All-purpose cleaners: Find an environmental friendly choice
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All-purpose cleaners: Find environmentally friendly choices

A test of all-purpose cleaners shows you can find plenty of good choices for the environment. However, some products contain suspected endocrine disrupters.

Katja Ravn · Foto: Getty Images · 6. juli 2022
universal cleaning products

We tested 36 all-purpose cleaners for problematic chemicals.

The test shows that 7 products are good choices for your health and the environment. These products get the best rating, A-rating.

Cleaning products with an A-rating do not contain unwanted chemicals such as allergenic substances, suspected endocrine disrupters or environmentally damaging chemicals.

Watch out for perfume and preservatives

22 of the tested cleaning products contain perfume or plant extracts that are allergenic. If you develop a perfume allergy, it will last for the rest of your life.

In general, limiting your exposure to perfume by choosing perfume free cleaning products is a good idea. Perfume does not make cleaning products more effective in any way.

In some cases cleaning products can also contain allergenic preservatives susch as MI (methylisothiazolinone) and benzisothiazolinone.

Perfume and allergenic preservatives have to be declared on the product label.

All-purpose cleaners with ecolabels can contain unwanted chemicals

Usually we recommend products with an ecolabel such as The Nordic Swan Ecolabel. These products are normally without suspected endocrine disrupters.

However, no rule is completely without exceptions.

We have found one suspected endocrine disrupter in several cleaning products with The Nordic Swan.

The chemical methyl ethyl ketone – also called MEK or butanone – was found in 5 products with The Nordic Swan.

The substance is used to denature alcohol making it unsuitable for human consumption.

The substance is part of a denaturation method of alcohol which is approved within the EU. This means that alcohol denatured in this way is automatically approved for sale in all countries in the EU.

However, MEK is also on the authorities list of suspected endocrine disrupters.

Several other denaturation methods must be approved nationally.

Requirements for endocrine disrupters are tightened

In general The Nordic Swan Ecoabel exclude suspected endocrine disrupters. But the authorities' list is not yet incorporated in all of the labels requirements – this includes the requirements for cleaning products.

Ecolabelling Denmark expect that the criteria will be updated in 2024.

The Nordic Swan exclude endocrine disrupters, substances from EU’s list of suspected endocrine disrupters and other specific substances. This means that many of the substances on the newest list from the authorities already are excluded from products with The Nordic Swan Ecolabel. The whole list is also already incorporated in The Nordic Swans criteria for a number of product groups. But not yet for cleaning products. We expect that the criteria for cleaning products will be tightened in 2024. Lisbeth Engel Hansen Head of criteria, Ecolabelling Denmark

Coop is phasing out suspected endocrine disrupter from their products

Three products in the test with the suspected endocrine disputer MEK are all Coop products.

After the results of the test, Coop tells us they will change the production as soon as possible and denature alcohol in the cleaning products without using MEK going forward.

“We are truly sorry for this and will do everything we can to remove the substance as quickly as possible”, says Malene Teller Blume, Quality Manager at Coop Denmark.

Coop has banned all suspected endocrine disrupters in their own brands. Regardless of whether the content is low and the product is significantly diluted during use.

Meanwhile, you can use our test of all-purpose cleaners to find a good option without unwanted chemicals such as MEK.

It is both unfortunate and confusing for consumers that unwanted chemicals suddenly appear in eco-labelled products. At The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals, we can judge chemicals here and now. But the ecolabels must first update their criteria and the producers must adjust production, and of course this takes longer. The most important thing is that the problem of unwanted chemicals in Swan-labelled products will be solved going forward. Until then, the test can help consumers make an informed choice. Stine Müller Project manager, The Danish Consumer Counctil THINK Chemicals

Where are the lists of ingredients?

In addition to unwanted chemicals, it can also be difficult to find a complete list of ingredients on the product label. Companies do not have to disclose all the ingredients on the product itself.

Denaturants such as MEK is not required to be declared on the product itself.

However perfume and preservatives must be declared directly on the product label. The same goes for allergenic preservatives susch as methylisothiazolinone.

The complete ingredient list has to be available on the website indicated on the product. This also includes denaturants.

However the test shows it can be difficult to find all of the information online, and that the information is not always updated.

The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals encourages companies to make it easier for consumers to find the correct information online.

7 cleaning tips

1. Cleaning products with ecolabels are generally a good choice

Even though our test of all-purpose cleaners find unwanted chemicals in some eco-labelled products, this is rare.

We still recommend ecolabels if you are looking for products which meet requirements for the product's impact on the environment and which are free of perfume and a number of other problematic substances.

Perfume is allowed in products with The Nordic Swan Ecolabel and the EU Flower. Perfume is not allowed in products with The Blue Label or Allergy Certified.

2. The Blue Label informs about all substances – otherwise you need to find the information online

Do you want to read the full list of ingredients? Choose cleaning products with The Blue Label. This ecolabel ensures you, that you can see all information of the content on the product itself.

Cleaning products usually only provide information about selected substances on the products itself. Instead there must be a link to a website where you will find a list of all the ingredients.

3. Look for allergenic preservatives on the list of ingredients

Methylisothiazolinone (MI), methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI) or benzisothiazolinone (BIT) have to appear on the product itself.

These preservatives are allergenic. You can also see it on the product, if it contains perfume.

4. Hazard labels apply to the concentrated cleaning product

Some cleaning products include hazard symbols such as an exclamation point or a symbol of corrosion.

The symbols indicate that the cleaning products in undiluted form can irritate the skin or damage the eyes. When diluted in water, it is not problematic.

If you have sensitive skin you can use gloves while cleaning to avoid skin irritation.

5. Follow the guidelines

Read the guidelines and follow the instructions.

If you dose according to the instructions, you save the environment from exposure to unnecessary substances.

You must also follow the safety instructions on the label to protect yourself.

6. Keep cleaning products out of children's reach

Children must not have access to cleaning products. There are occasional accidents where children have drunk cleaning products. Keep the cleaning products on a high shelf or in a locked cabinet, so small children cannot reach them.

7. Disinfection is rarely necessary

Some of the all-purpose cleaners claim to have a disinfecting effect, for example killing bacteria.

These products may contain disinfectants, such as benzalkonium chloride, which are problematic for the environment.

In everyday life, disinfectants are in the vast majority of cases unnecessary. Regular cleaning, good hygiene and common sense are sufficient.

About the test

  • The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals has purchased cleaning products in several different stores in Denmark.

    This test is a declaration test. We have not performed a chemical analysis or tested the effectiveness of the products.

    The ingredient lists are examined for substances of concern. Such as endocrine disrupters, allergenic substances or environmentally damaging chemicals.

    We have visited the websites listed on the products to find the correct and full list of ingredients. The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals have contacted the companies to make sure the information is correct.

  • We have tested 36 different all-purpose cleaners. This is the result:

    • 7 cleaning products are good choices without unwanted chemicals. They get the best rating, A-rating.
    • 22 products are free of problematic substances. However they contain perfume or plant extracts which can cause an allergic reaction and/or environmentally damaging chemicals. These products get a middle rating, B-rating.
    • 1 product contain allergenic preservatives and gets the lowest rating, C-rating.
    • 6 products contain suspected endocrine disrupters and get the lowest rating, C-rating.