My Opinion On The EWG’s New Guide To Cleaning Products Report

By Kristie Turck •  Published 09/19/12 •  6 min read

Last updated on August 20th, 2022 at 12:13 am

Hmmm, really?

A lot of you have asked me what I think about the new report that the Environmental Working Group put out that rates cleaning products.  It’s set up similarly to their Sunscreen Guide and I don’t always agree with their top recommended sunscreens.  But, I am very appreciative of the work that the EWG does for us and I know what a tremendous task they took on with this project.  It is a HUGE undertaking.  They have a wealth of information for us and I’ll admit, when it comes to decoding the ingredients list on a cleaning product, I get dizzy.  I try not to be the Negative Nelly, especially when it comes to great organizations who’s goals are to make life safer for all of us.  So I want to say that I appreciate their hard work and think they are a great resource. But I want to enforce what I have always said, and that is Be Your Own Detective.  There are guides and tools to make your life “easier”, and they help.  I try to be a source of that help.  But I also want people to look at things with a discriminating eye.

What I Love About The New Report

As I said, this is a huge project.  The amount of work that went into creating that resource is tremendous – I wouldn’t have been able to take it on.  You need a team of people to conquer something like that.  I wish I had the resources available to me to do it.  They provide an excellent run down of ingredients and why we should avoid them.  They are also on the same side I am with regards to looking closely at ingredients people might think are safe to use and really, they are not ideal. A good example is Borax (They grade it an F!).

What I Didn’t Love About The New Report

Much like their Sunscreen Report, I think they miss the mark on a few things and nail the rest.  It’s very easy to discourage people from choosing safer products simply by telling them they’re not the best.  I did find discrepancies on many products regarding the ingredients not matching.  I also think there’s a problem when a very safe product is given a bad grade for an irritating oil or an incorrect ingredients list while something that contains ethyloxylates and phthalates ends up on their Top Rated list of recommended products. (Example is Ultra Purex Powder Detergent with Renuzit – really??!)  I’d much rather use something not 100% perfect in regards to natural ingredients versus something that has hormone disrupting ingredients.

The report came out and I went to it frantically to check it out.  Ok maybe not frantically, but I wanted to read it. I read through the bulk of the information and decide to just start looking up products the way a regular consumer would. I chose a product I use often and looked it up.  It was rated terribly, a D.  I was floored.   How could I have gotten things so wrong??! I am so frustrated! I try so hard only to find out that something I thought I knew was safe is rated a D! UGH. I HATE BEING SAFE.  Just forget it! I’m using WINDEX from now on. (I have this same tantrum from time to time.  I know you can all relate.)

Once I got a grip, I decided to dig further.  Other people might not do that.  But I’m SafeMama and I need to know what I’m reading and hearing is really right.  How could I be so wrong?  So I looked up the ingredients list from the product I was referencing.  I looked on the label for the supposed “ethyloxylated compounds” in the ingredients that EWG was so happy to produce a giant red F on.  Lo, the ingredients did not match the ones on EWG. In fact they were way off.  I thought certainly it’s just a fluke.  Let’s calm down and try a different product.  Same thing.  Bad grade, mismatched ingredients lists.  Let’s check one more from another brand.  I checked the results on a popular brand and the same thing happened.  Ingredients lists did not match the report.  I checked a few more and some were accurate and matching.  But not all.

HOWEVER: I see that EWG is allowing companies to update their ingredients lists and be re-evaluated.  I am hopeful that the database will continue to become more accurate as time goes on.   My biggest worry is that this will discourage people from trying simply because it’s information overload.

Conclusion: Like the Skin Deep Guide, the Sunscreen Report and now this… there is going to be a level of inaccuracy, merely due to the vast project they have to catalog the information.  It takes months, years and many people to collect the information and put it together in a readable and usable manner. So my advice, like always is that this is a good place to START, and not a place to END your research.  And yes, you have to research your products.  I still can’t get over it either but until we have better chemical reform and regulation, this is the job we have to do.

As far as their Top Rated products, I disagree with some of the choices.  They go into very deep detail about how they researched the companies and their commitment to not animal testing, etc… then the Top Rated products are full of iffy chemicals and fragrances.  I don’t get how a LYSOL fragrance product can make the list.  I’m a little baffled.

“Just make your OWN cleaning products!”  I can hear all my DIYers shouting it already.  My recommendation though, is always a “less is more” approach to making your own supplies.  I am a firm believer that you really only need a handful of things to keep your home clean.  But before you get your DIY on, EWG rates Borax (Boric Acid) as a big fat F.  We’re going to have to get a little more creative with the homemade dishwasher detergent! My friend EcoKaren has a Borax Free recipe that works great!

Keep Reading