Make sure your nontoxic formulas are packed with these.
woman cleaning windows
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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.

The ingredients in your favorite natural cleaning products have never been more important. We trust these workhorses to do both smaller jobs, like de-stick an area after a small spill, and bigger ones, such as disinfecting surfaces in an effort to keep your family safe. Ahead, Melissa Lush, the co-founder of Force of Nature, explains which ingredients in your favorite all-natural cleaning products do the actual cleaning. As you shop for green supplies in the future, make sure to keep an eye out for these ingredients.

Natural cleaning products utilize chemicals.

When you think "natural," you usually don't think "chemical"—but you should, since all natural cleaners are, in fact, packed with chemicals. That's because chemicals are naturally occurring in our environment. "Everything we can touch, taste, smell, and see is a chemical, but sometimes when people are thinking about chemical safety, they shorten 'toxic chemicals' to just 'chemicals,'" explains Lush. This may be why people don't normally associate them with green or natural cleaning products—but they're definitely in there, to give you perspective.

Look for surfactants, preservatives, and hypochlorous acid.

Some of the most common "cleaning chemicals"—that also appear in natural formulas—are surfactants and preservatives. Surfactants are the ingredients that create the suds (this signals that a cleaner is working), notes Lush. Examples of surfactants are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). Preservatives are also essential to these formulas; some liquid-based products need preservatives to prevent microbes from growing. Natural cleaning products often rely on methylsothiazolinone (MIT) and methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT) for this.

The strongest cleaning chemical you've probably never heard of—but one that does crop up in these formulas—is hypochlorous acid. "It's the disinfectant that your immune system produces to fight infection," Lush explains. "It's actually used in a wide range of applications, for example in produce preservation, wound healing products, veterinary and eye care products, and in industrial green cleaning and disinfecting."

Read ingredient lists carefully.

To make sure your green cleaner has everything you need to keep your home and family safe from harmful germs and everything you don't to protect you from toxic chemicals, Lush suggests reading the ingredients listed on the label to make sure the ingredients will actually help you accomplish your cleaning goals. For example, says Lush, if you're trying to disinfect and kill germs, then you want to make sure the product you're using contains an Environmental Protection Agency-registered disinfectant. "Or if you're focused on deodorizing, you want to make sure the product has an anti-bacterial and kills mold and mildew, because bacteria, mold, and mildew are some of the top causes of odors," she adds. "Sometimes, products have fragrances in them to mask odors, as opposed to antibacterials that actually stop the smell at the source."

Don't be fooled by the "all-natural" label.

There are no regulatory safety standards for cleaning products labeled "natural" and manufacturers aren't required to name the full ingredient list on their labels, says Lush. "Together, [this means] that it's not very easy to figure out what ingredients to avoid, and know which products those ingredients are in," she notes, which is why it's important to be diligent about reading ingredients. And remember: "All-natural" does not mean "non-toxic."


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