After testing 18 recipes to determine the best DIY glass cleaner (see those results here), we wanted to know how popular commercial products would perform for comparison. We expanded the testing to be more rigorous and in-depth for these store-bought cleaners, pitting them against dirty windows, examining their containers, and comparing their smell, price, and Amazon review scores. We also determined each product’s pH, which is important to know so that any nearby surface like a marble countertop isn’t damaged by the spray when cleaning. There were many surprising revelations (one of these bottles has a unique sprayer that helps get out the last bit of liquid) and many let downs (several of these cleaners claim to be nontoxic, but aren’t). Here are all of our findings.
The DIY cleaners were all made with household ingredients so we decided to use cleaners marketed as natural since they are more likely to have a similar chemical profile to the homemade versions than a non-green cleaner. The products that we tested were (from left to right): Home Solv by Citra Solv, Method, Ecos, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, Seventh Generation, Greenshield Organic, Green Works, Simple Truth Organic, Aunt Fannie’s, Better Life, Naturals by Simple Green, and Honest.
Each product was tested against two foes: hairspray and oil, which are the two most common residues found on glass or mirror surfaces and are also the most difficult problems to clean off. To read the full details of how these tests were completed, see the article DIY Glass Cleaners Put to the Test. (The only difference was that this time we tested against macadamia nut oil because we happened to be out of olive oil at the time and were eager to get started.)
Essentially, we applied one of the ‘dirt’ products on a glass surface, sprayed the surface with a cleaner, then wiped the surface off with newspaper. Each cleaner was given three chances to get the mirror clean.
Below we have compiled the results of the tests into two graphics. The pictures on the left are the results after the first wipe-down and the pictures on the right are after the final wipe-down. We drew an X with newspaper over the final wipe down area to more clearly show any residue. Keep in mind that the amount of oil and hairspray on the glass far exceeded any normal level, so the 3rd Clean pictures are more representative of a real-world scenario. The test graphics below are clickable so the images can be more closely inspected.
The Hairspray Tests
Based on the final test images (far right), here are the winners from the 3rd Clean group:
However, you probably don’t want to have to clean the glass three times every time just to get it clean. The two products that appear to have the area cleaned the fastest (1st Clean) were Greenshield Organic and Simple Truth Organic. The reason that their photos get progressively worse is because the cleaning area is slightly larger than the area pictured (it was a rectangular piece of glass), so some of the residue that was outside the center square area pictured was pulled back into the center during repeated cleanings.
The Oil Tests
Based on the final test image (far right), here are the winners:
The fastest cleaners to work this time were again Simple Truth Organic and Greenshield Organic.
Real World Tests
As we mentioned before, the amount of hairspray and oil used in the lab tests far exceeded the level found on a normal mirror or window, so we wanted to test these cleaners against a real world scenario as well. We waited until our windows were dirty, then we cleaned them with each of these products and took notes.
One of the primary selling points for a cleaning product is often the scent. Whether a smell is enjoyable or not is very subjective, but this is what we thought when we gave each cleaner a sniff.
The prices that we used for these comparisons came from their own websites whenever possible. If a price was not listed on their website, we then chose a price from a leading retailer or retail website.
Without rigorous testing like we have done here, the primary source for information about a product tends to be reviews submitted to major retailers such as Amazon. Here is a list of what Amazon reviewers think of these products. All of the cleaners were available on Amazon, however Simple Truth Organic did not yet have any reviews there so we used their rating from Vitacost instead. We will compare this information against our own tests in the overview graphic at the end of the article.
Every one of these bottles can be recycled, however not all of them can be reused by consumers, such as if you want to use it for spraying plants with water once it’s empty (and thoroughly cleaned out) or refill it with your own homemade cleaner. PETE (1) is a porous plastic, which can lead to bacteria growth, and it also breaks down fairly quickly, which causes chemicals to begin leaching from the plastic, so those bottles should only be recycled, not reused.
Both Ecos and Honest mentioned on their labels that they are “pH-balanced”. Unfortunately, there is no regulated definition for “pH-balanced”, so it could mean that the cleaner is the ideal pH for skin, or that is the ideal pH for glass, etc. Several of these cleaners are multi-surface cleaners, however not all surfaces can handle a variety of pHs. Since none of these glass cleaners listed their pH on the label, we decided to test them and find out what they are. Here are the results:
If you aren’t wearing gloves for cleaning (even though it’s always recommended that you do), then it is best to use a product that has a similar pH to skin (which is about 5.5). According to Elle, cleaners that are more alkaline than skin can cause dryness, excess oil production, or other problems like hastening skin aging. Cleaners that are too acidic can be irritating. Staying within a range of 1 greater or less than the ideal pH is best.
It is also important to keep pH in mind for any surrounding areas where the cleaner will be used, such as spraying a mirror over a wood hallway table; you want to be sure that the spray is safe for the marble since it will likely be misting or dripping down onto it. Most of these products are in the “weak” range – weak acids or weak bases (5-9), though just barely, but sometimes even a weak pH is still strong enough to cause damage. Acids can easily etch marble or tarnish brass or eat chrome. Alkaline products can dry out leather or damage wood. So if you decide to use any of these on a non-glass surface, be sure to consult this handy pH chart first and check whether that pH is safe for your surface.
Several of these cleaners state on their label that they can be used on chrome, yet their pH is acidic (and acids can eat chrome), which is a great example of why it is important to always (always!) test products on a small hidden area of a surface first. However, the relatively weaker pH of these products is less likely to damage the chrome immediately than a stronger acid cleaner would, so be sure to routinely inspect the surface as well.
There is a lot to know about each of these products, companies, and even the bottles themselves. Here’s what we found by looking at the label and visiting the companies’ websites.
All of the bottles state on the label that they are not tested on animals, however only the ones listed below have the certification for that claim. Simple Truth Organic and Aunt Fannie’s may also be made in the USA, but we could not find that stated anywhere on their label or website. There are certain qualifications that must be met in order for a product to be considered “made in the USA”, such as where the bottles are made in addition to where the actual cleaner is made. For more information about each of the Questionable Labeling or Packaging notes see the Bogus Claims and Practices section below.
The Green Works bottle, made by The Clorox Company, appears to have solved the problem of getting out that last bit of liquid from the bottle. Although the straw touches almost the same spot in the bottle as any other sprayer straw, this straw is built into the wall of the container, meaning that it won’t move around, which is why most sprayer straws have trouble getting out the liquid once it’s low (the straw moves out of the liquid from the force of squeezing the trigger and can no loner suction).
As you can see from the recycling graphic above, the bottle was made with #2 (HDPE) plastic so you can reuse it again and again.
Several of these companies went so far above and beyond the norm that we want to be sure to mention them.
- The Ecos label states that it was “manufactured using Zero Waste guidelines in family owned and operated plants powdered by 100% renewable energy” and is “readily biodegradable.”
- The Method Company does so much great stuff that it would be difficult to list it all (you can read more on their website), but here’s a few key points:
- 1/3 of their trucking shipments in the U.S. are powered by biodiesel.
- One of their factories has its own wind turbine and solar panels, as well as a greenhouse on its roof.
- Many of their product bottles are partially or fully from recycled materials (including this glass cleaner bottle – it’s 100% recycled).
- In addition, they are continuing to work towards even more environmentally-friendly goals, such as zero waste manufacturing and decreasing water usage.
- Better Life mentions on their website that biodegradability is important to them, and their cleaner is designed to biodegrade two or more times faster than their top natural product competitors.
- Aunt Fannie’s is made with all ingredients that are food-based, though several others appear to have only food-based ingredients as well and are just not marketed as such.
There were two cleaners that have strikingly similar labels – identical ingredients lists, verbatim usage instructions, same certifications, and even a similar scent. They repeatedly had similar scores in our tests as well – the same price, the same pH, similar performance results, etc. Both cleaners were also unique in that they were the only two organic products we tested and both of their bottles were made with 50% sugar cane. Wondering how this could be possible, we decided to ask the companies directly. Here’s their response:
Bogus Claims and Practices
Some of these cleaners used questionable tactics to get a consumer’s attention or surprising practices in general. Here’s the break-down of what we found.
Product labels can use wording in a way that makes something sound better than it really is. One example of this is the Better Life label, which advertises that it contains “100% plant derived cleaning agents.” When seeing the term “100%” at a glance, it is easy to mistake that the statement applies to the whole product when it is actually only the cleaning agents that are plant derived. Their cleaner still contains a synthetic preservative.
Another example of this is the Green Works label, which states “Cleaning ingredients will biodegrade when disposed of down the drain.” Including the word “cleaning” at the beginning of that sentence likely means that not all of the ingredients will biodegrade, such as the dyes or fragrance.
No Ingredient List
All of the cleaners had their ingredients printed on the label except one: Better Life. They did have the ingredients listed on their website, but that doesn’t help an inquisitive consumer in the store. California is recently passed a law (The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017) that requires all cleaning products sold in California list the ingredients on their label by 2021, so hopefully this practice will no longer be a problem in the near future.
A Bunny Picture
There are many certifications that a company can have, but one of the most common in the cleaning industry is a certification for being “Cruelty-Free,” which means that a product was not tested on animals. However, the term “Cruelty Free” does not have an FDA definition, just like the term “Natural”, which means that anyone can claim something is “Cruelty Free” or “Natural”, but that doesn’t mean that it actually is. You can read more about this on the FDA website here. Several organizations offer certification for the term “Cruelty Free”, which have various requirements that a product must meet in order to qualify, such as no testing whatsoever (not even by outsourcing the testing to another company) or no testing after a certain date (such as five years prior to the date of application for certification).
Most of the certification logos feature a bunny, so some companies will put a different picture of a bunny on their label instead of getting certified, which we found on one of these glass cleaners. Here is more information about this:
Quite a few cleaners claimed that they are nontoxic, however there were several ingredients in the “nontoxic” cleaners that EWG (Environmental Working Group) shows evidence for being toxic. EWG is a non-profit organization that has compiled a database for ingredients using research studies and information from regulatory agencies like the EPA to rank each ingredient for its health or greenness. The two most common questionable/’bad’ ingredients in the products describing themselves as “nontoxic” are methylisothiazolinone and denatured alcohol.
Better Life and Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day both contain methylisothiazolinone, which is a synthetic preservative, but they claim to be nontoxic. On the website for Mrs. Meyer’s, methylisothiazolinone is described as a “safe and effective product preservative.” However, this ingredient scores a 7 in the EWG ranking system, which is a very low/bad score for health and safety (1 is considered the best, 10 is the worst). You can read the full EWG details here about how methylisothiazolinone has strong evidence as a skin toxicant, sensitizer and allergen, as well as other toxicities – including one study that showed it can act as a neurotoxin.
Honest and Ecos also claim to be nontoxic (the Honest bottle says it twice), but they both contain denatured alcohol. According to EWG, denatured alcohol has shown evidence (albeit limited, but evidence nonetheless) of reproductive toxicity, developmental toxicity, cancer, gastrointestinal and liver toxicity, and organ system toxicity. Chemicals are readily absorbed into our bloodstreams through touch so you should always wear cleaning gloves to be more safe, even if the product is described as “nontoxic” or “safe”.
Possible Chemical Exposure
Alkaline materials can damage PETE plastic. Although this damage may not be enough to actually break the plastic (known as stress cracking), it may be enough to increase the amount of unwanted chemical leaching from the plastic. In other words, one of these cleaners (Method) has an alkaline pH of 9 and yet is stored in a PETE container, so it therefore may have higher levels of leached chemicals from the plastic than other nonalkaline products. For more information on chemical compatibility with various types of plastics, see this chart by CP Lab Safety. (Other sources for this information are The Handbook for Critical Cleaning: Cleaning Agents and Systems by Barbara and Edward Kanegsberg, and Plastics in Medical Devices: Properties, Requirements, and Applications by Vinny R. Sastri.)
We’re not sure if this claim is technically bogus, but it definitely seems suspicious. The Green Works bottle says five times that it is “naturally derived.” Yet, their ingredients include “yellow and blue colorant,” “biodegradable preservative,” and “fragrance with essential oils.”
First, none of those are actual ingredients we could investigate. We did a little investigating anyway and found this statement on their website: “Like anything that’s natural, the naturally derived ingredients in our products can go bad over time. That’s why we add a small amount of preservative (less than 0.5%) to keep our products fresh and effective.” That sounds like the preservative is not naturally derived. For the other ingredients, without knowing exactly what they are, we have no way of knowing whether or not they are in fact naturally derived.
Here is the full ingredients list:
There was one clear winner from the performance tests: Ecos. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best pick for purchase. The clear second place from the performance tests goes to Method, and it’s much more cost effective and has a better scent. Those two cleaners were on the opposite ends of the pH spectrum as well, so deciding which to buy based on the safety needs of the surrounding surfaces around may make the choice easy.
Both of those companies had the most impressive environmentally-friendly operations, however, both of them also contained chemicals (or with Method, moreso the possibility of chemicals) that we wouldn’t want to use, though many of the other cleaners do as well. If healthy ingredients are your primary concern, some better choices might be Aunt Fannie’s or Simple Truth Organic, both of which had an acceptable level of clean in the general testing (though as lab results show, Simple Truth Organic would be the better choice if hairspray is an issue in your house). Also keep in mind that these lab performance results are from the 3rd wipe down; the two cleaners that got the area cleaned the fastest were Simple Truth Organic and Greenshield Organic, so those might be the best choices for people who are busy or who have a window or mirror that needs major cleaning. Here is an overview of all the tests together: