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Clean up your apt.

Enviro-friendly products versus good old chemicals: In an apartment-scrubbing smackdown, which comes out spotless?




"Scratch Free" Comet with Bleach
Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Surface Scrub, Lemon Verbena
SMELLS LIKEBleachLemons mixed with Grandma's perfume
EFFECTIVE?In seconds, I learned that my sink is beige, not brown.After a lot of scrubbing, the sink was clean-and I was slightly high on fumes.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTThe chlorine bleach this product contains is good at killing bacteria—and anything else it encounters after it ends up in our waterways. "If you're just cleaning dirt, chlorine is overkill," says Kevin Dick, an associate with Chicago-based nonprofit environmental consultancy the Delta Institute.Its first ingredient, calcium carbonate, is a relatively mild "weak acid," according to Dick. These acids have less of an impact on the environment than the bleach, lye and hydrochloric acid in conventional products.
SHOULD YOU SWITCH?NO. Comet made my eyes and nose water and forced my asthmatic boyfriend to leave the room. But Mrs. Meyer's price seems ridiculous given that baking soda can get your sink just as clean.





Seventh Generation Natural
SMELLS LIKEWintergreen toothpasteMint
EFFECTIVE?The bowl was sparkling and free of E. coli and salmonella, if I can trust the wording on the packaging.I don't know about E. coli, but it removed all the, residual, um, soil.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTLysol contains hydrochloric acid, which Dick says can burn skin. Lysol's Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) available free online from the National Institutes of Health's Household Products Database (, rates it a "serious" health hazard.Unclear. Contains plant-based ingredients, which Dick says tend to be less harsh-on us and the environment—than conventional ingredients, but Seventh Generation has not identified all of them for "proprietary reasons." Its MSDS still identifies the cleaner as a "moderate" health hazard.
SHOULD YOU SWITCH?MAYBE. The Seventh Generation is a little safer than the Lysol, but it’s still poisonous if ingested—and significantly more expensive.


Windex Original with Ammonia-D
Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value All-Purpose Cleaner
SMELLS LIKEThe acrid stench of ammoniaOranges
EFFECTIVE?Left mirrors spotlessTook more elbow grease than Windex, but eventually got my windows and mirrors just as clean.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTProducts that have a strong odor and evaporate, like Windex, usually contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), Dick explains, adding, "Most of us [wrongly] believe, 'If I can't smell it, it must not be working.'"Unclear. This is mostly water and contains orange oil, which Dick says is an excellent natural cleanser, and the packaging claims it's free of dyes, solvents, chlorine and ammonia, which would render it relatively innocuous if true. But not every ingredient is identified.
SHOULD YOU SWITCH?YES. Windex made my eyes water and according to Dick, the product's VOCs damage human respiratory systems and contribute to smog. The 365 Everyday Value worked fine—and it's cheaper!


Cheer Colorguard Original
Earth Friendly Products Ultra ECOS Free & Clear
SMELLS LIKESickly sweet flowersCitrus and (strangely) shower curtain
EFFECTIVE?You'd never know my socks had logged six miles in 90-degree heat.Just two ounces cleaned a sizable load, including grass-and booze-stained jeans.
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTUnclear. Cheer's label says its surfactants-substances that get between dirt and a surface, making the dirt easier to remove-are biodegradable, but these claims are not yet regulated.Unclear, but its plant-based ingredients presumably make it less toxic than its conventional chemical counterparts.
SHOULD YOU SWITCH?YES. Cheer has a cloying, artificial smell and contains monoethanolamine, a chemical the CDC links to asthma. And the claim on Cheer's label about the surfactants being biodegradable are not yet regulated.


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