Today's formulas are a lot different than the ones your grandparents used.

cleaning products
Credit: Getty / Carol Yepes

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.

How we clean—and what we use in the process—has changed significantly over the last few decades, and largely for the better. Today's formulas are greener, more effective, and easier to use. Ahead, we get into the specifics of how cleaning products have evolved over time. As you'll discover, science is on our side: The formulas you turn to today are eons ahead of those your grandparents had in their arsenal.

There's more variety.

There are more cleaning products on the shelves of grocery stores than ever before, says Melissa Lush, the co-founder of Force of Nature. "The cleaning product 'aisle,' whether online or at retail stores, has exploded over the past several years," she says. "Whereas people used to have a couple of hard-working cleaners they'd use on all surfaces, now, manufacturers market [products] for cleaning granite versus stainless steel versus your counters versus glass or your shower." Additionally, Lush says that you can find more variety when it comes to scents and colors, as well.

Products are packed with better ingredients.

Another dramatic change? Nontoxic formulas are the rule, not the exception. "It's much easier to avoid ingredients like bleach, ammonia, or quats (quaternary ammonium compounds) now," Lush says, adding that consumers have become increasingly educated when it comes to the cleaning formulas (and their safety) they turn to the most. "Many companies have innovated and launched products that clean sans chemicals like quaternary ammonium and sodium hypochlorite," she says. "You are also starting to see a few fragrance-free options, because people with asthma and allergies really need to avoid these for health reasons."

They offer a deeper (and safer) clean.

With the arrival of the pandemic, consumer usage of disinfectants has skyrocketed to unprecedented levels—which means we are expecting more from our cleaners than ever before. "Our habits have completely changed as we try to protect our families from the COVID-19 virus," Lush explains. "Never before have we been exposed to such high levels of disinfectant chemicals." And while data does show that more and more consumers are re-evaluating their product arsenal and folding heavier-duty, chemical-based formulas back into the mix ("Using a quat-based product once a day after your kids go to sleep is a lot different than using it around them all day long," Lush explains), product safety is still paramount, she notes.

Luckily, the majority of today's formulas are safe and effective—which means they're fully up to this job. "Think about schools, where the cleaning used to happen once a day, when all the kids and staff were gone," explains Lush. Now, sanitization happens around the clock—which means schools need products with nontoxic ingredients that still offer deep disinfection. The fact that they have several options to choose from indicates just how far we've come.

Products come in greener packaging.

Manufacturers now seek out innovative ways to reduce single-use plastics. "A recent study estimated that our single-use plastic waste has increased 250 to 300 percent since the start of the pandemic due to all the PPE, so it's great to see innovation on this front in the household cleaning category," Lush says. And it isn't just the pandemic driving this innovation: Companies have been working towards reducing the excessive use of plastics for years—something that wouldn't even have been on your grandparents' radars. Better yet, many brands now offer the option to purchase larger units to refill existing dispensers.


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