 partners with industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory – the largest in the nation – which is provided to consumers at no cost. The American Cleaning Institute is one of these partners.