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Ten Tips to Find Safer Cleaners

Cleaning product manufacturers are not required to include ingredients on their labels. So how do you know if a cleaning product is truly green, that is, safer for people and the environment?Follow these 10 tips to help you identify safer alternatives for cleaning:

 
1. Look for cleaners that have credible third-party certification
2. Find out if your state or region has a green procurement program
3. Don't automatically disinfect when you clean
4. Don't confuse fragrance with cleaning performance. If colors are used to differentiate cleaning products, these should be safe, too
5. Be wary of salespeople who tell you that their product is safe when used as directed
6. Avoid using cleaners that contain these chemicals
7. Look for labels that divulge ALL of the cleaner's chemicals
8. Contact the manufacturer of the cleaner(s) you are currently using and ask for the Materials Safety Data Sheet
9. Use only cleaners containing an HMIS1 and/or NFPA2 numerical rating listed on Material Safety Data Sheets
10. Stay away from cleaners that carry "Danger" or "Warning" statements

 1. Look for cleaners that have credible third-party certification.An example includes the Green Seal label (www.greenseal.org). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also provides environmentally preferable product information at EPP tools . If your store/supplier does not offer any of these products, ask the Manager when s/he intends to carry them. A letter signed by you and your neighbors/colleagues is a very effective way to elicit local support for the chemical companies trying to do the right thing. 2. Find out if your state or region has a green procurement program (usually for government contract purposes). Massachusetts also has an alternatives assessment laboratory as part of the Toxics Use Reduction Institute at UMass Lowell (www.uml.edu). 3. Don't automatically disinfect when you clean.While disinfecting may be necessary on kitchen surfaces for preparing food or on telephones if someone is sick, it is best to limit the use of disinfecting products because overusing antimicrobial products may lead to the spread of "super bugs." Contact the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (www.apua.org) and the Center for Disease Control (Ounce of Prevention Campaign) for more information. 4. Don't confuse fragrance with cleaning performance. If colors are used to differentiate cleaning products, these should be safe, too (such as those used for Food, Drug and Cosmetic purposes).Some people are chemically sensitive to these kinds of ingredients. Fragrances can also be used to mask odors that may be associated with an unsafe ingredient. Use unscented products wherever possible. Foodgrade colors are listed under EAFUS: A Food Additive Database maintained by the Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov). 5. Be wary of salespeople who tell you that their product is safe when used as directed.This may mean that the cleaner could be considered dangerous when stored or handled as a concentrate. Products need to remain safe under all kinds of conditions for everyone coming into contact with them, including pets and children. 6. Avoid using cleaners that contain these chemicals:Nonyl- and octyl-phenols are used to make alkylphenol ethoxylate (APE) detergents and are suspect hormone disrupters. In Europe, these products contain the slightly more expensive, but safer, alcohol ethoxylates instead. 7. Look for labels that divulge ALL of the cleaner's chemicals.These labels are similar to those used on food stuffs whose ingredients total 100%. While companies participating in valid green labeling initiatives report all of their ingredients, many smaller firms selling safe products do not have funds for certification. Reading labels thoroughly can reward these companies, too, with your business. 8. Contact the manufacturer of the cleaner(s) you are currently using and ask for the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS):Their contact information should be somewhere on the label. To date, workers (not consumers) have a right to this information. Alternatively, try http://hpd.nlm.nih.gov/index.htm by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 9. Use only cleaners containing an HMIS1 and/or NFPA2 numerical rating listed on Material Safety Data Sheets.These ranking systems take into account a product's health, fire, reactivity and specific hazards, from a score of 0 (minimum) to 4 (severe) in each category. Displaying these values is not mandatory and constitutes a financial commitment for testing on the part of a chemical vendor to provide more data than just what is absolutely required by law. For bathroom, general purpose, glass and carpet cleaners, avoid any product with a score higher than 2 in any of the above categories. 10. Stay away from cleaners that carry "Danger" or "Warning" statements. Remember, as a guideline:

4 Danger May be fatal on short exposure. Specialized protective equipment required.
3 Warning Corrosive or toxic. Avoid skin contact or inhalation.
2 Warning May be harmful if inhaled or absorbed.
1 Caution May be irritating.
0 No unusual hazard

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