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Natural home cleaners are so common, we almost don’t even think about them as novel anymore. But in the evolution of all-purpose cleansers, they’re relatively young. As our understanding of PFAS (the “forever” plastics), solvents, coal tar dyes, fragrances and other far more polysyllabic ingredients expands, the allure of going natural seems downright logical.
While there are a lot of really good cleaners available, there are even more that only look good on the surface. There actually isn’t a regulated definition for “natural” (ditto for “green”, “zero-waste” and “eco-friendly”). Your “lemon-scented” or “alpine breeze” or “cotton fresh” cleaner evokes images of things we associate with nature and freshness. And they might even smell “natural” and “clean” and “fresh”.
But… are they?
Household cleaning products are not required by Canadian law to list any product ingredients on the label. This makes it extraordinarily easy to greenwash, and extraordinarily hard to choose the products that are safer for the environment, less toxic to everyone in your home and clean the way we need them to.
We’ve done the research and here are our five favourite natural cleaners.
Best powder: Bar Keepers Friend
Best concentrated: Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds
Best laundry: Tru Earth Laundry Eco-Strips
Best refillable: Blueland
Best toilet bowl: Seventh Generation
Best powder cleaner: Bar Keepers Friend
Originally used in taverns, Bar Keepers Friend (BKF) is still going strong in modern businesses and homes around the world. It might seem like all powder cleaners are the same, or are based on baking powder. But BKF uses oxalic acid — commonly found in rhubarb and spinach — as its main ingredient. Oxalic acid has the property of attacking stubborn rust, tarnish and lime stains at the molecular level, breaking the bonds that hold them together. The result is a sparkling surface.
Sprinkled onto stainless steel cookware, stovetops, bathroom tiles, glass surfaces, rusty tools, charred grills (you get the picture) add a little elbow grease and your faith in “just as advertised” will be restored. It’s also still a family-run business, more than 100 years after George William Hoffman first noticed his stewed rhubarb left a formerly tarnished pot absolutely sparkling.
Where to buy: Amazon
Best concentrated cleaner: Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds
For many, Dr. Bronner’s giant bottle of pure castile liquid soap was their first experience with a natural cleaner. Through the decades, it seems every generation develops a cultish love for this brand. It might have lasted for just one semester at university while you under the spell of your Earth Mother roommate, or perhaps it sparked a lifelong devotion to finding vegan, environmentally friendly products.
Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner differs from their famous castile liquid soap in that it’s a detergent made from synthetic surfactants (the latter is a true soap, made from organic vegetable oils that are reacted with potash). It’s effective on grease, easy to rinse and effective on stains. From laundry to carpet to makeup brushes to camping equipment, this highly concentrated product is the ideal multi-purpose cleaner. They have a cheat sheet full of “recipes” on suggested dilutions for a variety of common cleaning situations, some which specify a single drop of this cleaner.
Where to buy: Amazon
Best laundry cleaner: Tru Earth Laundry Eco-Strips
Even the most hardened skeptic can’t deny that: 1. We all need to do laundry; and 2. Traditional laundry detergents whether liquid or powder, are heavy and bulky. When Tru Earth took water out of the equation, literally, they were left with a 32-load package of detergent strips that was the size of a deck of cards and lighter than an empty mug.
Just imagining the reduction in transportation emissions alone is staggering.
The eco-strips are small (2″ x 4″ x paper thin) but mighty, making them ideal for homes with limited storage space. And if you’re planning on travelling or camping, a couple of these strips won’t add any extra weight or space but will be a lifeline to civility when all you want is a fresh t-shirt. Tru Earth is paraben-, phosphate- and dye-free, is biodegradable and vegan. And, of course, the outer cardboard packaging is recyclable. And if all that isn’t enough, Tru Earth is a Canadian company, operating just outside Vancouver, BC.
Where to buy: Amazon
Best refillable cleaner: Blueland
Refillable products aren’t new. But between Blueland’s exceptionally effective formulas and the fact that their refills come in the form of tablets or powders, Blueland is a clear winner. They’re reimagining conventional household cleaning products to eliminate single-use plastic packaging. Their products are designed to be mixed with regular tap water, saving consumers time, money and space.
Blueland might sound familiar despite being around for only a few years. They’ve already had a collaboration with fashion retailer Reformation, and appeared on the Season 11 premiere of Shark Tank, securing an investment deal with Kevin O’Leary.
Their product assortment includes everything a clean house needs from a multi-surface cleaner to foaming hand soap to dishwasher tablets. If you’re just starting up a new household, they also offer a variety of kits with different essentials that are available as a monthly refill on a subscription basis.
Price: Vary depending on product
Where to buy: Amazon | Blueland
Best toilet bowl cleaner: Seventh Generation
Traditional toilet bowl cleaners are highly caustic and toxic. Nor surprising, considering the context. But also, not necessary. Seventh Generation’s toilet bowl cleaners are nearly legendary for how well they clean, considering their complete omission of harsh chemicals. Not only do you get a sparkling toilet bowl, but you also get to pass on the risks of harmful inhalations and potential skin burns, not to mention damage to the environment.
Made from a plant-based formula with scents derived from 100 per cent essential oils and botanical extracts, the Seventh Generation formula is biodegradable and septic safe. It’s free from chlorine bleach, synthetic fragrances, dyes and other hazardous ingredients.
Where to buy: Amazon
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