After moving out to Madrid a few months ago, I decided to make the switch to as many natural, organic, "green" cleaning products as possible. Call it being Santafeified, call it being a yuppie, call it living in a town that has been affected by un-green activities (namely coal mining) for decades, but I just felt the time was right for the switch.
As a result, I've tried a lot of greenish products, some better than others. In a series of blog entries over the next few weeks, I'll let you, my dear readers, know the details about as many as I can. I realize, too, the importance of not allowing myself to be greenwashed (for example: did you know that Simple Green
?), so I'm looking into the ingredients of these products as well.
First up are a few
products. Mrs. Meyers is one of the most popular brands, I think, and is carried in various stores in Santa Fe, including La Monañita Co-op, Whole Foods, World Market and more. The product line in includes pretty much any home product you could want (dish soap, surface spray, surface scrub, laundry detergent, dryer sheets) and also dog shampoo, which is available at World Market.
The company's website uses the phrases "earth-friendly" and "cruelty-free," which are good buzzwords and all. But what are the facts, and, most importantly, how do the products measure up?
The first thing that drew me, personally, to Mrs. Meyers a few years ago was the smell. This stuff is downright heavenly. The geranium scent was what got my attention initially, but I've also used the other three basic scents: basil, lavender and lemon verbena (some products are also available in "baby blossom" and scent-free, which are for sensitive types). It's well-known that fragrances are one of the most dangerous things in most cleaning products (they tend to contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which cause asthma, nervous system damage and fertility problems), but Mrs. Meyers products are scented with natural essential oils. Of course, if you're allergic to essential oils, or are sensitive to "richly fragranced" (their words) products, this could still cause some irritation, but to have something be irritating and to have it be a carcinogen or downright toxic is something else all together.
Something interesting I didn't realize about Mrs. Meyers is that it does not call its products "non-toxic." According to its website, in order to call something "non-toxic," it must be tested on animals—and the company refuses to test on animals. Nifty!
Mmkay, so let's do a rundown of the stuff I've tried.
Super-awesome. This was the first Mrs. Meyers product I tried and I am still using it. It's concentrated, so a bottle that handles 64 loads is 64 ounces. It may seem a little more pricey than the alternative (Mrs. Meyers is $14.99 for 64 loads; comparatively, Tide's 64-load bottle is 100 ounces and about $13), but it doesn't have that horrid "Clean Breeze" chemical smell and is much less likely to irritate those with sensitive skin.
Also awesome. I used the basil scent for this, which smells kind of like basil, but mostly just smells nice. One bottle (one!) has lasted me from mid-October until now, the end of March. Admittedly, I'm not much of a kitchen whiz, so I don't have tons of pots and pans to wash—but even so, it lasted a really long time and left my dishes clean and spot-free.
Awesome. It's quite possible that I've had a single 32-ounce bottle of lavender all-purpose cleaner for three houses now (in regular human time, that means nearly two years). I remember buying one in summer 2008, and don't remember getting another since then. A little bit goes a long way—I filled a bucket with about 2 gallons of hot water, put maybe a quarter cup of cleaner in it, and cleaned every surface inside my car with it (then soaked some stuff in the bucket on top of that). Afterward, my car didn't smell like gross cleaning products—rather, you could tell there was some lavender action going on, but it wasn't overwhelming.
Pretty lame. I am a big dryer sheet fan, but legend has it that regular dryer sheets include all kinds of carcinogens and toxic chemicals and substances that dissolve your clothes over time. None of these things are cool, so I opted to switch to a different option. Mrs. Meyers laundry sheets, however, are pretty expensive ($8 for a box of 80; comparatively, 120 Bounce dryer sheets are about $7), and I didn't notice a significant difference in my clothes once they came out of the dryer. They were static-free, which was cool, but the scent (I got geranium) wasn't too noticeable. Plus, when I pulled my clothes out of the dryer, the sheets had rolled up into little burritos and weren't all open and floaty and intermingling with the clothes, which was sad. I feel like it affected how much the fragrance was distributed. My main concern with any dryer sheet is that it's just a waste—we use them simply to throw them away—and that you still throw away these sheets after one or two uses defeats that purpose. The best bet, I think, is to put some essential oils on a handkerchief and re-use it, or use a re-useable bag of lavender like they sell at Trader Joe's.
Now, there's always the argument of how products like Tide and Simple Green have been used regularly for 700 years and no one has died from them, so on and so forth. And when it comes down to it, the phosphates in a single bottle of soap aren't enough to harm anyone, really. Maybe even two bottles of soap. But when you take into consideration the sheer volume of conventional product produced and used in a year, suddenly the amount of toxic and harmful stuff that's released into the air and water is much more significant—significant enough to do some serious environmental damage. But no one snowflake is to blame for the entire avalanche. Any one person's commitment to greener products won't necessarily save the world, but if enough people make the switch, a difference is possible.