It's Easy Being Green - Chemical Breakdown

By: Angela Howard Email
By: Angela Howard Email

What do you use to clean your home?

"I use the traditional cleaning products like Lysol wipes," said Vanessa Quinlan.

"Clorox because it makes your clothes whiter. Keeps everything else clean. Disinfects the home," said Greg Bruce.

"I use both just because the green products are sometimes too expensive," said Mitch Englert, Jr.

Ask three different people and you'll get three different answers. Cleaning products are like anything, everyone seems to have a favorite. But what's really in the products that so many of us use to clean each day?

We sat down with FSU chemistry professor Greg Dudley to decipher exactly what chemicals are in your cleaners, but depending on the product, that info isn't always available.

"A lot of the specific formulations are definitely trade secrets. Very closely guarded and then there's also some consumer fear relating to ingredients that you can't read, can't pronounce. You don't know what to make of them," said Greg Dudley, Ph.D., Florida State University chemistry professor.

And unlike with food, the FDA does not mandate companies that manufacture cleaning products to list the ingredients on the bottle - leading many to fear the unknown and reach for something new.

"Over the last several years, some people have opted to oust the traditional cleaners and bring in the 'green guys' to be more environmentally friendly"

But are these new products really better for the environment? Professor Dudley says not necessarily.

"In the basic makeup, they're going to be pretty much the same. Where they differ is the marketing," said Professor Dudley.

Fragrances, textures and consistencies vary from product to product, but Professor Dudley says all cleaning agents contain surfactants, detergents or soaps which allow water and oil to mix - thus washing away the dirt and grime from the places you want clean.

"The ingredients in here are listed as dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, which is something of a mouthful. I also note that it's present in less than one percent. It has less than one percent of the mixture. So it's the active ingredient, but most of what's in here is water," Professor Dudley said.


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