How eco-friendly are ‘green’ household cleaning products?

Greenwashing is a common practice across various industries, but what about when it comes to ‘planet-friendly’ cleaning products? Two universities in the US teamed up to investigate.

Thred Media
3 min readSep 13, 2022


In the age of heightened awareness over bacteria and viruses, many of us are using cleaning products more frequently to ensure our homes don’t become a life-size petri dish for dangerous microorganisms.

I probably don’t need to remind you of when household cleaning sections of shops were barren thanks to us sanitising like crazy during the pandemic — anyone having flashbacks of people wiping down their just-bought bags of Doritos on TikTok?

It’s well-known that traditional cleaning solutions contain chemicals that are harmful when in ingested. More recently though, awareness of how these harsh chemicals are impacting the environment once washed down the drain is growing too.

To meet the widespread demand for more sustainable options, numerous brands have come out with secondary product lines labelled as ‘natural’ and ‘kinder’ to the planet and humans. The market itself is now worth £238 billion and counting — no surprise that Kris Jenner has her own line of ‘clean’ household cleaning items then…

But can we trust that these products are truly the eco-friendly option they promise to be? New research conducted at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute State University and The Citadel Military College of South Carolina in the United States is providing the answers, so let’s take a look.

The researchers focused on six common household products: laundry detergent, dish soap, mouthwash, insecticide, dishwasher gel and all-purpose cleaners.

By sampling both traditional products and ‘eco-friendly’ lines straight from the bottle and also after degrading them (through biodegradation and photodegradation) they were able to see which products negatively affected aquatic invertebrates during either stage.

After exposing grass shrimps and daphnids to the two product lines, they found that some products labelled as ‘green’ were just as toxic or more toxic than traditional cleaning solutions.

In fact, none of the ‘eco-friendly’ products became less toxic after degradation, while four of the traditional products did. Their tests proved that products labelled as ‘planet friendly’ or ‘eco’ aren’t always what they claim to be.

An interesting point to note was that the degraded eco-friendly laundry detergent had become even more harmful to the sample organisms than the degraded form of a traditional laundry detergent formula.

When large quantities of these chemicals enter the aquatic environment through water and sewage systems, ecologists warn they could result in increased mortality, skewed reproduction rates, or physical deformations for wild creatures.

Imagery and branding plays a huge role in getting us to believe something is eco-friendly. Even something as simple as a flower or leaf can trick us into thinking products are better for the planet, when really only one or two ingredients have been swapped out.

Terms such as ‘earth’ or ‘green’ are also easy ploys to suggest a product is created with environmental concern in mind, however the research has shown that these eco-friendly claims are rarely verified by experts.

So what are we, as consumers, to do? Well, there’s a whole section of the internet dedicated to informing the public on how to clean house without the use of harsh, store-bought chemicals.

But if you’re not into mixing and mashing your own cocktail of cleaning products, it also makes a world of difference to be more inquisitive about the kinds of chemicals used to create products we’re purchasing.

By being more aware and understanding which chemicals to avoid, we can all do our part in protecting the environment in these small, but crucial ways.

Originally written by Jessica Byrne for Thred.