Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to hone your senses for green-washing as you up your game with green cleaners. It turns out that although MANY “natural” cleaning products us methylisothiazolinone and sodium benzoate as preservatives, there are still some pretty unnatural risks.
The new year is a great time to focus on taking one baby step a week toward better nutrition and environmental stewardship, don’t you think?
Today’s mission is a two-part focus:
1. For those just beginning the natural living journey, switching out your cleaners to something without toxins is an important first step. I’ve extensively covered green cleaning here at Kitchen Stewardship®, and you can find a comprehensive list of all my resources and what I choose to use when it comes to green cleaners right HERE.
2. For those who are already using “green cleaners,” today’s mission will challenge you to go beyond the label and marketing to the ingredients and learn how to recognize synthetic components that may not be as natural as you think.
This post is sponsored by Branch Basics (new formula, even better!), a cleaner that sets itself apart by avoiding ALL synthetic ingredients and all fragrances, even natural ones. Plus, it’s really effective. Check out my initial review of the product HERE and grab the starter kit.
Thanks, Branch Basics, for getting this important challenge and info about synthetic cleaning ingredients in the hands of the KS community!
Don’t Let Green Companies Wash You
It’s a term used for cleaners and personal products that are marketed as “all natural” but really aren’t. They’re usually “sort of natural” or include some natural ingredients, but many also use synthetic stabilizers and/or preservatives.
The fact that many big brands make product claims that fall short of 100% accurate – and that it’s not regulated by any governmental agency so they’re within their legal rights – makes cleaning “green” much harder to accomplish.
I just did a super quick look at one of the most common popular “green” cleaning brands (no need to use names; you can search your cupboards for yourself if you have some commercial green cleaners) and I found methylisothiazolinone in the all purpose cleaner and laundry detergent (to their credit, they mark it “synthetic preservative” in the ingredients). Their baby wipes and hand soap included sodium benzoate, also listed as a “synthetic preservative.”
Particularly for a product that is going to stay on the skin, like lotions or baby wipes, you want to be as pure as absolutely possible because of the increased contact time. You might want to look into both the cost effectiveness and chemical avoidance of making your own baby wipes – disposable if you use disposable diapers and cloth if you use cloth. A small drop of concentrated Branch Basics would be perfect for the wipes, FYI.
Speaking of cloth diapers, that’s obviously a huge “green” step and also can help you save a ton of money. I reviewed over 24 brands of cloth diapers a few years ago, and now that I’ve gotten them out again, I’ll update those in a few months with reports on which diapers lost their elastic over time, which ones are possible for a newborn, and what brand I ordered 5 more of in real life…watch for that! Here’s the original massive cloth diaper review, with photos, videos, and updates after 6 and 12 months for every diaper.
Let’s learn a little more about those two common preservatives and why you (and me too!) might want to add them to your “X list” when reading ingredients.
METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE – Not so Natural!
- EWG rating: 5 (moderate hazard)
- Note: The EWG is not the be-all, end-all of health and safety, but their ratings and information are one source for checking at a glance to see what something is while you’re reading ingredients.
- Find it in: cosmetics, cleaners, paper coatings for food contact
- Other names to watch for: chloromethylisothiazolinone or CMIT, methylisothiazolinone or MIT
- Environmental concern: extremely toxic to fish, becoming a big threat to marine populations because it washes off ship hulls (it’s in the paint).
- What you don’t want to know: “The long-term consequences of low-level chronic exposure to isothiazolinones on the central nervous system have not been thoroughly investigated.” (source) That article also mentions phrases like “cell death” and “free radicals” under its human health impacts. Sigh…
- Claim to fame: one of two parts of a trademarked preservative (Kathon CG) that was the recipient of the 2013 Contact Allergen of the Year award. Nice. Allergies have been noted since the 1980s, and use of the product is increasing in recent years (maybe this is one reason for the increase in eczema we’re seeing lately?).
Katie’s Sly TIP for remembering you don’t want it: If you can’t find a product like Branch Basics (new formula, even better!) with zero synthetic ingredients, remembering which hard-to-pronounce words are “okay” and which ones you’re not a fan of can be tough. For this one, think:
I don’t want to be in the “METHYL-Z-ONE!”
Sodium Benzoate – a Preservative You Don’t Need
- EWG rating: 3 (lowest number in “moderate hazard”)
- Find it in: medicines, cosmetics, food – especially acidic foods like salad dressings, carbonated drinks, jams, fruit juice, pickles, and condiments
- Other names to watch for: potassium benzoate (similar but not the same, often used together and can form benzene, a known carcinogen, in combination with Vitamin C/ascorbic acid)
- Environmental concern: none known
- What you don’t want to know: it was in many soft drinks at higher than deemed safe levels…most companies have reduced it, but that tells me we’re still testing and learning about it, and we are the human guinea pigs. Some theorize that it contributes to hyperactive behavior when paired with artificial colors (but that could just be the colors, too…).
- Claim to fame: “In response to consumer insistence on a more natural product, the Coca Cola Company is in the process of phasing sodium benzoate out of Diet Coke. The company has stated it plans to remove sodium benzoate from its other products…as soon as a satisfactory alternative is discovered.” (source)
Katie’s Sly TIP for remembering you don’t want it:
“SO BEEN done with SOdium BENzoate – especially in SOda!”
More About Branch Basics
I had a great experience with Branch Basics, and honestly, after reading my own post, I realized I had forgotten about how well it did with laundry stains and carpets, and I need to mix up a new bottle and start using it again (sometimes I get so many cleaners under the sink that I forget what works best).
The product is the real deal when it comes to green:
- not a drop of synthetic ingredient
- shelf stable naturally because of saponification process of making soap
- no fragrances, even natural ones so that they are totally pure and everyone can use it without question
There’s no reason for a stabilizer or preservatives, which are the synthetics that often cause reactions in those who are immune-compromised or chemically sensitive. Branch Basics serves that audience intentionally but is perfect for anyone wishing to up their eco-friendly game and keep their families safer from the environmental toxins so pervasive in our modern world.
One of my favorite parts about writing a blog is connecting with other startup companies founded by real people with a real mission.
Branch Basics is an awesome example – you’ll love reading about the founders and how they came to super natural cleaners and lifestyle, out of necessity. If any company is going to understand your wish (or need) for a 100% synthetic-free lifestyle, it’s Branch Basics.
NEW: an even more concentrated concentrate, less packaging, more power! It’s now 2x concentrated so you get more in your bottle.
For now, I recommend checking out the starter pack (or just the concentrate if you already have foaming soap bottles spray cleaning bottles). The concentrate seems expensive at first glance, but it makes so many bottles of cleaner, stain treater, and soap, that the math works out to less than most commercial green cleaners. See the FAQs for a breakdown.
Speak up! Tell us what your journey with eco-friendly cleaning has been. Have you been unintentionally “green-washed?” What are your goals in this area?
Disclosure: This is a paid post. See my full disclosure statement here.
Images from GraphicStock. Used with permission.
Need More Baby Steps?
Here at Kitchen Stewardship®, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.
That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.
Sign up to get weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.