What’s the deal with green cleaners?
Are classic cleaning products so awful for
the planet? It’s complicated. That’s why
we asked the experts to take on our
most pressing questions.

blue sponge
Sponges get filthy fast, but their lower environmental impact means you don’t have to feel guilty tossing ’em.
| Credit: Photography by Gallery Stock/Adam Voorhes

Q: What does green really mean?

Real talk: not much. The same goes for eco-friendly, all natural, and chemical-free. "Everything in our world is made up of 'chemicals,' and there is no universal, regulated definition of natural," explains Rachel Rothman, chief technologist at the Good Housekeeping Institute.

Q: Should I use sponges or microfiber cloths?

No easy answer to that one. Cloths last longer than sponges and can be cleaned in the washing machine. Then again, that wash cycle requires water and energy. For sponge-lovers: Don't get too attached to that cellulose. Sponges should be swapped out as often as once a week and cleaned on a regular basis. Brian Sansoni, a vice president at the American Cleaning Institute, recommends soaking sponges in a diluted bleach solution (one quart water to three tablespoons chlorine bleach) for five minutes, then air-drying thoroughly.

Q: Wait—is bleach safe to use? Isn’t it bad for the earth?

Good news for clean freaks: Household-bleach use isn't a major source of potentially harmful by-products; 95 to 98 percent of chlorine bleach breaks down into salt water. The real hazard to consumers comes from misuse. Whatever you do, don't mix bleach with other cleaning products, says Paul Blanc, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco and author of How Everyday Products Make People Sick. And if soap, water, and elbow grease will do, go with that instead.

Q: Is it OK to use cleaning wipes?

"Cleaning wipes serve an effective role in everyday life," says Sansoni. They kill viruses and bacteria that can make us sick. Should you use them in moderation? Absolutely. Should you throw them in the trash, not in the toilet? Also yep—even the "flushable" kind. And remember to place the empty container in the recycling bin!

Non-Pro Tips: How Our Staff Cleans Up

"The combo of baking soda and vinegar works wonders on drains. It clears minor clogs and freshens sink stink." —Tara Cox, managing editor

"The Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is my secret weapon. You can use it everywhere—patio furniture, sneakers, and bathtubs." —Danielle Blundell, lifestyle editor

"Don't throw out that newspaper. Paired with glass cleaner, it's the best way to wash your mirrors. No lint!" —Nina Elder, executive food editor