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Home and Garden

Home and Garden, Natural Cleaning

Toxic Cleaning Products To Avoid & Non-Toxic Alternatives

green cleaning products

I’ve got a great guest post today for you from Georgina at Ethical Consumer, on toxic cleaning products and the ingredients to avoid. As well as breaking down the problems with these toxic ingredients, Georgina offers some eco-friendly and non-toxic shop-bought alternatives, as well as natural alternatives to try that will make your home fresher and cleaner.  

An English person’s home is their castle.  And when it comes to our ‘castles’ we like to keep them clean.  The average Brit spends around 4 hours a week scrubbing and scouring to keep their home in tip-top condition.  Modern cleaning products claim to make this cleaning a doddle with the promise of a no-effort clean.  However, are these claims as squeaky clean as our houses?

Convenience at a Cost

Enter any large supermarket and you’ll see a large array of cleaning products. Each claims to make your life easier, clean your home better and save you time.  We’re used to modern convenience with our cleaning gadgets and we want short-cuts to save us time on our mundane chores.  However, how much thought do we give to the chemicals that we spray and squirt around our homes?

It can be alarming when we see the hazard labels on the cleaning products we use every day or week. Irritant, corrosive, oxidising, and toxic, are common sights on our cleaning product lables.  But if we use the chemicals correctly then they are safe, right?

Not according to recent research from Natural Resources Defense Council in California.  Their research discovered 45 different toxic chemicals present in household dust.  Chemicals such as phthalates and hormone disrupters affect reproductive systems and are linked to developmental problems in babies.  The source of these toxic compounds?  Household chemicals and personal care products.

Exposing The Dirty Truth Behind These Toxic Cleaning Product Ingredients

Image of a brown glass spray bottle with a blue text box that says the toxic cleaning product ingredients to avoid and non-toxic alternatives

At Ethical Consumer, we’ve produced reports on over 40,000 companies, brands, and products on all aspects of ethical behaviour.  For our household cleaning analysis, we ranked 41 popular household cleaners against 23 different criteria, one of those being toxic chemicals.

Unlike personal care or food and drink products, manufacturers are under no obligation to provide a detailed list of the ingredients in their cleaning products.  This lack of transparency makes it difficult for consumers to make informed decisions on avoiding toxic chemicals.  Although EU legislation stipulates that companies do need to list the full ingredients on their website.

Across our analysis, three main toxic chemicals emerged as the most concerning and ubiquitous.  Therefore our rankings focused on those.

The Toxic Cleaning Products Trio

Parabens

This additive is used for its antifungal and preservative properties, extending the shelf-life of cosmetics and cleaning products. As an indication of its toxic potential, five parabens have been already banned from cosmetics by the EU.  However, they are still found in many cleaning products.

Absorbed through the skin and through inhalation and ingestion, parabens have strong links to hormone disruption, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, and skin irritation.  Breast cancer charities have highlighted their presence in breast tumours. Here they thought to increase the growth of cancer cells.

Triclosan

This pesticide is an antimicrobial agent used in many cleaning products.  It is known to affect thyroid hormone function by disrupting the regulation of metabolism and normal breast development.  It is also an irritant to the skin and eyes and may have a possible link to bacterial resistance.  Its use is already banned in soaps in the US.  Its use is restricted in many toiletries in the UK, yet its use is not prohibited in cleaning products.

Phthalates

A common chemical used in synthetic fragrances, phthalate toxicity is linked to developmental problems in babies.  A recent study cited a correlation between pregnant women with high levels of phthalates and children with markedly lower IQ levels.  And again, as an endocrine-disrupting chemical, phthalate is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

The good, the bad, and the toxic

Despite the mounting evidence of the harmful effects of these and other synthetic additives, the use of toxic, persistent compounds is widespread in our cleaning products.  Our ethical ranking table exposes the brands that continue to use these harmful chemicals.  It also provides ethical ‘best buys’ for those companies who ban their use and make the best eco-friendly cleaning products.

how toxic are household cleaners

The Toxic Cleaning Products

Sadly, some of the most popular cleaning products brands performed very badly in our toxic score chart. UK manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser who manufactures Vanish, Dettol, Windowlene, and Cillit Bang had no policy on removing triclosan, parabens, or phthalates from their formulations.  Even more shocking is that this lack of corporate responsibility comes after their disinfectant humidifier chemicals were found to have led to the death of nearly 100 people in South Korea.

Proctor and Gamble also performed badly.  This is in part, due to having no policy to remove these toxic parabens or phthalates from their cleaning products such as Viakal, Flash, and Comet.

Unilever, which produces brands such as Domestos and Cif, does not use phthalates. What’s more, they had a clear plan for the removal of triclosan.  However, they had no clear strategy to remove parabens from their formulas.

Colgate-Palmolive performed best in the big brand cleaning products categories. Here they had no toxic parabens, triclosan, or phthalates used in their cleaning products. However, they ranked low down in our scoring due to their poor policies in other areas.

The Good – The Best Non-Toxic Cleaning Products

A number of smaller brands performed well in our ranking.  For the best non-toxic cleaning products, Greenscents*, and Bentley Organic*, all offer organic and vegan products that also achieved our best rating for animal testing.  Bio-D*, Faith in Nature*, and Earth Friendly Products* are all vegan and cruelty-free.

All of these cleaning products had clear policies that confirmed that their products did not contain the toxic trio of parabens, triclosan, and phthalates.  This is as well as their focus on natural and organic ingredients, making them our top eco-friendly and health-friendly cleaning products.

Reducing Toxic Dust for a Cleaner Home

green cleaning products

There are a number of things that you can do to reduce toxicity levels in your home:

  1. Use fewer cleaning products.  Switching to microfibre cloths can reduce the cleaning products needed whilst providing a thorough clean.  What’s more, they’re washable and reusable too. Wash these in a microfibre catcher, to help reduce microplastics reaching our water.
  2. Check ingredients and make the switch to one of our non-toxic cleaning products.  Know what you are using by checking the ingredients on cleaning products and ditching brands that don’t make the grade.
  3. Make your own natural cleaners.  With just a few simple ingredients such as lemon juice, vinegar, and bicarbonate of soda you can make a whole host of natural cleaning products.  Check out this post on natural cleaning products to DIY for a plethora of inspiration.  You can also read more about homemade cleaning products in Wendy’s book – Fresh Clean Home.

Also, check out our guide to eco-friendly washing up liquid and laundry detergents to help you find the right products for you.

Home, Home and Garden

The Ultimate Guide to Eco-Friendly Toilet Roll

plastic-free toilet paper uk

Looking for the ultimate guide to sustainable and eco-friendly toilet roll? Let me talk you through the options available in the UK right now. From plastic-free brands to recycled toilet paper brands, and more. And for those of you who love a spreadsheet, then you’re in for a treat!

To help support the running costs of Moral Fibres, this post contains affiliate links, denoted by *. Moral Fibres may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to readers, on items purchased through those links. This income helps keep this site running.

In 2019 I wrote a guide to the best plastic-free toilet paper. I wasn’t sure how interested Moral Fibres readers would be in this topic, but boy, was it a hot one. It turned out that people were very invested in toilet paper. I then found out last year that people are incredibly invested in toilet paper when people started hoarding toilet paper and fighting over it in shops. I don’t know about you, but at this stage of the pandemic, March 2020 feels like a lifetime ago. So, for old time’s sake, let’s bring back the loo roll chat.

What has changed since 2019 is the proliferation of eco-friendly toilet roll companies. I swear, in the last 12 months, every time I browse Instagram or Facebook, I’m served an advert by yet another eco-friendly toilet paper brand.

The choices can be overwhelming, so let’s see if I can help you navigate the toilet roll maze, by looking at the various eco-friendly, sustainable, and ethical factors to consider.

guide to eco-friendly toilet roll in the UK, from the plastic-free brands to the recycled paper brands

What Is The Most Eco-Friendly Toilet Roll?

When it comes to the most eco-friendly toilet roll, as with any item, the most eco-friendly option is always the reusable option. Family cloth* as it’s cringingly known. Single-use products always have a higher environmental impact. However, family cloth isn’t always the most appealing swap. My family certainly aren’t on board with the idea, so we stick with disposable toilet roll.

You do what works for you, and continue to remember that oil and gas companies created the concept of the individual carbon footprint to make you think that climate change is your fault, and not the fault of the oil and gas industry.

If family cloth isn’t for you, then it turns out it’s incredibly tricky to say for sure what is the most eco-friendly toilet roll available right now.

Some brands use virgin bamboo, and ship their products from China, yet are plastic-free. Meanwhile, some brands use recycled paper and make their products in the UK, yet wrap their toilet roll in plastic.

Some brands wrap their toilet paper in individual wrappers, adding to their carbon footprint. Other brands don’t wrap their rolls, but they do bleach their toilet paper with chlorine to make it whiter. In short, there is a lot to consider.

There’s also the matter of budget – some brands cost almost 3 times as much as others for the same amount of toilet paper.

To help you navigate this tricky toilet paper decision-making, I’ve scoured shops and the internet for as many eco-friendly toilet rolls as I could find. I’ve then scored their eco-credentials. In fact, I’ve put together the ultimate spreadsheet, allowing you to quickly compare brands and chose a toilet roll that fits with your values and potentially your budget. I love a good spreadsheet, so hopefully, you’ll love this one too.

Guide to plastic-free eco-friendly toilet paper

It’s quite tricky making tables accessible. Therefore if you are reading this on a smartphone or tablet, then it’s probably best to turn your device on its side to view this table properly.

I’ve tried to factor in as many eco-purchasing decision-making factors as possible. However, the larger the table becomes, the less accessible it gets, so I have stopped here.

The Eco-Friendly Toilet Paper Roll Brands

The brands I assessed for this chart were as follows.

Please note that I based pricing on the largest pack I could find. This means there may be discrepancies in the price per 100 sheets if you buy a smaller quantity.

What Eco-Friendly Factors Should I Prioritise?

If family cloth isn’t for you, then you might be wondering what eco-friendly factors you should prioritise when it comes to buying eco-friendly toilet paper.

This question was tricky in 2019, and it’s still tricky now. It’s all down to your own personal ethical values and priorities.

Personally, here what I prioritise:

Materials

I still maintain that the most eco-friendly toilet roll is one that is made from recycled materials, rather than using virgin materials (no matter how fast-growing these materials are). Producing items from recycled materials does tend to be a less environmentally damaging activity.

I also worry that the rise in popularity of bamboo could see bamboo crops being cultivated on land where its cultivation displaces food crops or places pressure on regional water supplies.

Manufacturing Location

I favour toilet paper made in the UK or EU. This is because, depending on where you read, shipping products by boat is either terrible in terms of carbon emissions or incredibly efficient in terms of carbon emissions.  Whatever side of the argument you take, then, either way, shipping a product all the way around the world to simply use once to wipe our bums and then flush down the toilet, to me seems to be such an incredible waste of resources.  

There are also huge unregulated issues with human rights when it comes to shipping and the people who work in the shipping industry.  These include abuse, slavery, and unsafe working conditions which are beyond the control and scope of toilet roll producers.

Packaging  

I would always pick a brand of toilet paper wrapped in plastic that was made in the UK from recycled paper, over a plastic-free alternative that was shipped from the other side of the world. The good news is that paper packaging, which used to be the norm for toilet paper, is finally coming back. It’s great to see brands like Sainsbury’s offering paper-wrapped toilet paper.

I also avoid the brands that wrap their toilet paper in individual wrappers.  This paper usage feels completely unnecessary as many other brands are able to package their toilet paper without wrapping their toilet rolls individually, without any problem.

Cost & Accessibility

Cost is also a huge issue. Advising people to spend £40+ on 5 or 6 months’ worth of toilet paper is hardly intersectional. Not everyone has the financial ability to bulk buy eco-friendly toilet rolls. And that’s before we’ve even thought about the logistics of storing 48 toilet rolls. Being able to pick up a four-pack or nine-pack of toilet paper locally can be a really important factor that can’t be overlooked in this discussion.

In short, there’s no easy answer to what to prioritise. I would choose what option is best for your own circumstances, and keep finding ways to tackle climate change.

PS: Dropping in to say that as of April 2022 there are big changes to the toilet paper market due to rapidly rising production costs. Some brands have reduced the size of their rolls and others are increasing costs. I’ll update this post shortly to reflect the changing market.