Easily the biggest question we get from those new to the idea of Green Cleaning. And it's understandable. Currently, and for the foreseeable future, the responsibility of knowing what you are bringing into your home remains on you, the consumer.
You might be surprised to learn that there are exactly ZERO federal regulations around disclosing ingredients in cleaning products. Yep, who knows what's in those bottles if there isn't a comprehensive list of ingredients. Don't be fooled by labels that say "Contains". Only a full-blown list of ingredients should be accepted. Both New York and California have recently passed disclosure laws, hopefully more states will follow.
Additionally, there are about 1,500 ingredients that are banned in the EU for safety concerns but are completely allowable here in the US. Yikes.
Toxin-Free vs. Non-Toxic
This is a nuance that you've probably seen without realizing it. Non-Toxic isn't as great as it seems. In fact, it is also unregulated. The only sort of regulation comes from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC regulation around what's considered toxic is confusing and filled with loopholes. Shockingly, if a product kills 49% of it's "test subjects" it can still be labeled as Non-Toxic!
Toxin-Free can be a safer bet on products, but, once again, there are no regulations. Even with a label of "Toxin-Free" you should still read the ingredients and know what you are buying.
This is where the marketing on a product can be deceiving. You've probably seen labels that say things like "Made with Organic Ingredients" or "Cruelty Free" or "Plant Based" or even "Natural". Once again, no one is regulating that. Just about anybody can put these marketing claims on labels without any type of vetting or verification system. This often called "Greenwashing" when a brand makes claims that seem "Green" but really aren't, some of the cleaning products you've used recently might not stand up to our Label Checklist test, even though you thought they were "Green" and safe for your family.
How "Toxic" are these ingredients anyway?
This is a tough one to answer for several reasons. We look to the EWG for ratings on individual ingredients and don't use anything with a rating higher than a 2. Many of the chemicals in conventional cleaners have ingredients that have been identified as potential carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, irritants for asthma or allergy sufferers or dangerous to aquatic life (because everything you wash down the drain goes somewhere.) How toxic they truly are has been argued in many scientific communities, but we always air on the side of caution. You can't get rid of ALL toxins in your life but reducing them greatly brings down the Toxic Load on your body. Want to know more about Toxic Load? You can read more here.
I know all of this can seem overwhelming. Here's the good news: There are many great companies out there making amazing products that are safe and effective. You don't need the chemicals in your life and even replacing one item at a time you will slowly make great progress in bringing down your Toxic Load.
At Gaia we are committed to full transparency. We believe you have a right to know what's in your home and we will continue to educate and enlighten our community.
If you'd like to delve into this issue further, here's some of our favorite resources: