Last Updated on November 19, 2022 by The Filtery
Keeping a clean home is key to decreasing toxin exposure. Research indicates that a lot of toxins actually enter humans through breathing in household dust. So for example, toxic PFAS from the stain-resistant treatment on your couch slowly work their way off of the sofa and onto your floors and other surfaces, where they stick to the dust.
As that dust gets agitated and released into the air, you breathe it in—along with the PFAS. The same could be said for things like formaldehyde, phthalates, flame retardants, and other toxins that end up in our homes.
This is one of the reasons why regularly wet dusting your home and just generally keeping it clean is a relatively easy way to decrease your toxin exposure.
But… a lot of household cleaning products contain problematic ingredients, too! So in this article, we’re going to talk about some of the most common toxic ingredients to watch out for in all-purpose cleaners and then give you our favorite brands for non-toxic cleaning products that you can feel safe using.
This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase. As always, all recommendations are genuine and meet our standards.
Our Picks At A Glance:
Best Disinfectant: Force of Nature (You can use code THEFILTERY30 for 30% off Starter Kits & bundles)
Best Concentrate: Branch Basics (You can use the code THEFILTERY for 15% off Starter Kits)
Best Scented: Attitude
Best Plastic-Free: Meliora
Best Wipes: Honest
Best In-Store, Available at Target: 9 Elements
Toxic Chemicals in Conventional Cleaning Products
Synthetic “Mystery” Fragrances
We talk about fragrances all the time on The Filtery! Almost all traditional cleaning products contain “Fragrance” as one of their ingredients. The fact is that this isn’t actually one ingredient; there are actually almost 4,000 different chemicals that can legally be included in a product under that “fragrance” umbrella!
Some of those ingredients are completely safe, while others are classified as carcinogens, allergens, VOCs, and endocrine disruptors (including things like phthalates and parabens). The problem is that because of the lack of transparency that this loophole allows, it’s basically impossible for consumers to know the truth about what’s in their products.
So when you’re shopping for a non-toxic option for your all-purpose cleaner, look for a brand that is either fragrance-free or clearly lists its fragrance ingredients on the label. Of course, some conscious companies use essential oils as a way to provide a nice, clean scent in a safer and more natural way.
If you want to take a deeper dive into this issue, you can do that here.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are commonly used in soaps and cleaning products. They are used as surfactants, which create lather and help to help pull oil away from the surface you’re trying to clean.
The primary concern with SLS is that it can cause skin irritation. SLES is a less harsh option that tends to be more gentle on the skin… However, it’s an ethoxylated ingredient, which can potentially be contaminated with a couple of carcinogenic ingredients due to the manufacturing process. (Ethoxylated ingredients are practically impossible to completely avoid, but it’s something that may be worth trying to minimize when you can.) But there’s really no reason to use either of these ingredients since there are safer alternatives available that work just as well.
Triclosan is actually a pesticide that used to be used in a lot of “anti-bacterial” products. It’s a very problematic ingredient, linked to all kinds of long-term health concerns like breast cancer and hormone disruption.
Although it’s still worth being aware of triclosan and keeping your eye out for it, the good news here is that it’s actually been pulled out of almost all cleaning products (even more ‘conventional’ ones) in recent years.
This is another pesticide commonly used in traditional cleaning products, especially those that are labeled as “anti-bacterial” or “anti-microbial.” This is another group of chemicals that is linked to skin and lung irritation as well as endocrine disruption (which can lead to infertility, birth defects, and more).
These ingredients often have “-onium chloride” somewhere in the name. For example, the active ingredient in Clorox’s Bleach-Free Disinfecting Crisp Lemon All Purpose Cleaner is Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride. It’s also worth noting that the instructions for this product say that “All surfaces that come in contact with food must be rinsed with potable water,” indicating that it’s not really safe to use around your kitchen… (But also, who actually rinses surfaces after using an all-purpose cleaner on them in real life??)
Ingredients like methylisothiazolinone and benziosothiazolinone are commonly found in cleaning products and soaps. These ingredients even sneak into some of the products that are marketed as “green.” However, these ingredients are irritants and have been known to cause things like rashes and/or exacerbate conditions like eczema. Not only that, but these ingredients are also endocrine disrupters.
What About Sustainability?
Of course, environmental safety and human health go hand-in-hand. In addition to non-toxic ingredients, you may also want to consider the environmental impact of your cleaning products. Some other things you may want to look for are:
- How low-waste is the cleaner (do they offer a plastic-free or refillable option)?
- Is the formulation biodegradable?
- Does the solution use plant-derived ingredients that are free from petroleum derivatives and sourced in a sustainable way?
- Is the cleaner vegan and/or cruelty-free?
The all-purpose cleaners listed below have many of these eco-friendly characteristics.
Are you Cleaning, Disinfecting, or Both?
It’s worth noting here that cleaning and disinfecting/sanitizing are not always the same thing. Here is the difference according to the CDC:
- Cleaning consists of the removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. It does not kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
- Disinfecting consists of using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
In other words, you can clean a surface by wiping away all of the dirt and grease without actually killing the germs, bacteria, and viruses that exist on that surface. OR you can disinfect a surface simply by spraying it with a chemical (whether or not you actually wipe away the dirt and grime). Of course, many cleaning products are meant to do both.
Obviously, there are going to be situations where disinfecting and sanitizing surfaces is the necessary or desired outcome (especially in the age of the pandemic, as we all know). However, some research indicates that over-using disinfectants may contribute to antibiotic resistance, superbugs, and an overall decrease in immune function over time. Some research also indicates that using anti-bacterial products isn’t actually more effective in preventing disease when compared to “normal” cleaning products.
There isn’t necessarily a “right” or “wrong” answer when it comes to choosing between disinfectants or standard cleaning products (we use both at our house!), but it’s simply something to be mindful of as you choose your products and clean your home.
If and when you do use disinfectants, we recommend skipping the triclosan, quats, and other harsh chemicals and instead choose safer alternatives like hypochlorous acid (which is what Force of Nature uses), alcohol, citric acid, or hydrogen peroxide.
7 Non-Toxic & Natural All-Purpose Cleaners (That Actually Work)
Okay, so now that you know what to look out for in your cleaning products, let’s get to our recommendations!
Force of Nature (Best Disinfectant)
Price: $74 for starter kit; 9 cents per ounce
Type: Multi-purpose disinfectant
Certifications: EPA registration; highest rating on the Mayo Clinic’s Skin Safety platform
Subscription? Yes, you can save 7% with a 2, 3, or 6-month subscription for more activator capsules
Force of Nature is a new kind of household cleaner that uses electricity to transform salt, vinegar, and water into a solution that is tested and confirmed by the EPA to kill 99.9% of germs and viruses without any harmful ingredients.
Actually, the technology itself isn’t new; it’s been used in medical and veterinary settings for a long time! But until Force of Nature figured out how to bring the tech into your home, it hasn’t been available for consumers.
There’s a slight learning curve to using Force of Nature, but after you do it once, you’ll see how easy it is! And one of the best things about it is that it is TRULY a multi-purpose product—there are SO many different ways to use it! You don’t have to rinse it, so you can spray it on furniture, strollers, fruits & veggies, clothing, doorknobs, and basically any kind of surface to disinfect and just generally freshen things up.
Force of Nature contains only 3 ingredients, which means zero fragrances, preservatives, allergens, carcinogens, etc. You can read our full review of Force of Nature right here!
Shop Force of Nature. (You can use the code THEFILTERY30 for 30% off Starter Kits & bundles.)
Branch Basics (Best Concentrate)
Price: $75 for Starter Kit; $55 for Concentrate Refill
Type: Liquid concentrate
Certifications: MADE SAFE; EWG Verified; Leaping Bunny
Subscription? Yes, you can save 10% with a subscription
Branch Basics is one of our favorite non-toxic cleaning products that you can use not only for everyday cleaning but also in the bathroom, the laundry, as hand soap, and more. It’s gentle and safe for all of the family members, but it can also quickly cut through grease and get the job done. It’s also MADE SAFE certified to be free from any and all harsh chemicals and is fragrance-free, biodegradable, and cruelty-free.
Their spray bottles (which you can get in either glass or plastic) come with fill lines so you know what ratio of water to concentrate to use for each purpose (all-purpose, bathroom, streak-free, hand soap, or laundry).
Even though a bottle of concentrate is a bit pricey, it lasts a long time (even if you clean a lot!).
In addition to the all-purpose concentrate, Branch Basics also carries an oxygen boost for the laundry, dishwasher tablets, travel-sized bottles, and more.
You can find our full review of Branch Basics here.
Shop Branch Basics (and you can use the code THEFILTERY for 15% off Starter Kits)
Healthynest (Best For Little Ones)
Price: $90 for the initial Cleaning System; $60 for concentrate refill
Type: Liquid concentrate
Certifications: MADE SAFE; EWG Verified; B Corp
Subscription? No subscription is available for the cleaning solution (they do have a diaper & wipe subscription option, though)
With their diapers, wipes, and baby skincare, Healthynest’s products are targeted toward parents with little ones. Although technically, their all-purpose cleaning concentrate is great for any kind of household—kids or not!
You can start out with their Cleaning System, which includes a bottle of the concentrate; 3 reusable stainless steel bottles for hand soap, dish soap, and surface spray; and 3 reusable dishcloths. Then after that, you can just grab a bottle of the Cleaning Concentrate whenever you need a refill.
Healthynest’s all-purpose cleaner comes with the MADE SAFE certification, which is one of our favorites for safety of ingredients. They use ingredients like coco-glucoside, which is a plant-based cleanser derived from sugar(!), along with several other natural and organic ingredients.
In addition to being used as a standard all-purpose spray, it can also be used used as a foaming hand soap, dish soap, laundry detergent, spot treatment, and more.
Attitude (Best Scented)
Type: Regular cleaning spray with a refill in a box
Certifications: ECOLOGO, EWG Verified, PETA vegan & cruelty-free,
Subscription? Yes, you can save 10% with a subscription model
If you’re a fan of the scented cleaning sprays, you should check out ATTITUDE. Scents include Citrus Zest, Lavender, and Pink Grapefruit (in addition to Unscented).
For the active cleaning ingredients, ATTITUDE uses things like saponin, which is a natural, streak-free cleaning agent that truly works on everything from light dust to soap scum. After you buy your first spray bottle, you can get refill boxes with a spout to cut down on plastic.
In addition to their all-purpose cleaner, they also carry specific cleaning sprays for the bathroom, kitchen, floor, fruits & veggies, and more… And it all smells amazing! But not only that; ATTITUDE also has basically any and every other type of personal care and home cleaning product you need, from laundry detergent to haircare to lotion and more.
Meliora (Best Plastic-Free)
Type: All-Purpose Home Cleaner Spray (with dissolvable refill tablets)
Certifications: MADE SAFE, B Corp, Leaping Bunny, 1% For the Planet
Subscription? Yes, you can subscribe and save 5%
Although all of the brands listed here are lower waste than your more conventional cleaning products in one way or another, Meliora actually provides a single-use plastic-free cleaning option.
Their unscented (fragrance-free) all-purpose cleaner comes in a glass bottle with a dissolvable tablet, which you can then buy more of when you’re ready for refills. All you have to do is add warm water, shake, wait a sec for it to dissolve, and get cleaning!
Meliora’s cleaning products are also MADE SAFE certified so you know they’re completely free from toxins. Their ingredient list is really short; it only includes a few plant-based ingredients. We’ve been using their all-purpose cleaner for years now and we use it all over the place: on counters, in the bathroom, and even on mirrors and glass for a streak-free clean.
In addition to their all-purpose cleaner, they also have other cleaning products like dish soap, cleaning scrub (for tougher jobs), laundry detergent, foaming hand wash, body wash, and more. Everything is made in the USA at their Chicago, IL factory.
Honest (Best Wipes)
Type: Sanitizing Wipes, All-Purpose Wipes (scented and unscented), Baby Wipes, & Makeup Remover Wipes
Certifications: EWG Verified, National Eczema Association Approved
Subscription? Yes, you can save 5% with a subscription
If you’re looking for non-toxic cleaning wipes that are free from harmful chemicals, Honest is one of your best options—in part because they have so many different kinds of wipes to choose from!
In addition to their standard baby wipes (which are available in several different fun patterns), they also carry sanitizing alcohol wipes that you can throw in your bag to use for disinfecting on the go. They also offer ‘Hydrating & Nourishing’ all-purpose wipes, makeup removing wipes for your face, and dry wipes made from organic cotton.
9 Elements (Best In-Store, Available at Target)
Type: Regular All-Purpose Spray
Certifications: EPA Safer Choice
Subscription? Not available
I’m generally pretty skeptical about the “natural” and “non-toxic” brands that are available in stores (see below for more on that!), but the new(er) brand called 9 Elements, which is available at Target, is actually a pretty good option!
It’s got only 9 ingredients (hence the name), with vinegar as the primary cleaning agent. It does contain “fragrance,” but if you dig further into the ingredient label, you’ll see that it actually only consists of lemon peel oil and limonene, which are commonly used in natural cleaning products.
So if you’re at the store and trying to choose the best option, I definitely recommend going with 9 Elements! In addition to their multi-purpose cleaning spray, they also carry laundry detergent and dish soap.
How Do You Make Non-Toxic All-Purpose Cleaner? (2 Easy DIY Recipes)
If you’re the type of person who’d rather make their own non-toxic cleaning products, here are a few super-easy recipes you can use to make your own natural cleaning products:
- 2 cups of water (you can use tap, or distilled/filtered is even better)
- 4 teaspoons castile soap (such as Dr. Bronner’s)
- 30-35 drops of the essential oil of your choice (ones with citric acid, such as lemon or grapefruit, tend to be better at cutting through grease as well as sanitizing)
- 3 cups water
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 10-20 drops of the essential oil of your choice
(It should be noted, however, that vinegar can damage certain surfaces, like natural stone, tile, and wood—so be careful!)
Tips for Using:
- Use a glass bottle if you can
- Store in a cool, dark place (some essential oils can oxidize if left in the sunlight)
- Shake before each use
A Closer Look At Other Popular “Non-Toxic” Cleaning Brands
You may notice that there are a few other “natural” and “non-toxic” cleaners that aren’t on this list… Brands like Method, Mrs. Meyers, and Seventh Generation have become almost as mainstream as the more ‘conventional’ brands like Windex and Clorox in recent years.
The main problem with these brands is that some of their products are in fact non-toxic or even “pretty good,” while other products are just as bad as their conventional counterparts! This is problematic because it requires consumers to know a lot about hard-to-pronounce ingredients and do a bunch of research on each individual product before buying it… Most of us don’t have time for that!
In general, we’d say that these brands are better than most of the conventional brands… But they’re definitely not the best.
Let’s take a look at some of the specific brands…
Is Method Non-Toxic?
Almost all of Method’s products (the worst ones as well as the “less bad” ones) contain questionable things like several different ethoxylated ingredients, mystery fragrances, methylisothiazolinone (a known skin irritant and endocrine disrupter), and other random things like methylbenxyl acetate, which is a suspected hormone disruptor.
Also, Method makes it relatively difficult to find their ingredients at all, which we don’t like because we believe in full ingredient transparency. Consumers shouldn’t have to dig and dig to find out what’s in the products they’re buying!
Mrs. Meyer’s Non-Toxic?
Mrs. Meyer’s products have a lot of the same problems that Method’s do (although, they’re generally a little bit better and they do prioritize transparency more than Method does).
The main problems with Mrs. Meyer’s ingredients are mystery fragrances, methylisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone (known irritants), and a lot of ethoxylated ingredients.
However, Mrs. Meyer’s does at least indicate that their fragrances are made without phthalates or parabens.
What About Seventh Generation?
Seventh Generation is very similar to Method and Mrs. Meyer’s. Some of their products are better than others, but a lot of them contain toxic methylisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone. Their Free & Clear cleaners are free from mystery fragrances, so that’s something. But again, we still don’t really recommend this brand on the whole…
More Guides for Non-Toxic Cleaning Products
Here are some related cleaning guides you may be interested in checking out:
- The best non-toxic laundry detergent brands
- Our favorite dish soap & dishwasher detergent brands
- Safest alternatives to dryer sheets
- Where to find eco-friendly and non-toxic paper towels
There’s really no reason to have to make sacrifices when it comes to all-purpose cleaning spray. There are plenty of natural and non-toxic cleaning products on the market that you can feel safe using around your whole family (including kids and pets!).