Deciphering Eco-Friendly Claims on Cleaning Products

Written By Veronica Craker, BBB Managing Editor & Writer


As a mother of a toddler one of the first things I look for in a cleaning agent is whether or not my kid is going to be in serious trouble if she should get any in her mouth. I do keep all cleaning supplies away from my daughter, however I can’t always stop her from licking the table after I’ve given it a proper scrubbing. So if that should happen I want to make sure she won’t need to be rushed to the hospital.

But how can you be sure you are choosing a truly safe product? With so many products advertising as “earth-friendly” or “natural” it can be hard to know who to trust. Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission has its own set of green guidelines created to ensure the accuracy of claims made by advertisers.

These “Green Guides” make certain that what is advertised on the label is truthful and non-deceptive. If your company is in the business of selling eco-friendly products I’d recommend you check out their guidelines. And if you want to be a smart shopper the guide is a great resource for what “green” truly means.

For today’s blog I’d like to take a look at three of the most common marketing claims.

Non-Toxic Claims.

I have my favorite go-to cleaning products that I like, but here’s what the FTC says about advertising a product as “non-toxic.”

“A non-toxic claim likely conveys that a product, package, or service is non-toxic both for humans and for the environment generally. Therefore, marketers making non-toxic claims should have competent and reliable scientific evidence that the product, package, or service is non-toxic for humans and for the environment or should clearly and prominently qualify their claims to avoid deception. Section 260.10 (b)”

What this means is that if an advertisement says the product is “non-toxic” it cannot harm humans or the environment in anyway. Let’s say the eco-friendly toilet bowl cleaner is fine to pour down the drain, but not OK for you to swallow, that would be considered false advertising.

Recyclable Claims.

Raise your hands if you struggle with knowing whether an item is recyclable. I hope I’m not the only one with my hand in the air. Fortunately, most products now come with a label telling you if it is recyclable or not. Again, let’s take a look at what the FTC says about these types of advertising claims.

“When recycling facilities are available to a substantial majority of consumers or communities where the item is sold, marketers can make unqualified recyclable claims. The term “substantial majority,” as used in this context, means at least 60 percent. Section 260.12 (b)”

So if you are selling a product in say Seattle, one of the greenest cities in the U.S., then it is OK to claim the item can be recycled. However, if the item is being marketed to customers who do not have convenient access to recycling centers —advertisers should state that they “may be not be recyclable in your area.” Bottom line is they are still recyclable, but probably not be in your area.

Carbon offsets.

We’ve all been told it’s important to reduce our carbon footprint. The effects of carbon emissions is hotly debated, but no matter where you stand on the issue we can all agree that we are consuming more resources than we are producing. So it makes sense to consider what type of effect the products you buy will have on the air quality around us.

Here’s what the FTC says about products advertising carbon offsets.

“It is deceptive to claim, directly or by implication, that a carbon offset represents an emission reduction if the reduction, or the activity that caused the reduction, was required by law. 260.5 (b)”

This is pretty self-explanatory, but basically it means that if the law mandates a product give off low emissions, advertisers cannot say that it is special to its product.

Going forward.

I hope this helps to clarify what advertisers mean when they claim their product is non-toxic, recyclable or has a low carbon footprint.

When choosing a cleaning product to use in your home read the ingredients list and stay away from products that contain ammonia, the phrase “fragrance” or perchloriethylene —which according to the EPA may be a carcinogen. If you have a hard time deciphering through an ingredients list save time by looking for the EPA Safer Choice label.


More information on safe cleaning products can be found at