Clorox. Green Works or Greenwashing?

Clorox has launched a new line of cleaning products known as Green Works. While I think using safe cleaners is extremely important, I am a little skeptical of what Clorox might produce as a “green” product. The company touts the products as being “at least 99% natural,” which raised more questions for me. First of all, the word “natural” is completely unregulated. And even if it was clearly defined, not everything that is natural is safe. Arsenic, lead, and mercury occur naturally, but you wouldn’t want to spray those around your house. Second, how much of the 99% natural consists of water? Third, what is in that 1% that is not natural? Some ingredients can be harmful even in small amounts. To give them credit, Clorox claims that they are listing all ingredients on the labels of the Green Works products, something they do not do with their conventional cleaning products. Still, some have criticized the Sierra Club for its unprecedented decision to allow Clorox to use their logo on the Greenworks products.

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, that 1% of unnatural ingredients are derived from petrochemicals. Namely, the preservative Kathon, and the Milliken Liquitint Blue HP dye and Bright Yellow dye X. The dyes give several of the products a light green color. Not exactly necessary, in my opinion. Clorox claims that the preservative, Kathon, will biodegrade within 28 days. According to the MSDS for Kathon, the substance by itself carries the following risks: “irritating to skin, risk of serious damage to eyes, may cause sensitization by skin contact, harmful to aquatic organisms, may cause long term adverse effects in the aquatic environment.” This doesn’t sound like my idea of an ingredient in a green cleaning product.  Some individuals that have reviewed Clorox Green Works products have found the lemon scent too strong, and indeed, it may not be appropriate for people with respiratory problems or allergies.

 Clorox states that their Green Works products are not tested on animals.  However, their conventional cleaning products continue to be tested on animals.  Likewise, as mentioned above, while Greenworks products list all ingredients, other Clorox product labels do not list all ingredients on the label.  It also disturbs me to continue to see Clorox disinfecting products marketed to parents of small children, invoking their fears of “germs.”  But I believe that cleaner shouldn’t leave behind more toxins than the toxins you are trying to clean!  The advertising for both products is awash with images of mothers, babies, and children.  Both lines are promoted from a safety standpoint.  The Greenworks website points out that their products are free of strong fumes and leave no chemical residue.  Yet they also promote spraying chemicals all over your home and on your children’s toys to disinfect them.  I personally cringe whenever I see the commercials with an adult wiping the baby’s highchair tray with a Clorox disinfecting wipe while baby sits smiling and patting the tray, because I know those little baby hands go right to the mouth. 

When I am shopping for cleaning products, I use the following standards:

* Biodegradable
* Formulated without dye
* Nonflammable
* Contain no ammonia, acids, alkalis, solvents, phosphates, chlorine, nitrates, borates, or volatile organic compounds.

Compared to my favorite green cleaning products, Clorox Green Works line of primarily ready-to-use cleaners leave a heavier carbon footprint on the planet. They do have one product that can be diluted, although I am not sure what the final concentration is. For most of my cleaning I use fragrance-free Basic Household cleaner, which is a superconcentrate. You can make a whole bottle of cleaner for most applications with somewhere between 2 drops and ¼ teaspoon of the concentrate. One bottle of Basic H. can make literally hundreds of bottles of ready to use cleaner. Since this reduces the number of plastic bottles that need to be manufactured, shipped, and recycled, it greatly decreases the environmental impact of using the product. The cost per use is also a lot lower than almost any other product, just 25 cents makes four 32 ounce bottles (one gallon) of all purpose cleaner   Even vinegar in comparison, can cost 10 to 20 times as much per gallon, depending on what size is purchased and where.  Another green cleaning favorite of mine is Scour-it Off, which makes soap scum in the shower disappear like magic, and with which you need such a small amount that the container lasts practically forever. See all my favorite cleaning products here.

So what does “greenwashing” mean?  Some examples of tactics used by companies include:  seducing with images in ads, using environmental organizations to promote products,  distracting from destructive products, claiming to seek solutions while lobbying against regulation, using charitable endeavors to gain support, and the misuse of the word “sustainable.”  I really liked this quote from Jeffrey Hollender, and it sums up my feelings on the subject as well. ”“Green” is not something a company becomes because of a new product line, a marketing campaign, a decision to be carbon neutral or even the selection an enlightened new CEO. “Green” is about the inside, not the outside of a company. It’s about its DNA, its culture, and its very reason for being.”  Is Clorox Green Works really green?  What do you think?

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37 Comments

  1. sandra said,

    February 10, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    in my opinion this is greenwashing

  2. Laura said,

    February 19, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    I think we will see more and more companies trying to portray a “greener” profile. We just have to remain diligent to check ingredients and pass on what we find.

  3. Chester said,

    February 22, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    I would agree with you. No product that uses Kathon can be green in my eyes. I think of things you eat as green cleaners. Baking Soda and vinegar are green cleaners.

  4. jstevens said,

    February 22, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    Yes, baking soda and vinegar are definately green cleaners. However, when people use vinegar to clean they mostly use the large plastic containers like the 1.25 gallon ones at BJ’s. Still a lot of plastic to produce, ship, and recycle. That’s why I like basic H. Tiny bottle, but lasts practically forever.

  5. Chester said,

    February 23, 2008 at 12:00 am

    Thanks for the info on basic H. It sounds very interesting. I’ll be ordering some to give it a try.

  6. Cara Smith said,

    March 6, 2008 at 12:30 am

    Green Works does not Disinfect

  7. Jen said,

    March 30, 2008 at 10:22 am

    I think clorox and so many other conventional cleaner companies put so much emphasis on “disinfecting” to get rid of bacteria and germs. This only promotes the evolution of stronger more resistant strains of germs. Anything that says “antibacterial” should be avoided in my opinion, after all there are many strains of good bacteria. This has led to the outbreak of allergies in children. Studies have shown that children that are exposed to some germs and a variety of foods and other things are less likely to have get sick and less likely to have allergies. This is because as babies and todlers our immune systems are only developing, and the more germs and viruses we are exposed to, the stronger our immune defenses are. I certainly don’t advocate purposely trying to get your kids sick, but we should not be using clorox bleach to kill off the good and the bad bacteria.

    Thanks for sharing these links for green products, I’ve been looking for some that you can dilute so they’ll last for a long time. I’ve been using natural products from Trader Joe’s which work fine, but you can’t dilute them. Stop by my blog sometime.

    Jen
    http://www.PersonalFinanceInsider.org

  8. Nate said,

    April 7, 2008 at 4:50 am

    First of all lets stop for one second maybe for more than one second maybe a minute. We have been told what to do and what to eat, drink, what vitamins to take(Flinstones Vitamins) what fruits to eat and what not to eat. STOP for one second and look at the diet of the human race for the last 1000 years all over the earth the people that couldn’t get protein from meat got protein from animal sources like milk and other animal proteins. This is why the vegitarian and vegan lifestyle’s do not work for humans we are and always be omnivores. I Know this may not have anything to do with CLOROX but it has everything to do with the lifestyle we are leading today.

    (edited by moderator for language)

  9. April 21, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    […] lauramine oxide to be present as well, according to Courtney Curtis: Your Guide to Green Living.  jstevens.wordpress.com is also troubled by Clorox’s use of the unregulated word […]

  10. April 22, 2008 at 6:12 am

    What a thoughtful article. I stumbled upon your site looking for references to Clorox because of a campaign I am involved in, but I think I’ll have to read more of your writing. Very comprehensive discussion on Green Works.

    I want to let you know about a campaign begun this week by me and a group of enthusiastic bloggers to urge Clorox to really green its operation by taking responsibility for the millions of plastic Brita water filter cartridges that are landfilled or incinerated each year. Did you know that Brita is owned by Clorox in North America?

    In Europe, Brita has a take-back program and a facility to dismantle and reuse all parts of the cartridges. So far, Clorox has not developed such a program and they don’t know for sure if they will. We are urging folks to sign our petition and visit our site: http://www.takebackthefilter.org

    And please spread the word. This campaign is spreading across the green blogosphere!

    Thanks,
    Beth

  11. Kinda said,

    July 11, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    After using Clorox Anywhere spray and realizing it smelled just as toxic as regular bleach, I was happy to come across Greenworks. At the very least it smelled natural and so I assumed it was safe.

    In the past few weeks though, I’ve found that it instantly kills ants,
    and flies and wasps die within a few seconds of being sprayed with it.
    So I’m a bit concerned about it being touted as safe around my kids now.

  12. kat said,

    September 11, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    Has anyone had an allergic reaction to Greenworks products? My daughter has broken out in welts and hives. I am trying to get to the bottom of the cause. We’ve changed laundry detergents, soaps, etc. and still can’t get to the bottom of her allergic reaction. I started using all the Greenworks products about 6 weeks ago. Shortly after that is when my daughter broke out in these hives. I have seen on the label that is says it is “coconut-based”. I called the 800 number on the bottle but go NOWHERE there. Please let me know if anyone (or your children) have had a similar situation after switching to these products. She sees an allergist tonight and I am bringing the bottles with me.

    • Elsa said,

      January 2, 2010 at 2:08 pm

      I started using Green Works Detergent about five weeks ago. I figured it was a good switch from using other detergents. Well, I broke out in a rash around my eyes. At first, I didn’t really know what it was. But, then when I realized the only new product in my house was the detergent I stopped using it. I had to rewash everything with plain water. My eyes were itchy, puffy and dry. When I first used Green Works I felt the scent was very strong (bad for my migraines). I cannot get near any Green Works products without an allergic reaction. My allergist and esthetician said to try Purex. I will probably go back to Tide (I never had a problem with this detergent). Good Luck.

    • Carol Stickney said,

      June 29, 2010 at 4:17 pm

      I bought some of the Clorox Green laundry detergent , washed clothes in it. Two different times when I was wearing shorty pajamas washed in the detergent I had a horrible itch and rash, hives like reaction in the area where the material touched. It had to be the detergent. After the first time I thought I had gone through all of my clothes and rinsed them several times but apparently missed a pair and had the same reaction the second night. Has not happened since. I first gave the jug of detergent to a friend but after it happened the second time I told her that she might just want to throw it away. Have no idea what was in it but it caused a powerful reaction.

    • Shelley said,

      February 6, 2011 at 3:23 pm

      To say that I bought and used Greenworks Laundry Detergent for two weeks and broke out in a horrible itchy rash on arms, legs, middriff, back. I don’t know if it’s the detergent but it’s the only thing I’ve used differently. I’ll be purchasing something new believe me, to test this out.

      • Robin said,

        February 9, 2011 at 2:25 am

        I just bought the Greenworks detergent & started using it a couple days ago. Yesterday my dog’s skin broke out & got a very blotchy, bumpy rash all over, and his face was very swollen for a while. I was so worried & took him to the vet right away in the morning. The vet just said it must have been an allergic reaction to something & gave him a cortisone shot. I’ve been thinking what could have possibly been different…Same food, same treats, I’ve been walking him in the same areas….& it just hit me…I washed his blanket & dog bed with this stuff, & he was also laying in a fresh load of clothes that I had on the floor for a few minutes….It HAS to be it…So I Googled “Clorox Greenworks allergic” & this came up! This is the only change I have made for him. I will definitely be tossing this.

      • kay g said,

        April 21, 2011 at 6:28 pm

        My son broke out with hives all over his that lasted two days. I had just changed detergents to greenworks and he was wearing his freshly laundered jammies when he started to itch. I suspected the new detergent right away, went back to the old one, and he has been hive free since.

    • Megan said,

      May 13, 2011 at 5:06 pm

      Just found this post and replies while searching for info after my 14 month old broke into hives all over. The only thing different in our lives is the Greenworks laundry detergent we just bought from Costco! So lame! As if getting the laundry done was not hard enough, now I have to rewash everything! Thought I’d add my story for the next poor victim who stumbles across this site. At least I know what the cause is now!

    • Adriana said,

      March 1, 2016 at 12:26 am

      My husband and I both broke out in itchy red spots all over our body from washing our sheets with a bit of this product! It is horrible! What ended up happening to your situation/problem with this product. We have been taking Benadryl and using hydrocortisone and nothing is helping it’s just spreading all over our bodies! What can we do??

  13. tina b. said,

    September 30, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    I am sorry to see this article since I really like the greenworks products-alot-and thought they were green and a good choice. I guess I’ll also try the basic H and some other long term green products. thanks for the post.

  14. Alyse said,

    March 17, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    I have broken out in a rash twice. The first time it started on my eyelids and spread to my neck and stomach. About a week later, it started on my face and spread to my arms and legs..it was worse than the first time.

    I suspected my greenworks dish soap that I had recently bought and saw an allergist today. I really think it was th soap…waiting to see if it comes back, I threw out the soap a few days ago.

  15. GA Master said,

    April 1, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    There is one issue that I would like to challenge Clorox on and it something that no one seems to have caught so far. That is the glycolic acid ingredient in the GreenWorks Natural Bathroom Cleaner. It is true that glycolic acid is found naturally, however the concentration in any natural source is very low. It is found in far too low a concentration and would be far too expensive to extract for use in a cleaning product. DuPont makes a very large amount of glycolic acid and their product and process is based on petroleum feedstock. In fact DuPont’s website site states:
    “Although Glycolic Acid occurs naturally as a trace component in sugarcane, beets, grapes and fruits, DuPont synthesizes the product through a purpose built manufacturing process in Belle, West Virginia.” (http://www2.dupont.com/Glycolic_Acid/en_US/)

    Even high quality glycolic acid that is used in the cosmetic industry as an anti-aging and exfoliating compound is not derived from a natural source. With the exception of one company, CrossChem, which makes glycolic acid via a bacterial fermentation process, no glycolic acid can be considered natural or even naturally-derived. The cost parameters for using CrossChem glycolic acid in a cleaning product is not economical. My understanding is that most of CrossChem’s glycolic acid is used to make polyglycolic acid which is used to make sutures, a very high value medical product. (http://www.crosschem.net/70_solution.php)

    My assumption is that either the glycolic acid in this cleaning product is so low that it’s insignificant (less than 1% for a cleaning product is insignificant) or that the glycolic acid is actually petroleum derived. Clorox claims that there is no petroleum based ingredients in these products, I believe they are misrepresenting themselves and greenwashing in this regard.

    Can we challenge Clorox to find the source of their glycolic acid?

  16. Rachel A. said,

    May 23, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    I use the Clorox Green Works bathroom cleaner for the first time this week and the next day I broke out in horrible hives. I have allergies so I didn’t connect the hives to the Green Works right away, but it was the only new item I had been exposed to. For four days I had hives, and on day five I decided to look into the Green Works. Sure enough I found that other people were having hives and skin reactions. On the site 100Organicskincare.com I found the following info “a quarter of the items in the Green Works line also include Sodium Lauryl Sulfate-which the company describes as a “coconut-based cleaning agent.” That may be true, but, coconut or not, SLS has long been criticized by the scientific community for its not-so-natural effects: the American College of Toxicology described SLS as a know skin irritant in a report published more than 20 years ago.”

    After seeing all this I re-cleaned all the areas I had used the Green Works on (with a different cleaner) and my hives went away. I threw the Green Works away, and if the hives don’t return then I’ll know it was caused by the Green Works.

  17. Emediex said,

    June 13, 2009 at 12:52 am

    Went to the Emergency room last night with terrible hives and a headache that got worse as the hives grew and grew. This was after 48 hours of experiencing hives. The medicine the doctors gave me seemed to calm things down and I was OK for most of the day. Then, tonight, I cleaned the kitchen (and killed some ants!) with my new, Green Works from Clorox and broke out again with even worse hives, headache and a weird “heat” emanating from my torso (I don’t have a fever.)

    Then I starting thinking about the fact that I bought Green Works for the first time four days ago, thinking that it was “all natural.” What a joke!! This stuff is a poison. I put it outside and will take it in when I take my toxic household items to my town’s toxic waster drop off.

  18. Emediex said,

    June 13, 2009 at 12:52 am

    BTW– I found this site while searching for “Green Works Clorox hives rash” on Google.

  19. Kat said,

    July 4, 2009 at 2:20 am

    I think I just figured out why my 4 year old has had hives for 4 days! She always likes to help me clean and she wanted to clean my bathroom on Monday. I had just bought this product and didn’t think too much about her helping me clean. On Tuesday morning she woke up with hives from her neck to her feet and she fainted when she had got up! Went to the ER and she was given Benedryl and steroids. Well, it’s now Saturday and she still has the hives. If she isn’t better by Monday we are going to the doctor. I’m throwing this stuff away!!!!!!
    I decided to look this up (the only new cleaning product I’ve used) and I’m so glad this info was here! Thanks!

  20. Mary Kay said,

    September 27, 2009 at 3:43 am

    I have had swollen and irritated eyes for months and I now attribute it to the Greenworks
    Dish Detergent and spray cleaner which I have used liberally throughout my household.
    Other family members report similar symptoms. I will discontinue use now that I have
    read your blog and others. Does anyone else have long term eye damage from using these
    products. thank you

    • Elsa said,

      January 2, 2010 at 2:20 pm

      I started using Green Works detergent recently. Within a day after doing laundry, I woke up with swollen and itchy eyes. At first I didn’t assoicate the new detergent with my symptoms. Then I figured out the only new product was the Green Works. I’ve been fighting the itchy & swollen eyes for almost a week. I’m rewashing everything, threw out the detergent. I know Green Works is the culprit since this has never happened to me before. I bought it because I thought it was all natural and good ! I’m going back to TIDE which has never caused me any problems. NO MORE GREEN WORKS FOR ME.

      • Carol Stickney said,

        June 29, 2010 at 4:22 pm

        I posted a comment on an earlier comment but since I had such a bad reaction to the Green works laundry detergent I wanted to post it again to reach more people. I washed some clothes in the detergent, put on shorty pajamas that I had washed in Clorox green laundry detergent and had a horrible reaction, hives, read streaks and itching all over the area where the fabric touched. The second night I thought I had rinsed all of my clothes several times but put on a pair that I thought I had rinsed and hadn’t and had a worse reaction the second night. Threw the detergent away, that had to be it as I have had no more problems since then.

  21. SY said,

    September 28, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    My sister and I have been having allergic reaction for months but still haven’t nailed down what is causing it. One thing I notice is I usually get the reaction after doing the dishes (we both do dishes). Sure enough we switched to Green Works a few months ago. I have been thinking if it’s the detergent but nobody would believe it. After reading the comments here I’ll stop using it to see if it will go away.

  22. Ginny said,

    October 22, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    I see a parallel between a chemical company like Clorox selling a line of “green” products and a Big Food company selling a line of “organic” foods. It might make some consumers feel good to buy that line, but it doesn’t mean that the mindset of the company has changed.

  23. jenny steffel said,

    July 2, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    I am alarmed to see so many bad reactions to the Greenworks bathroom cleaner.Does anyone know of an alternative that is safe?I had been using lysol for many years until i found out it had something called dioxine (sp.?)in it.
    I want to kill germs not my family.

  24. Angelia Matheson said,

    September 22, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    I too tried the product and my dog had a horrrible case of diarreah and when I used the product my neck was covered in a red hot itchy rash and hives. I will not ever use this product again and for those that have pets or children buyer beware. I have NO allergies and my dogs are in good health. So buyer be aware of what you buy.

  25. Vanessa said,

    October 16, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    We just recently purchased a bottle of Clorex green works all purpose cleaner and wipes. The only new cleaning products I have bought and have noticed my three year old son..who has had no health issues up until now… has broken into hives and rashes all over his body. Right now I’m giving some medication to soothe the discomfort but its so heart breaking not to mention frustrating trying to figure out what the cause of all this is from.
    I’m throwing out the new green works products I just purchased and hope that this is the root cause of his allergic reactions.

  26. Adrian said,

    May 27, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Just wanted to say a big thank you for putting this information here.
    We’re on holiday and bought some 2x “green works” laundry detergent, and have washed most of the clothes by now – then saw my 6 year old’s skin start to blotch up wherever there would be a “seam” in the clothes (collar, cuffs, underpants)
    I am guessing the rinse cycle will have left more residue there.
    Before we had worked out that it was the detergent I gave him a small dose of antihistamine (piriteze, for hayfever) – this seems to have taken the “bumps” out of the hives in about an hour, and the redness is just going now
    thanks again

  27. sarah said,

    September 3, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    I bout green works cleaner about a month ago, at first I would get one or to whip like hives every once in a while, but couldn’t pin it to anything, now I break out all over, it looks like someone whiped my back, it is terrible!!!! The only thing that had changed is that spray. Today I noticed I was fine all day until after dinner when I cleaned the counters and tables…with the green works cleaner.

  28. Jan Hart said,

    October 25, 2012 at 6:33 am

    Thanks to all of these replies, I think I have my answer. I live in Costa Rica and have a diet with few preservatives and all natural. I ecently bout Greenworks dishwashing liquid and have noticed a slight burning sensation ain my hands after washing dishes. Now, it is so bad that m finges burtn and swell immediately after using. I’ll go back to the Costa Rican dish detergents I used to use. Wish I could be sure of a good, really green dish detergent I can get here.


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