These formulas aren't just better for humans and the environment—they're also powerful cleaning agents. Here's why.

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If you're curious about how natural cleaning products work or why baking soda is such a powerful ingredient, you've come to the right place. We'll explain the science behind some of the most popular cleaning methods and tools, so you can you clean smarter—not harder. Follow along with Clean Science to see which technique we break down next.

No matter how well they get the job done, cleaning products with toxic chemicals (including phthalates and chlorine) aren't doing your family or the environment any favors in the long run. "Not only can the harsh cleaning agents in some conventional cleaners irritate lungs and skin, they can pose a threat to the ecosystem when entering waterways," says Georgia Dixon of Grove Collaborative. Fortunately, natural cleaning products are every bit as efficient as they are easy on your health and the earth. "Nature already holds the ingredients we need to clean our homes, we just have to find the best ways to harness their power in a way that is effective and affordable," says Angela Bell, another representative from Grove Collaborative. "From vinegar to tea tree oil, natural ingredients have been used by generations of families to keep their homes safe and sparkling."

soap suds sponge cleaning kitchen sink
Credit: Getty / PredragImages

Interested in learning which all-natural ingredients do what, exactly? We asked Dixon and Bell to help us break down the science behind these eco-friendly workhorses, and here's what they had to say.

Natural Surfactants

If you thought natural cleaning products lack scrubbing power, think again. "Natural products rely on powerful surfactants, such as lauramine oxide and citric acid, that bind with dirt particles to pull them from the surface to be wiped away," Dixon says. These ingredients give natural multipurpose cleaners, like Grove Collaborative's All Purpose Cleaning Concentrate ($6.95 for two, grove.co), power; they help the formula loosen up grease and grime on your countertops without the use of any harmful chemicals.

Enzymes

Commonly found in natural laundry products or stain removers, enzymes are macromolecular biological catalysts that speed up chemical reactions without any harsh chemicals. "They are the same sorts of enzymes that our bodies use to break down food, so they are super powerful in working to lift out stains and not-so-desirable smells," Bell says. "Grove's Ultra-Concentrated Liquid Laundry Detergent ($9.95, grove.co), for instance, is over 96% bio-based and uses specifically selected natural cleaning enzymes to deliver results on a range of stain types."

Essential Oils

Unlike conventional cleaners that use toxic synthetic formulas, natural products typically employ fragrances from essential oils. "Essential oils are known to have beneficial health and wellness properties and are expertly formulated to create a sensory cleaning experience," Dixon says. "Some essential oils, such as tea tree, even boast naturally occurring antifungal and antibacterial properties that add to the power of the product."

Walnuts

The cleaning strength of walnuts—yes, walnuts!—is genuinely surprising, but "Grove's signature Scrubber Sponge ($4.95 for two, grove.co) is powered by crushed walnuts," Bell explains, "and is strong enough to use in your bathroom sink and tub to combat soap scum and build-up."

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