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A quick guide to vegan cleaning products

Animal derived products are hidden in the ingredients lists of many cleaning products. 

In this article, we look at how to spot them and where to find vegan cleaning products and brands.

You may not find milk or fish listed on the back of a kitchen spray or toilet cleaner, but many chemicals can still be derived from animal products. Ingredients in cleaning products are also routinely tested on animals

Luckily, there are a growing number of fully vegan brands, and certifications to help you find them. 

What animal ingredients are in cleaning products?

There are a few common types of ingredients found in cleaning products, which may have been derived from animals. These include:

  • Beeswax (can also be called 'cera alba')
  • Caprylic acid (from milk)
  • Glycerol (from animal fats)
  • Lanolin (from sheep's wool)
  • Lecithin (from eggs, milk or tissue)
  • Oleyl alcohols (from fish)
  • Steric acid (derived from animal fats)
  • Tallow (from beef fat)

However, unless the product is marked with a ‘Vegan’ label, it can be almost impossible to tell whether or not it includes animal ingredients. Even if an ingredients list does not include any of the above animal products exactly as written, it may still include their derivatives. Many of them have variations that come with a multitude of different titles. For example, polyglycerol and glycerides are derivatives of glycerol, and oleths and Ocenol are types of oleyl alcohols.

Peta has a list of over 100 animal ingredients that can be found in consumer products.

Conversely, many of the ingredients listed above can also be made from vegan sources. For example, lecithin can be made from soybeans, sunflower seeds, or a number of other plant-based products.

Which cleaning brands contain animal products?

If a cleaning product isn’t marked as vegan, there is a high risk that it could contain animal ingredients such as those listed above.

Many well-known brands like Cillit Bang, Vanish and Flash are not marked as vegan.

Some brands are owned by companies that sell factory farmed meat and dairy in other parts of their business. For example, Unilever owns Cif, Domestos and Lifebuoy cleaning products, alongside well-known ice cream brands Ben & Jerry’s and Walls.

So while some products may be vegan, the companies most certainly aren’t.

Are cleaning products tested on animals?

Companies have been banned from testing finished cleaning products on animals for over a decade in the UK. However, many still use animal tested ingredients, or sell animal tested products abroad, for example in China where animal testing is required by law.

This means that many household cleaning brands are funding and prolonging the existence of the animal testing industry.

White rabbit in cage

Which cleaning brands use animal testing?

If companies do not have a robust policy against using animal tested ingredients and animal testing abroad, they are very likely to be implicated in this practice.

SC Johnson is well-known for animal testing. It owns Pledge and Mr Muscle. It also owns the vegan brands Method and Ecover.

Ethical Consumer rates and ranks all companies producing cleaning products on their animal testing policies. Check out our shopping guide to household cleaning products to find out how brands like Dettol and Vanish score, and how vegan brands Method and Ecover rate against vegan brands like Greenscents, Bio-D, Miniml and SESI.

Which cleaning brands are vegan and cruelty-free?

Luckily, there is a growing number of household cleaning brands that are totally vegan and cruelty-free.

For example, Greenscents and Bio-D are certified as Vegan and Cruelty-Free, and are Best Buy companies recommended by Ethical Consumer. They sell everything from dish soap to toilet cleaner.

Each of our guides labels fully vegan and cruelty-free options. In our general household cleaning products guide for example, 19 of the 34 brands rated have vegan products.

Ethical Consumer’s animal testing rating

Ethical Consumer rates all companies on their animal testing policies if they produce cleaning, cosmetics, or pharmaceutical products.

We look at whether companies have a policy against testing on animals, have a fixed cut-off date (a date after which none of their products or ingredients will have been tested on animals), and are not selling to markets, such as China, where animal testing of products is required by law.

For a company to receive a best rating, they have to meet all three criteria, meaning they are truly cruelty-free.

How to find vegan and cruelty-free cleaning products

Vegan Society logo and Cruelty Free International Logo

1. Look for a label

Cruelty Free International’s Leaping Bunny certification provides assurance that the brand is not involved in animal testing.

It provides the most rigorous checks on companies out of all the cruelty-free certifications, including on their ingredients suppliers. Unlike some other certifications, like Peta approved, it requires a fixed-cut-off-date for ingredients: the gold standard for cruelty-free policies.

And unlike labels like the Vegetarian Society approved, it covers a whole brand rather than just a single product.

However, it does not look at a brand’s parent company. So the brand could still ultimately be owned by a company involved in animal testing, like Ecover or Method.

The Leaping Bunny label can also be given to products which include animal products, as it's only concerned with animal testing. To find out more about this last point, our guide to different cruelty-free certification schemes has a handy table reviewing the different schemes and what they allow.

Products approved by the Vegan Society do not contain any ingredients from animals.

The organisation looks at the product only, so you will find it on brands that use animal ingredients elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the Vegan Society's scheme is not completely watertight when it comes to animal testing. It prohibits ingredient suppliers from testing on animals, but only for that one specific brand/product. This means that a brand’s supplier could have tested the ingredient on animals for another brand or purpose, and this ingredient could end up in a Vegan Society certified product, although the organisation said this was rare.

2. Use the Compassionate Shopping Guide

Naturewatch Foundation's Compassionate Shopping Guide not only lists cruelty-free products, it checks that its owners are also completely cruelty-free. It checks the parent company and all brands in the group, to ensure that absolutely no revenue from the product goes towards animal testing.

The guide provides lists by type of product, so you can shop for everything from disinfectant to mould remover.

3. Make your own

It’s remarkably easy to make your own cleaning products, using ingredients like vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. Our guide to general cleaning products includes a recipe and how to tailor it, for example for windows or your oven.

4. Use Ethical Consumer’s shopping guides

Our shopping guides rate and rank companies on their ethics, including their approach to animal products and animal testing. Our guides list vegan and cruelty-free options as well as telling you which to avoid.

We always rate a whole company, rather than just a brand, so you can be confident your money isn’t going to owners involved in dodgy practices. And because we look at over 20 different ethical issues – from carbon emissions to human rights –, it provides assurance that companies are doing well right across the board.