"Natural" Cleaners: "Green"? Effective?

If you're trying to protect your family from the toxins contained in some cleaners, "all-natural" products seem like the way to go.

But are those products really what they claim to be? Urvashi Rangan, director of technical policy at Consumer Reports magazine, explained on "The Early Show" which so-called "green" products are, indeed, legitimate.

In recent years, Rangan said, there's been a rise in the demand for natural products. Food, personal care products, cleaning agents, detergents and soaps are just some of the growing market. Rangan attributes the rise in interest because consumers believe all-natural products are safer for humans and for the environment.

"Companies are noticing this demand, and they're marketing their products as all-natural," she said. "Problem is, when it comes to personal care products and household cleaners, there's no one regulating them. There's no government-sponsored set of guidelines, like the USDA oversees food products. So really, there's no way to tell if these products are actually all-natural."

With household cleaners, some of the brands you may know best, such as Tide, Rangan said, do not fall into the "all-natural" category. Rangan said some cleaners may even contain harmful chemicals, but the manufacturers aren't obligated to list all the ingredients.

"Right now, the law requires product labels to list immediately hazardous ingredients, but there is no labeling requirement for ingredients that may cause harm over time," she said

Rangan pointed out that some products have warning labels because they contain some pretty potent chemicals.

"That's required by law," she said. "But for many of the products, companies aren't even required to list the ingredients of their products."

Rangan said Tide, for example, doesn't list any of the ingredients that make up the actual detergent.

However, some are working to change the guidelines, Rangan said, mentioning that Sen. Al Franken is hoping to pass a piece of legislation that would require that household cleaning products and similar products bear a label that contains a complete and accurate list of all the product's ingredients.

"It seems like as this market expands, the regulations might be soon to follow," she said.

Some all-natural products, such as shampoos and moisturizers, have begun to carry a new seal from the Natural Products Association (NPA), a non-profit watchdog group.

In order for a product to be deemed natural by the NPA, it must be made up of 95 percent natural ingredients, it must be safe for human use and safe for the environment, it cannot have been tested on animals (except where required by law) and it must use biodegradable ingredients and environmentally sensitive packaging. However, Rangan pointed out, the NPA is not government-run group. The privately-run organization, she said, is determining what they think is natural using a list of guidelines that must be met.

However, the guidelines are a good way to help determine if a product is actually natural, she said. Rangan added the manufacturers must also disclose their list of ingredients in order to get the seal, which, she says is also a step in the right direction.

But what if you have some of the more powerful cleansers in your home? Rangan suggested, first, that you keep them away from children.

"Put these types of cleansers away on the top shelf, or locked away somewhere -- out of the reach of young children," she said. "In 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, poison control centers reported about two million unintentional poisoning or poison exposure cases, many of which probably could have been avoided if the proper precautions had been taken. And always follow the directions on the label."

Rangan also recommends using the liquid-based cleansers over spray.

"With liquids, you have better control over the way the product gets in the air," she said. "When you're spraying these products, the harmful chemicals can get into the air easier."

There are also homemade all-natural cleaners you can try, such as baking soda and vinegar.

Rangan said, "It might not be as powerful, but it's much safer."
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