Recently, the Environmental Working Group released its Guide to Healthy Cleaning, which includes 2000+ household cleaning products and air fresheners. I was so excited when I saw the Guide since I am in love with their Skin Deep Database for personal care products. However, their cleaning product guide just plain confused me. Certain non-environmentally friendly companies scored higher than earth friendly ones. Thanks to Kimberley Pinkson of Eco Mom Alliance, EWG agreed to a conference call with several of us to explain their methodology.
Background First. Why did EWG create this Guide?
Why the guides? According to the EWG:
“When EWG set out to assess more than 2,000 cleaning products, its researchers discovered that it took hard work to find out what potentially toxic chemicals were in them. Unlike manufacturers of cosmetics and personal care products, companies that make cleaning products are not required to list the ingredients they put in their formulations on the package, bottle or box. This lack of disclosure can make it almost impossible for consumers to find the safest products.”
Therefore, disclosure of ingredients is the key element to their database. Companies who don’t disclose, be forewarn. In to the penalty box you go.
What’s the Confusion?
To give you an example, LYSOL Brand III 4 in 1 All Purpose Cleaner, Lemon Breeze received a B grade; where environmentally products like Ecover and Earth Friendly Floor Cleaner both received D. I was confused. Why was my earth friendly products receiving such poor scores?
As I reviewed the ratings, I got nervous that people would start buying less earth friendly products based upon the Guide.
EWG explained the focus behind the database was respiratory and skin contact concerns and less on oral toxicity. In a nutshell, chemicals that cause asthma or skin allergies trumped chemicals that caused cancer for purposes of this Guide.
Some of the Companies Concerns
Two weeks after the launch of the Guide, 14 companies had concerns and felt the Guide had made errors. Some remarked that the formulation used in compiling the data was old. In reviewing the Guide, EWG concluded in most cases there were no errors. In the case of old formulation, EWG tested products formulations which were more likely to still be in a consumer’s cabinet. Most consumers have bottles for years .
In addition, generic ingredients such as “surfactants” or “mineral salts,” would receive a poor score since EWG didn’t know the specific ingredients.
Some Questions Answered:
Prior to the conference, many participants provided question to EWG: Some the questions were as follows:
1. Please explain rating essential oils:
EWG doesn’t distinguish between companies that source from plant based materials versus synthetic. They feel that there is very little testing data for essential oils. Essential oils are a blend of many chemicals. Given their disclosure requirement, if EWG doesn’t know what is in the blend, they don’t assume it is safe or not safe. Hence, that ingredient is given a “C” and factored into their algorithm.
In addition, EWG has found essential oil compositions such as pine and citrus essential oils can create formaldehyde impurity. Therefore, they down weight the product slightly due to this concern.
2. Why does the EWG not take GMO based products into account?
EWG responded that the Guide was built similar to Skin Deep Database, which doesn’t take GMO ingredients into account when creating their score. However, they may look into this issue in the future.
3. Why doesn’t an undisclosed proprietary blend not receive an F?
If a company provides a generic ingredient, the ingredients immediately receives a “C.” Score may change, however, if a company discloses.
4. How does a product get a score. Is it an average of the grades?
EWG factors severity of the harm and the level of data provided. Such data is weighed as to its source. An EPA assessment weighs more than a peer reviewed study.
5. Why Disclose if You Can Receive a C rather than an F?
If a company that disclosed a product ingredient that could be deemed unfavorable, why disclose? EWG says they struggle with this issue, but also penalize for failure to disclose. For example if a “surfactant” ingredients is not disclosed, then that ingredient is automatically put in the worse surfactant pile.
6. How to deal with large companies who only make a few green products versus small companies who make all green products.
EWG is brand blind and only look at the particular product.
Although the answers seems logical, I still had problems with the Guide.
- I just couldn’t get pass the respiratory and skin issues versus the toxicity issue. If a cleaning product has a toxicity issue of any sort, I am not buying it.
- Don’t disclose and take the C. EWG should penalize a Company and red flag them if they failed to disclose an ingredient. Period. Give them the F. I have a right to know. More pressure on the companies to disclose.
- I still am having problem with their algorithm and on how products receive their grades.
Join the Conversation
- How do you feel about the Guide?
- Is it a step in the right direction or will it confuse consumers?
- What questions do you have about the Guide?
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