Safer Choices: EPA Helping Consumers Find Cleaning Products for Healthier Homes
by Tom Neltner
Bewildered by the vast number of cleaning products available when shopping online or in your local supermarket? Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a way to narrow your choices of products so you make your home healthier. Just look for the “Safer Choice” logo on the product. Use EPA’s search engine to check whether your favorite brand carries the label.
If you’re worried about fragrances irritating your eyes or lungs, look for labels with “Fragrance Free” in the upper left corner. Unlike products advertised as “unscented,” which contain masking fragrances to hide the chemical smell, these products are what they claim to be – fragrance-free.
The logo replaces the cumbersome “Design for the Environment” (“DfE”) logo that you may have seen on some products in recent years. EPA’s action comes just over a year after Walmart committed to having all of its private brand cleaning products meet the DfE (now Safer Choice) standards by January 2015.
So, how do you know the Safer Choice products are actually safer? EPA requires that manufacturers disclose all ingredients, including fragrances, to a third party who ensures that the products meet the agency’s strict criteria for safety and performance. It also sets packaging standards and bans fragrances that government agencies in the U.S. and Europe have identified as carcinogens, reproductive toxins, or sensitizers. And, in a relatively new feature, it audits the products for compliance.
Finally, EPA enables you to make your own decision about safety by requiring that makers of Safer Choice-labeled products disclose all ingredients on the company’s website and reference the Web page on the product label. With this option, if you’re worried about a particular ingredient, you can make sure it’s not in the product.
Note that there is an important limit to disclosure. To balance trade secret concerns for fragrances, EPA allows companies to provide a list of chemicals used across their various brands, rather than revealing the specific ingredients of a single product. If you want to know what the ingredients are in a single product, your only option appears to be S.C. Johnson. It’s the only firm we know of that goes a step beyond EPA’s labeling standards and names all of the ingredients in each product.
So, next time you’re shopping for cleaning products, look for EPA’s Safer Choice logo for a healthier home.
Tom Neltner, JD, joined NCHH in September 2005 as its director of training and education. He established NCHH’s National Healthy Homes Training Center and Network, which went on to serve over 20,000 health practitioners, as well as its RRP (Renovation, Repair, and Painting) certification program, which instructed more than 27,500 renovators in lead-safe work practices. He worked as a project director for the Pew Charitable Trusts and as a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) before rejoining NCHH as its senior advisor on regulatory affairs. Prior to his career at NCHH, Mr. Neltner founded Improving Kids’ Environment (the “IKE Coalition,” 1999) a highly regarded nonprofit serving Indiana. Since 2015, Mr. Neltner has served as the chemicals policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), where he leads efforts to remove or minimize hazardous chemicals from products and the marketplace through cross-cutting policy initiatives, and supports EDF’s work on chemical safety, especially lead, formaldehyde, and hazardous materials management. Mr. Neltner holds a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from the University of Cincinnati and a Doctor of Jurisprudence from the Indiana University School of Law. He is a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager and a Healthy Homes Specialist.