Have you ever wondered if the traditional cleaning products you use are safe for the environment? How about all of the new products entering the market that claim to be "green" or "natural," or claim to be made from "all natural ingredients?" To help consumers looking for environmentally friendly cleaners, many countries are creating programs to establish requirements for "green" cleaning products.

Verification Programs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safer Choice label (formerly known as the Design for the Environment or DfE program) is an example of one of these programs. It helps identify companies that are producing sustainable products that are truly safer for the environment as well as human health. Companies whose products are verified to meet the requirements of this program earn the right to display the Safer Choice label on the product. It means that the product lines up on the "green" end of the health and environmental spectrum without sacrificing product performance.

In Europe, green cleaners may apply for certification under the EU Ecolabel program. Similar to the EPA's Safer Choice label , the goal of certification is to make sure a product is both environmentally friendly and of good quality. The EU Ecolabel program takes the whole product life cycle into account – from raw material sources to production, packaging and transport through use by the consumer to recycling of any leftover product or packaging.

Other Cleaning Options

In addition to using green cleaners, an option for many other household cleaning tasks is to use a simple mixture of vinegar or baking soda in hot water. Washing walls with a solution of hot water and vinegar can help freshen a room and neutralize odors. It also works well to clean windows and to dissolve dirt and grease on kitchen cabinets. Baking soda can be used not only to help adsorb odors around the house, but also to help clean areas such as bathtubs that you don't want to scratch. However, as neither of these products can kill bacteria and other microorganisms, they should not be used in place of disinfectants in areas where bacteria can grow, such as counters, sinks and toilets.

Surfaces such as kitchen counters that need to be disinfected should be washed with a mild detergent mixed with water. After rinsing with clean water, disinfect the surface with a mild bleach-based solution (1 cap of household bleach to a gallon of hot water) or other disinfecting agent as recommended by the surface manufacturer. Avoid using bleach products that contain added fragrances or other added ingredients whenever possible.

More Cleaning and Disposal Tips

When cleaning a kitchen, start in the main food preparation area and work your way outward into the rest of the room from the top down. This will help you avoid tracking dirt and germs back into your main food handling areas. Bathrooms should also be cleaned from the top down, ending at the toilet.

While cleaning, set aside any old paints, lawn care products, pharmaceuticals or other products you no longer need. If you aren't sure what to do with them, contact your community or waste hauling provider for instructions on proper disposal. Never dispose of potentially hazardous products with the regular trash, or by flushing them down the toilet or pouring them down the drain. Anything you put down the drain could end up in your drinking water. You can also check to see if your community sponsors any events where hazardous wastes and other household items can be dropped off for disposal or recycling.