The History of Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products

What Is Green Cleaning: The History of Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products

Jane Marsh - May 28, 2018

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When it comes to cleaning your home, you want products that will get the job done. But when looking for products to rid your bathroom of bacteria or leave your floors looking shiny and new, have you considered what chemicals make up the products you use? Now is time to learn the history of eco-friendly cleaning products.

People choose to eliminate toxins from their diet, but often remain unaware of all the toxins in their home. You may surprise yourself when you figure out what seriously scary chemicals reside in many home cleaning products. Not only are they detrimental to the environment, but they can be toxic to your health as well.

So, what can you do to keep your home sparkling, yet safe? You can find the answer in green cleaning.

What Is Green Cleaning?

Green cleaning involves using environmentally friendly cleaning products, which are free of dangerous chemicals. These products consist of eco-friendly and natural ingredients — many of which are already in your cupboard.

What was once viewed as a fad has turned into a popular essential in many homes and businesses.

The History of Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products

It might seem green cleaning is a recent trend. While it’s gained more popularity in recent years, its roots go back as far as the 1960s.Before several events changed our worldview in the ‘60s, we were largely unaware of the impact cleaning chemicals, as well as other pollutants, could have on the environment as well as human and animal health.

In 1962, biologist Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a book focusing on the effects of pesticides that many people credit for launching the modern environmental movement. In 1969, the Santa Barbara oil spill occurred. The National Environmental Policy Act passed that same year.

It took until the ‘70s for the green products movement to really start gaining traction. Tom’s, now called Tom’s of Maine, introduced its phosphate-free laundry detergent and emerged as one of the first cleaning product brands that focused on environmental responsibility.

By the ‘80s, many of the hippies of the ‘60s were part of the mainstream, but they hadn’t lost their interest in living a natural, green lifestyle. In 1988, this growing group of consumers gained recognition in a big way with the publication of the Green Consumer Guide, which sold more than a million copies. 1988 also saw the founding of Seventh Generation, which is still one of the biggest names in green cleaning products.

Over the next two years, interest in green products continued to grow. More than 10 percent of all new household products introduced in those two years were considered green. Although the market for green products was expanding, it was still a relatively small niche.

In the ‘90s, the public became aware of climate change. In 1992, the United Nations organized the Rio Earth Summit, which focused on the issue. By the early 2000s, sustainability had become a common buzzword in the household products market, as well an in many other circles. Green products were no longer relegated to a counterculture niche. Existing green cleaning brands like Tom’s of Maine gained popularity, new green brands emerged and leading mainstream brands introduced eco-friendly product lines.

Continuing to the present day and beyond, consumers continue to become more informed about what makes a product green, and sustainability is becoming an increasingly essential brand value. We’re closer than we were 50 years ago, but we’re far from completely getting rid of all the harmful chemicals in our household products.

Dangerous Cleaning Chemicals

So which hazardous chemicals can you find in everyday cleaning products? It’s hard to say which specifically, considering there are more than 80,000 chemicals used in the U.S. — some of which have not undergone sufficient testing regarding their effect on an individual’s health.

Most cleaning product companies use ingredients made of organic compounds to improve the performance of their products. However, organic doesn’t necessarily mean better in this instance.

Organic compounds can have serious adverse health effects on a person’s lungs, brain and reproductive system, and may even cause cancer. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency found chemicals in cleaners to cause a three percent greater chance of cancer than the outside air. One common substance — phthalates — used for dye and perfume in cleaners can cause severe hormonal effects, while other chemicals, like glycols, have similar effects to antifreeze.

What would the environment have to say about this? Most chemicals used in cleaning products are washed down the drain and can adversely affect the water system. Specifically, phosphates found in cleaning products have harmful impacts on rivers and other waterways.

Green Cleaning Products

Thankfully, with the number of green cleaning products on the market, you won’t have to scour supermarket shelves for long. From soaps to all-purpose cleaners, disinfectants, laundry detergent and more, companies create cleaning products free of chemicals and toxins.

You may find yourself scrubbing a little bit harder with these products, but you’ll clean your house without harming yourself or the environment.

As an alternative to store-bought green cleaning products, you can also try making cleaning solutions from ingredients you have in your home. This form of cleaning may appeal to those who want to ensure they only use natural ingredients and who wouldn’t mind saving a buck or two.

The use of green cleaning products appeals to businesses and even schools. Does your workplace promote green cleaning? Consider looking into the cleaning products you use to clean your workspace, and see if you could swap them for green alternatives.

The Decision to Go Green

Going green offers obvious benefits to both your health and the environment. So why wouldn’t someone want to make the switch? Cost becomes a factor, and so does the intensified cleaning labor without the strength of bleach or other chemically enhanced disinfectants.

While most people use chemical cleaners as a way to rid their homes of bacteria and germs, they can do this just as effectively with natural products. Your cleaning time may go a little longer, and you might need a bit more elbow grease, but eco-friendly cleaning products help you kill bacteria without bringing unwanted chemicals into your home or business.

Green cleaning may mean a little more work for you, but the benefits outweigh the cons. With so many products available and recipes at your fingertips, the challenges of finding green cleaning products diminish. At the end of the day, you should feel good about your home and your health — green cleaning could be the answer.

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.