Household Cleaners

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 41 household cleaners.

We also look at animal testing, toxic chemicals, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Reckitt Benckiser 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 household cleaning products:

  • Is it organic? Looking for organic is a fail-safe way to avoid most of the nasty, artificial chemicals that are in so many household products. And thereby help the environment as well as yourself.

  • 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.

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.

  • 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.

  • Can it be homemade? Cleaning products can easily be made at home, and that way you can know exactly what has gone into them.  

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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

The score table 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.

Plus 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. Dri Pak makes these basic ingredients. 

Image: Ethical guide to cleaning products

Palm Oil

Only one brand in this guide is owned by a palm oil free company – Earth Friendly Products.

Bentley Organincs, Sodasan, Sonett and Ecoleaf are owned by companies that get our best rating for palm oil because they use sustainable palm oil.

Toxic chemicals

We have rated all the companies for their toxic chemicals policies. The companies which received a best rating had a policy because they had banned the use of parabens, phthalates and triclosan (see our feature on toxic chemicals for why we have chosen these chemicals) were:

Greenscents, Bentley Organics, Bio-D, Faith in Nature, Earth Friendly, Ecozone, Lilly’s Eco Clean.

Animal testing

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.

Greenscents, Bio-D, Faith in Nature, Earth Friendly, Ecozone, Ecoleaf, Lilly’s Eco Clean, Astonish, Method, Dri Pak and Ecover all received our best rating for animal testing.

Ecover has been targetted for animal testing in recent years.

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.

See also for more info.

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. (Available online from Dri-pak,

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!

Bicarb, soda crystals, borax and soap flakes are all available online from Dri-pak or in some supermarkets.

Company profile

In South Korea, a coalition of civic and consumer groups as well as the families of the victims who are believed to have died or suffered from lung failure after using Oxy humidifier disinfectants made by Reckitt Benckiser between 2001 and 2011, initiated a boycott of the company's products in April 2016.

Over 100 people are said to have died and prosecutors were investigating allegations that Reckitt knew about the possible danger of the chemical used in the disinfectants, ignored consumer complaints, and paid off university researchers to fabricate toxicity results in a study in its favour.

Reckitt apologised and agreed to pay £300 million in compensation. In January 2017, the former executive of Oxy Reckitt, Shin Hyun-woo, was found guilty of accidental homicide and falsely advertising the deadly product as being safe even for children and jailed for seven years. Three other research and development employees were also convicted and jailed. The current head of Reckitt Benckiser Korea and the group’s CEO remain in position.
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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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