Ethical Cleaning Products

Finding ethical cleaning products for your home. Ethical and environmental ratings for 34 household cleaners.

We look at reducing plastic packaging, cruelty free cleaning products, palm oil, toxic chemicals, and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying ethical cleaning products:

  • Is it a refill product? If you want to cut out unnecessary packaging and plastic then choosing a refill product is a good way to go.

  • Is it cruelty-free? Although animal testing for finished household products has been banned in the UK, lots of companies still use ingredients that are tested on animals. Go for a company with a clear cruelty-free policy.

  • Is it plastic free? Several companies now offer completely plastic-free products which are well worth a try.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying household cleaning products:

  • Does it contain toxics? The long and complex ingredients lists of household products often include toxic chemicals. These are bad for the environment as well as health. The best companies will have clear policies against the use of toxic chemicals such as triclosan, parabens or phthalates.

  • Does it contain palm oil? At its most unsustainable, palm oil is linked to massive deforestation and serious violations of human rights. Look for brands that commit to sourcing palm oil sustainably or avoid it completely.

  • Is it using animal testing? Although animal testing for finished household products is banned in the UK, lots of companies still use ingredients that are tested on animals. If you want avoid animal testing, we’d advise only buying from companies that ensure ingredients they source aren’t tested on animals.  

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

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Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

Ethical Cleaning Products

This guide covers all-purpose, kitchen, bathroom, oven, carpet and floor cleaners, disinfectant and bleach brands. There is a separate guide to Toilet Cleaners

Supermarket shelves are full of rows and rows of different cleaners for different household jobs, all seemingly with different formulations specially devised for the job, but in reality, most cleaners contain the same basic ingredients. 

However, some ingredients are toxic, most are based on petrochemicals from the oil industry and most use antibacterial chemicals and synthetic fragrances. None of these ingredients are necessary. 

Fortunately there are a number of plant based and more natural cleaners available.

Most of these cleaners come in plastic bottles and most people now acknowledge that we need to reduce the use of single use plastic bottles and reuse them. Most companies are now making moves to do this with either recycled plastic content, concentrates, refills no plastic packaging at all or even no packaging.

You can make your own from simpler products such as white vinegar, soda crystals and citric acid can help with most cleaning jobs around the home.

Animal testing and cruelty-free cleaning products

In October 2015, the UK Government banned the testing of ‘finished’ household products on animals and introduced a ‘qualified ban’ on testing the ingredients on animals. But it’ll make little difference to animal welfare. This is because no animals have been used for testing ‘finished’ household products in the UK since 2010. It’s usually the ingredients not the ‘finished’ products that are tested on animals. 

Ethical Consumer rates all companies selling cosmetics on their animal testing policy. Companies will score a best rating if they have a policy not to test 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.

The following brands scored best ratings for their Animal Testing policy: Astonish, ATTITUDE, Bio-D, ecoleaf, Ecozone, Fill Refill, Greenscents, Miniml, Planet Detox, SESI, Smol and Sodasan.

Those whose entire product range was certified as cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny were Astonish, ATTITUDE, Bio-D, ecoleaf, Ecozone, Fill Refill, Smol and Greenscents.

Image: Ethical guide to cleaning products

Reducing plastic waste when buying household cleaners

Most household cleaners come in single-use plastic bottles but there are five main ways you can reduce plastic waste: refills, bulk buying, concentrates, alternative products and making your own.

Liquid refill stations

Using refill stations significantly reduces the plastic impact of your purchases. This is the best option because super large containers can be used.

Once a fringe ethical phenomenon, more and more shops and companies are now offering refills. And it’s not just health food shops, alternative supermarkets and zero waste stores.

Refill only brands

We’ve also seen a boom in consumer interest in refill-focused companies, like Splosh, SESI, Fill Refill and Miniml, who only sell products to refill an existing bottle with.

SESI, Fill Refill and Miniml have wide networks of refill stations, and Fill Refill and Miniml sell directly to consumers too. Splosh send concentrated refill pouches (which you can return to them for recycling) in the post. All of these companies were awarded a positive Company Ethos mark for their focus on refills.

Bulk-buying

Many other companies included in this guide also offered bulk sizes (2 litres to 20 litres) to consumers so they can 'refill at home': ATTITUDE, Bio-D, ecoleaf, Eco-max, Ecover, Greenscents, and Sonett. Although the plastic impact of bulk purchasing is lower than buying individual bottles, only Greenscents containers can be returned for reuse.

You can also look for bulk containers made from recycled plastics such as Bio-D’s 5 litre bottles or other innovative solutions such as Greenscents’ biopolymer bottles made from sugar cane waste.

A recent Which? report (May 2021) stated that large bottles of household cleaning products used 47% less plastic and needed less space to be transported.

Both refills and bulk purchases re usually a much cheaper way to buy your household cleaners too.

Concentrated products

The main ingredient in household cleaners is water. Refilling with a concentrated solution that you dilute at home significantly reduces the amount of water being unnecessarily transported around and therefore cuts down on carbon emissions. Plus, they use less packaging.

Which? magazine recently assessed (May 2021) the environmental impact of different household cleaning products and found that concentrated products used 75% less plastic packaging and 97% less water. The report also found that refill pouches, like those sold by Splosh, used 85% less plastic.

Cif, Lifebuoy, Smol, Splosh, Eco-max, Eco-Vibe all sold concentrated products.

 

Recycled packaging, refills, bulk sizes and concentrated cleaning products - who sells what

Below we list how all the brands fare on this issue. The best are those that are plastic-free or only do refill products. Of the big best-selling brands, only Unilever seems to be making an effort.

Best for reducing plastic

  • Greenscents – bulk sizes, which can be returned to them for reuse, and refill stations. Standard size bottles made from biopolymer, from waste sugar cane
  • Bio D – bulk sizes and refill stations. Majority of single bottles and bulk sizes are 100% Recycled plastic, apart from 20 litre bulk refill containers.
  • SESI – refill only from stockists
  • Fill Refill - Supplied in 500ml glass bottles & jars and/or 10l bag-in-box for home refill. Bag can be returned to them for refill. Or refill at stockists.
  • Miniml – buy filled PET or glass bottles and/or 5l or 20l containers to refill from home. Containers can be returned to them for reuse. Or refill from stockist.
  • Ecoleaf by Suma – 5l and 20l bulk sizes for refill at home and refill stations. All bottles and bulk containers are 100% recycled plastic

 

Recommended for reducing plastic

  • Splosh – buy a filled plastic bottle then buy through the post concentrated pouches of cleaners. Pouches can be returned to Splosh for reuse or recycling.
  • Bentley Organics – no info re sustainability of its packaging

 

Other household cleaning brands

  • Attitude – Standard bottles are recycled plastic. 2L eco-refill boxes are plastic bag in a box which can be put in recycling
  • Cif ecorefill - a 10x concentrated refill for kitchen and bathroom sprays
  • Cif cream cleaner bottles are 50% recycled plastic
  • Cif Nature’s Recipe is 100% recycled plastic
  • Eco-Max – 1 litre plastic bottles and 4 litre refill containers. Also sells concentrate - 1 litre of floor and surface cleaner makes 90 litres.
  • Ecover - most bottles use 75% PlantPlastic, from sugar cane, and 25% recycled plastic. Toilet cleaner is 50% recycled. 5 litre Bulk sizes and refill stations.
  • Eco Vibe water soluble sachets of concentrated cleaners and solid toilet bombs.
  • Ecozone bottles either 100% or 50% recycled plastic. Some bulk sizes.
  • Lifebuoy multisurface – (Unilever) – Ecorefill for the Cleaner Spray bottle is 10x concentrated
  • Mr Muscle (SC Johnson) – 100% PCR plastic bottle.
  • Method – 100% recycled plastic. 2 litre refill bottles available for their standard 828ml bottles
  • Planet Detox – no plastic packaging, solid cleaning soap bars, floor cleaning powder and toilet scrub powder. Come wrapped in paper or in a paper bag.
  • Smol – buy a starter pack with recycled plastic bottles from them once and reuse by adding concentrated tablets to warm water. Tablets sent through the post.
  • Sodasan bottles 100% recycled pet or glass
  • Sonett – 5l, 10l and 20l bulk sizes but bottles are virgin plastic.

 

No info re packaging and refills

  • Reckitt Benckiser brands – Cillit Bang, Dettol, Vanish
  • P&G brands – Flash, Microban 24 hours, Viakal
  • Domestos – Unilever
  • McBride – Oven Pride, Clean N Fresh
  • Astonish
  • Easy
  • Bentley Organic

 

Palm Oil in cleaning products

Some of the brands we reviewed are completely palm oil free across all products. They were: Greenscents and Planet Detox.

Several others (Bio-D, Fill Refill, Miniml, SESI, Smol, Sodasan, and Splosh) scored our best rating for stating that all of their palm ingredients, including derivatives, were certified by the RSPO.

 

Toxic chemicals in cleaning products 

We expected all household cleaning brands to have a clear policy against the use of three particularly nasty chemicals – triclosan, parabens and phthalates. In total ten of the companies rated received our best rating for their toxic chemicals policy. They are: Astonish, ATTITUDE, Bentley Organic, Bio-D, ecoleaf (Suma), Fill Refill, Greenscents, Miniml, and SESI.

 

Make your own household cleaners

General, all-purpose liquid cleaner: 1 cup vinegar, 2 cups water and ½ a lemon.

Air freshener: A simple recipe of 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon vinegar (or lemon juice), and 2 cups hot water in a spray bottle can be sprayed in the air to remove odours. Or sprinkle essential oil on a cloth and wipe it over a radiator.

Windows: Put 3 tablespoons vinegar 3 litres water in a spray bottle. Some recommend using half vinegar and half water. For extra-dirty windows try this: 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap, 3 tablespoons vinegar, and 2 cups of water. Shake well. The best way to get streak-free windows is to use newspaper to wipe them.

Toilet cleaner: Pour 1 cup of borax substitute into the toilet before going to bed. In the morning, scrub and flush. For an extra-strength cleaner, add 1/4 cup vinegar to the borax substitute.

Ovens: To clean extra-greasy ovens, mix together 1 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup of washing soda, then add enough water to make a paste; apply the paste to oven surfaces and let soak overnight.

The next morning, lift off soda mixture and grime; rinse surfaces well (gloves are recommended as washing soda may irritate skin).

Disinfect surfaces naturally by mixing two parts water to one part vinegar or lemon juice.

DIY cleaning cupboard essentials

Baking Soda: Otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda, this domestic wonder powder is a key ingredient in many homemade cleaning products. As a powder it’s a mild abrasive that can scratch off dirt and absorb odours. When dissolved in water it is a mild disinfectant, cuts through grease and softens water. Use it as a thick paste with water as an abrasive cleaner or sprinkle on carpets and vacuum up as a deodoriser. A dish of it in the fridge will absorb smells.

Soda crystals/washing soda: For a stronger version of soda, go for soda crystals (also known as washing soda), which are more effective at getting rid of grease.

Borax substitute: The EU has reclassified the ‘Borate’ group of chemicals that borax belongs to, so it is no longer available as a cleaning and laundry product. Dri-Pak now make borax substitute which is a mineral compound, with the perfect pH for cleaning, and is gentler than Soda Crystals yet stronger than Bicarbonate of Soda.

Soap flakes: Pure vegetable soap flakes or liquid soap flakes made from rapeseed and sunflower oil (no palm oil).

White Vinegar: Simply made from the fermentation of ethanol, vinegar is a mild acid that cuts through grease and disinfects by killing many types of bacteria.

Lemons: Lemons are acidic and can provide some antibacterial and antiseptic properties for cleaning. Adding lemon juice to vinegar can help neutralise the vinegar smell.

Essential oils: can be used as a natural fragrance.

Elbow grease: the infinitely renewable cleaning product!

Company profile

Reckitt Benckiser owns Cillit Bang, Dettol, Vanish  (and other big consumer brands including Bonjela and E45).

It has been criticised on numerous occasions for false marketing. One Financial Times article called Reckitt Benckiser an “expert at selling products that seem to deliver less than they promise.” The company falsely claimed some products eased joint pain and stiffness; falsely claimed a pharmaceutical product was safer for children than its competitors’ products; and, during coronavirus, was accused of falsely implying that its products offered better protection than its competitors.

In 2020, the company was fined after a worker’s arm was crushed in a bottling machine in the UK. It was also accused by Unite the Union of overworking staff.

 
Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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