Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products Explained

Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products Explained — Meliora Cleaning Products

What are eco-friendly cleaning products?

Eco-friendly cleaning products are made to not harm the environment and ecosystems. This could mean minimizing waste, toxic chemicals, and other environmental hazards. Unfortunately, the term “eco-friendly” is not formally defined or strictly regulated, meaning that any product can claim to be eco-friendly regardless of how it is made, packaged, used, or managed after use. The same is true for a slew of related terms such as “environmentally friendly”, “green”, “natural”, “sustainable”, “zero-waste”, and “non-toxic”. Finding eco-friendly cleaning products can be challenging because there are many factors to consider, including sourcing, manufacturing, and the ingredients and packaging materials used.

Regardless of the prevalence of greenwashing and deceptive marketing, “eco-friendly” is a commonly used term for products made to minimize the negative impact on the environment. Many people looking to swap their home cleaning products for better alternatives will start by searching for eco-friendly products. Fortunately, there are ways to go beyond the buzzwords and find products made with more responsible materials and safer ingredients.

What are eco-friendly packaging materials?

Eco-friendly packaging materials are materials that are designed to reduce the environmental impact of storing, shipping, and selling products.

There are many criteria to consider when evaluating eco-friendly packaging materials, including whether they are:

Recyclable, meaning the material can be collected, sorted, reprocessed, and reused. According to the FTC’s Green Guides, a product should only be marketed as recyclable when recycling facilities are available to at least 60 percent of communities where the product is sold. This regulatory guidance, which applies in the United States, only takes into account the availability of recycling services and does not consider the actual processes needed to effectively recycle the material. Unfortunately, recyclability does not mean that materials actually get recycled. For example, the EPA estimates that only about 9% of all plastic waste in the United States was recycled in 2018. In contrast, about 68% of paper and paperboard waste was recycled.

Recycling and composting as a percentage of generation












Paper and Paperboard

































Yard Trimmings











Lead-acid Batteries











Source: National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes and Recycling (EPA)

Compostable, meaning the material will break down into natural elements in a compost site within a relatively short time frame, typically around 90–180 days. There is an important distinction between at-home composting sites and commercial composting sites. As sustainability educator Polly Barks points out, many “compostable” materials, including bioplastics, cannot be composted at home because they require commercial composting sites that are much larger and hotter than home compost systems. 

Biodegradable, which means a material can be broken down into organic elements by bacteria and organisms. This is effectively the same as compostable, but with an open-ended timeframe, since composting involves a dedicated site that facilitates decomposition. This term is often used to reassure consumers that a product won’t be harmful long-term if it is released to the environment. However, without a standard test or definition for the timeframe and conditions needed, it’s difficult to know what the environmental effect of the product may be before breakdown naturally occurs.

As you can see, the terms “recyclable”, “compostable”, and “biodegradable” are only part of deciding whether a product is eco-friendly. It is less useful to consider whether a material is recyclable or not, but rather the extent to which it can be recycled and the effort needed for it to be reused. The recycling process itself requires energy to collect, sort, clean, decontaminate, and ultimately remanufacture materials. In other words, recycled material still takes a greater toll on the environment than material that was never used in the first place.

Reduce, then reuse, then recycle

In the waste management hierarchy, reduction and reuse is the first and most environmentally preferred strategy. It can take many forms, including “reusing or donating items, buying in bulk, reducing packaging, redesigning products, and reducing toxicity”, according to the EPA. Simply using less disposable stuff in the first place, before recycling and composting even come into the equation, is the most eco-friendly option.

Waste management hierarchy

EPA Waste Management HierarchySource: Sustainable Materials Management: Non-Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Hierarchy (EPA)

Cleaning and laundry products, like many other everyday items, can be designed to use less packaging altogether. Concentrated formulas, such as dry powders, solid soap bars, and refill tablets are just as effective as their liquid counterparts. By removing the excess water, they can be packaged in more easily recyclable and renewable materials like cardboard and paper. Far more paper and paperboard gets recycled than plastic waste, and unlike bioplastics, many types of cardboard can be composted at home.

As an added benefit, concentrated products tend to weigh less and take up less space, making them more energy- and cost-effective to ship than liquid-based products.

Another way to reduce packaging waste is to replace single-use products and containers with reusable and refillable products. For instance, instead of buying a new plastic bottle every time you run out of hand soap or cleaning spray, you could refill a glass bottle with a small tablet of soap. There are even stores that specialize in zero- and low-waste refill options where you can bring your own container and buy cleaning products in bulk.

What are eco-friendly ingredients?

Eco-friendly ingredients are ingredients that are produced and used in ways that reduce their negative impact on the environment and ecosystems.

There are many ways to categorize ingredients as more or less eco-friendly, including:

Non-toxic, or made without chemicals that are known or suspected to harm human or environmental health, according to MADE SAFE®, a rigorous certification program for safer household products. MADE SAFE® screens products for over 6,500 banned and restricted substances found in household products. Their “Ecosystem Approach” analyzes potential hazards including bioaccumulation, environmental persistence, contamination, aquatic toxicity, terrestrial toxicity, and human toxicity. Other ingredient safety certifications include EPA Safer Choice and EWG Verified.

Bio-based, which refers to non-food products that are derived from “raw materials such as plants and other renewable agricultural, marine, and forestry materials,” as defined by the USDA. This label signifies that a product is not made from synthetic products, such as petroleum. Plant-based products are a subset of bio-based products that are made specifically from plant sources rather than animal sources.

Vegan, which means made without any animal-derived products. When it comes to cleaning products, this typically refers to soaps made with fats and glycerin from plant sources, such as coconut and sunflower oil.

Cruelty-free, or made without any animal testing. Leaping Bunny certified companies eliminate animal testing from all stages of their supply chain and product development process.

Organic, which applies only to agricultural products such as plant-derived oils. The USDA’s organic standards include a variety of “cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity.” Many cleaning products use mineral-derived ingredients, such as baking soda and washing soda, that can not be classified as organic. Any product can claim to be “made with organic ingredients” as long as the agricultural ingredients are organic, even if it contains synthetic ingredients like petroleum-based detergents.

While this list is far from exhaustive, it highlights some important qualities of ingredients that can actually be qualified in some way. Although these terms should be always validated by third-party evaluation, they are more helpful to consider than vague claims like “green”, “sustainable”, or “natural”.

How can I tell if a cleaning product is eco-friendly?

The best way to find eco-friendly cleaning products is to investigate all environmental claims and check for packaging information, ingredient lists, and third-party certifications.

Beware of greenwashing! For each eco-friendly claim, ask:

  • What evidence does the manufacturer provide to back it up?
  • How transparent are they about their practices? Pay attention to how the claim is presented.
  • Is the phrasing vague and open-ended? Most companies that are serious about their environmental credentials will give details and support their claims with certifications from third-party evaluators.


Packaging information seems like it should be easy to find since the packaging is a highly visual and tangible part of any product. Unfortunately, companies do not always list the packaging materials they use online or even on the label, making it difficult to make informed buying decisions. When in doubt, you can always contact the manufacturer and ask about their packaging practices. If they won’t tell you what they’re using, that’s a red flag!

Companies can also hide materials or otherwise misrepresent their packaging as eco-friendly. For example, cartons or cardboard boxes that appear to be alternatives to plastic bottles may still be lined with plastic or contain plastic-wrapped packets. A common example is detergent sold in pods or sheets made from PVA (polyvinyl alcohol), which is a type of dissolvable plastic. This is a form of misdirection that focuses attention on the lack of plastic bottles while simply replacing them with another type of plastic — one that is designed to dissolve and wash into our water systems.


Ingredient lists can tell you a lot about cleaning products. If the ingredients aren’t listed, don’t buy the product! In the United States, companies are not legally required to disclose the ingredients used in any home cleaning product outside the state of California. The absence of an ingredient list is a major red flag.

If there is an ingredient list, study it carefully. If you don’t know what an ingredient is, look it up. There are a lot of safe, effective, “non-toxic” ingredients out there with names that might be unfamiliar or sound scary. For example, sodium cocoate is the chemical name of soap made from coconut oil. Nothing scary about that. On the other hand, sodium laureth sulfate (often called SLES) is a synthetic detergent produced through a process called ethoxylation that can produce carcinogenic byproducts.

Be wary of ingredient lists that include the word “fragrance”. This catch-all term allows companies to hide a wide range of ingredients. In the US, hundreds of ingredients in the "fragrance" family have never been tested for their impact. Organic essential oils such as lavender and lemongrass, used in low amounts, are safer ingredient options for scented products. When looking for the lowest possible human and environmental impact, unscented and fragrance-free options are your best bet.


B Corp certification designates that a business meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Certified B Corps commit to a triple bottom line that includes people and planet alongside profits. This does not certify the company’s products or services as eco-friendly, but it demonstrates that they are committed to centering sustainable practices in their business model.

1% for the Planet connects businesses that pledge to donate 1% of their annual revenue with nonprofit organizations working on critical environmental causes. It was founded to prevent greenwashing by certifying reputable and accountable giving to environmental causes. While participation in 1% for the Planet does not mean that a company’s products are eco-friendly, it signifies that they have made a tangible commitment to environmental causes.

MADE SAFE® certification involves a rigorous, scientific, and independent screening process focused on both human health and ecosystems. It investigates the use of hazardous chemicals throughout the entire supply chain from sourcing and manufacturing to the end product.

Leaping Bunny’s cruelty-free certification is the highest standard for companies committed to eliminating animal testing. In order to be certified, companies and their ingredient suppliers must pledge to clear animal testing from all stages of product development.

Are Meliora Cleaning Products eco-friendly?

Yes! We design our products to minimize the environmental impact of our packaging and ingredients. All Meliora Cleaning Products are made without single-use plastic packaging. That means no hidden liners, plastic scoops, or dissolvable pods or sheets. The only plastic in our entire product line is the bulk buckets and the pump used in the glass spray bottle, which are designed to be refilled and reused many times. Otherwise all of our packaging is made from recyclable cardboard, paperboard, glass, and steel. 

Our powdered products, including Laundry Powder, Oxygen Brightener, and Gentle Home Cleaning Scrub, come in cardboard and steel canisters. All you have to do to recycle them is separate the cardboard from the steel ends. Better yet, keep the first can you buy and refill it with our kraft paper refill bags. Or buy our powders in bulk with our zero-waste bucket program. When you’re done with the bucket, send it back to us to wash and reuse for the next person.

All our solid soaps and refill tablets are packaged in paperboard boxes printed with vegetable-based inks. These are also recyclable and compostable at home. Some of our products are even available without the packaging — we just send you the soap and shipping materials.

You’ll never have to guess what’s in our products either. We list every ingredient on the package and online so you know what’s inside. Our products are MADE SAFE® certified, cruelty-free, and vegan. We only use safe, effective ingredients that include baking soda, washing soda, sodium percarbonate, and soaps made from coconut and sunflower oil. We always offer an unscented version of our products and we use certified organic essential oils for any scented products.

If you have any questions about our packaging or ingredients, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Eco-friendliness is a huge topic and this guide can only offer a brief overview. If there is any aspect you’d like us to explore in more detail, please let us know!

If you’re looking to swap out your laundry and cleaning products for better alternatives made with more responsible packaging and safer ingredients, check out our products below:

Eco-friendly laundry detergent

Our plastic-free Laundry Powder is an eco-friendly laundry detergent that is just as effective as liquid detergent, but ultra-concentrated, plastic-free, and preservative-free. It’s available in cardboard and steel canisters, as well as low-waste paper refill bags — not in single-use plastic jugs! 

Eco-friendly stain remover

Our Soap Stick and Oxygen Brightener are effective eco-friendly stain removers. The Soap Stick is a solid bar of vegetable soap that is effective at spot-treating fabric stains before a wash cycle. 

Oxygen Brightener is a powdered bleach alternative and laundry booster that pairs well with our Laundry Powder. It’s available in a cardboard and steel canister or paper refill bag.

Eco-friendly cleaners

Our All-Purpose Home Cleaner Spray and Gentle Home Cleaning Scrub are gentle, eco-friendly cleaners for your home. The All-Purpose Cleaner comes in solid soap tablets that dissolve in water for a plastic-free multi-surface cleaner. The Gentle Home Cleaning Scrub is a powder scrub made with baking soda and vegetable soap to power through stubborn messes on hard surfaces.

Eco-friendly dish soap

Our plastic-free Dish Soap is an eco-friendly alternative to liquid dish soap. By making a solid dish soap bar, we eliminate the need for single-use plastic bottles.

Eco-friendly hand soap and body soap

Our collection of eco-friendly soaps includes our Foaming Hand Soap Refill Tablets and Bath & Body Soap Bars. Both plant-based soaps come in compostable paperboard boxes and are vegan, plastic-free, palm oil-free, and made without synthetic fragrances.

Cover photo by cottonbro studio

Want us to dig deeper into eco-friendly cleaning products?

Eco-friendliness is a huge topic and this guide can only offer a brief overview. If there is any aspect you’d like us to explore in more detail, please contact us and let us know!

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