Coming clean on the green claims of dirt-busting products

Rating: NNNNN Q: What do you think of cleaning products that market themselves as eco-friendly, like Method, Melaleuca and Clorox’s new.

Rating: NNNNN

Q: What do you think of cleaning products that market themselves as eco-friendly, like Method, Melaleuca and Clorox’s new green line?

A: The jig is up. I have a deep, dark columnist confession. These are actually three separate questions from three equally inquisitive readers merged into one. I’m letting you in on this little secret because, truth is, this query is just the tip of the Titanic-sinking iceberg in terms of probing e-mails from Ecoholics nationwide wondering if the cleaners under their sinks are all they’re advertised to be.

And there’s plenty of reason to be leery. According to a hot-off-the-press investigation by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), many cleaners (and beauty products) advertised as organic contain alarming levels of the known carcinogenic contaminant 1,4-dioxane. Dish soap is the worst offender (Citrus Magic dish soap’s level is off the charts). Check out for details on products to avoid (or look for).

One brand that tested positive for 1, 4-dioxane was Method. These cleaners have been featured in Vanity Fair and are available here at Shoppers Drug Mart. They’re slickly packaged, and their main claim to green fame is that they’re biodegradable. That’s a good thing, if those claims are certified. (Method says it is third-party-tested to biodegrade 60 per cent or more within 28 days but offers no certification symbols.)

The other annoying thing is that, like many cleaners, Method fails to list ingredients on the label, and an online search pulls up vagaries like “naturally derived surfactants.”

Method does come clean about many things in its extensive online FAQ section (something you always want to check on corporate sites), like its use of petrol-based ingredients and some synthetic chems, but the company swears it only uses the nontoxic kind. It may not use naughty triclosan, phosphates or parabens, but it does fess up to sudsy sodium lauryl sulfate, an irritant many crunchies try to avoid, and suspiciously synthetic fragrances. (That explains why I get a headache just sitting near an open bottle of Method stuff.)

FYI, the generic Method rip-off, Shoppers’ in-house Bio-Life brand, is riddled with so much potent synthetic scent that we had to quarantine the fabric softener samples Shoppers sent to NOW. Even our box of Clorox Green Works didn’t trigger headaches like the above two.

Clorox does deserve a good knuckle-rapping for, again, not listing ingredients on the label, but a pretty specific list online at least tells you the surfactant is alkyl polyglucoside. (You wouldn’t want to squirt this shit in your eye, but it is considered more biodegradable than other agents.) The product passed OCA’s 1,4-dioxane testing and gets a thumbs-up from the U.S. Sierra Club (which, admittedly, Sierra has gotten some flak for). Oh, and Clorox claims Green Works’ ingredients range from 99 to 99.9 per cent natural, but “naturally derived” is more accurate.

Melaleuca is much more, well, mysterious. If you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone. It’s actually a consumer-direct marketing operation (like Avon), and a whole $780 million Melaleuca world out there pushes what it calls wellness products. But red flags pop up when I spot bioaccumulative triclosan and questionable aluminum in Melaleuca deodorants.

The company claims its cleaning formulas make “EcoSense” and are free of big baddies like bleach, phosphates and ammonia. But there’s no backup for biodegradability claims, and the Tub & Tile spray label, for instance, says only “naturally derived detergents and solvents.” Hmm. Well, that’s useful.

A call to Melaleuca’s product info line results in more talk of proprietary ingredients but reveals that sodium lauryl sulfate and polyethylene glycol are among them. (That last one has been linked to 1,4-dioxane.)

Shaklee is another consumer-direct line of products readers have asked about. It’s not in stores, but has a more public profile thanks to multiple Oprah plugs. It’s been around since the 50s, has funded lots of impressive eco projects (plus it’s been certified carbon-neutral since 2000), so why can’t the company share its ingredient list?

Telling us it’s proprietary doesn’t inspire much confidence, but the company does guarantee that its products are free of about 20 major cleaning toxins. I’ve also seen Shaklee trade show demo-ers swallow some of the stuff to show just how nontoxic it is. FYI, you need to buy a $15 membership to order the goods.

Bottom line: ask lots of questions, and if you’re uncomfortable with a company’s hush-hush ways, turn to brands that happily give you the real dirt on their contents. And remember, vinegar and baking soda ain’t hiding a thing.

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