You shall know them by their labels

Using "green" household cleansers is easy, only a little bit more expensive and leaves your house smelling more natural.

Because green products are all about eliminating artificial chemicals, those chemicals won't end up on your counters, dishware or clothes — or in your body.

They're easy to locate in the market. They're the ones trumpeting the message that they contain no perfumes, dyes, toxins, fumes, and are sometimes made from essential oils. Many say they're "cruelty-free," which means they haven't been tested on animals.

They often claim not to have chemicals whose names you won't recognize. Like phosphates, metasilicates and borax.

"Phosphates get in our streams and make them all foamy and that isn't good. They also get on your skin," said Annie Hoy, outreach director for Ashland Food Co-op, which features a six-foot long section of green cleansers.

"Now this one, Citra-Solv, is a natural cleanser and de-greaser and we use it all over the store, full strength, to get off any kind of stain or dirt," said Hoy. "It's environmentally friendly, works good and smells good."

The fine print on the bottle tells you what it's made of and what it does. In Citra-Solv's case: removes gum, ink, tar, grease, oil, lipstick, paint, marker stains.

You can dilute it for counters and floors, wood, tile, grills, and even bike chains.

Many green cleansers explain their philosophy on labels or Web sites. Citra-Solv's site reads: "The way each of us lives has tremendous impact on the earth. Over the last 40 years, there have been increasing signs of toxins in our water supplies, our atmosphere—even in our wildlife populations. Although there is much debate about the most effective way to clean up what has been polluted in the past, there's no disputing how to curb pollution in the present and future. First, we should reduce, re-use and recycle what we "consume" in our day-to-day living. Second, we should start using products that are naturally-derived, non-polluting and made from renewable resources."

If you've ever thought that environmentally friendly cleansers are not as tough as conventional types, Hoy says you can drop that notion.

The Ashland store even sells laundry Soap Nuts, real nuts that grow on soap berry trees. Users put them in a muslin bag and drop them in the laundry. They work, she said, and they're $16 for a small box.

Alternate sink and floor cleansers, laundry, hand, dish and dishwasher soap are all available in environmentally friendly versions, though they may not be available in some mainstream markets yet.

Brands abound. There's TreClean, an antibacterial spray for surfaces, that uses tea tree oil, a natural disinfectant. Bi-O-Kleen markets laundry soap with grapefruit seed extract, as well as a chlorine-free bleach that whitens with natural compounds. Bio Pac makes laundry liquid, fabric softener, dish soap and other products. Their shower cleaner is made only of water, citric acid and a sugar-based surfactant (breaks water tension).

You can even find some very recognizeable, decades-old cleansers in the green section, including Bon Ami, which has no chlorine, perfumes or dyes and "hasn't scratched yet."

Alongside it is Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds, a fir needle-based cleanser that describes and defines every ingredient and its source in nature. A big bottle is $7.69 and it promises to thoroughly wash everything from floors to clothing used in construction work.

Oxo Brite, a clear take-off on the popular mainstream Oxi Clean (and packaged in a similar plastic vat) markets itself as a non-chlorine bleach powder that removes almost any kind of stain and is biodegradable, nontoxic and won't irritate skin.

The Co-op's wares branch into Earth-friendly wood cleaner and stainless steel cleaner by Howard Naturals and Hoy comments, "It did exactly what it said it would do on my wood cabinets." Contents? Not what you'd expect in a metal cleaner: soybean oil, coconut oil, palm oil and fragrances from essential oils.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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