People use them routinely at home and work, but cleaning products contain some harsh chemicals that can go undeclared in their labels. While the law requires manufacturers to disclose the hazardous substances in their products, they are currently loosely applied, supposedly to protect trade secrets.

Cleaning products

However, over the last two decades, consumer advocacy groups have been pushing for cleaning product label transparency in addition to safe ingredient substitutions and sustainability. Lately, their efforts are paying off as government institutions are finally listening to their clamor and acting on it.

If you have been trying your hand at creating green cleaning products and looking for ways to market them effectively, read on. In this article, we share a guide on how small businesses can label their cleaning products to stand out.

What Is a Cleaning Product?

There is no single legal definition of the term “cleaning product.”

The Code of Federal Regulations defines “household cleaners” as “products designed to clean multiple household surfaces,” but it does not cover industrially used cleaning products.

On the other hand, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses the term only to distinguish it from a “pesticide.” For this purpose, a “cleaning product” is a substance or mixture of substances intended to clean away or remove inanimate material from surfaces and makes no pesticidal claims. 

Cleaning products break chemical barriers, hence their effectiveness. It is also the reason why they can be hazardous. Some of their typical ingredients are:

  • Surfactants, which enable water to dissolve grease and other water-insoluble materials.
  • Builders, which increase a product’s pH to enhance its cleaning power.
  • Solvents, which are the liquids in which the active ingredients are dissolved. Water and alcohol are examples of solvents.
  • Fragrances, colorants and preservatives are also common.

These chemicals can irritate the skin and cause stomach upset when ingested. Other adverse reactions, such as cancer and respiratory problems, have also been reported from the use of some cleaning products. Additionally, they can harm the environment by destroying soil, air and aquatic life balance. Without a unifying definition and clearer labeling laws, it has not been easy to regulate cleaning products sold in American retail stores.

Dermatitis from the use of cleaning products

Do Cleaning Products Have to List Ingredients on Their Labels?

The regulation of cleaning products falls under the EPA’s jurisdiction, which recognizes some of their ingredients’ serious hazards. However, the Agency is bound to enforce only the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) as far as composition disclosure is concerned.

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The FHSA requires manufacturers to put warning labels on products containing hazardous substances, but it does not apply to secret formulas. Neither does it compel the manufacturers to fully disclose their ingredients. And big companies are known to be evasive when labeling cleaning products.

Various groups have been lobbying for transparency, and their efforts are now paying off. One way by which the government is heeding their demands is through the EPA’s Safer Choice Program.

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What Is the Safer Choice Program?

The EPA’s Safer Choice Program is an incentive program that requires the participants to use green chemistry in formulating cleaning products and other consumer items. The technology lets them incorporate health- and environment-friendly raw materials without sacrificing quality. The Program also requires packaging sustainability and complete labeling transparency. 

The Safer Choice Program has been around for more than 15 years, but it used to go under a different name: the Designed for the Environment (DfE) Safer Product Labeling Program. The participants are called “Safer Choice Partners.” The Program has enlisted about 500 companies, with the latter using the Safer Choice Label on more than 2,000 products.

Cleaning products that bear the Safer Choice Label are certified by the EPA to have been made under high standards of safety, quality, formula transparency and environment-friendliness. Cleaning product manufacturers wishing to get this label must disclose even their trade secrets and have their formulas verified by an EPA-approved third-party. 

Disclosure of cleaning product ingredients can be made on labels, websites, product catalogs and other appropriate locations. The products are guaranteed to use only safe ingredients and audited yearly to ensure compliance with the Safer Choice Standard. Partners must apply anew for any ingredient revisions. Instances of labeling misrepresentation will be criminally prosecuted for fraud.

However, the Safer Choice Label covers only the listing of a product’s ingredients. It does not specify rules for brand and logo colors, font sizes, information panel location and others. The EPA recommends that, for cleaning products, additional standards set by OSHA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) must be followed.

For OSHA’s labeling regulations, the EPA refers to the Hazardous Materials Information System label, or “HMIS label.” We already talked about the HMIS label in our article, “Workplace Safety Labels 2020: What Employers Should Consider.” An example is shown below.

precautionary statements

Briefly, an HMIS label must have the following parts:

Product identifier
Pictograms
Signal word
Hazard statements
Precautionary statements
Manufacturer's information

These are all explained in the said article, which we encourage you to read.

As for the DOT’s requirements, they pertain to labeling hazardous materials for transport. The Department requires that additional markings be included in the labels, which depends on the substance class. Labeling is the shipper’s responsibility. For more details about the DOT’s labeling requirements, check out Title 49 Part 172 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

The Safer Choice Label may also be used on FDA-regulated products, such as food and cosmetics. However, cleaning products are not within the FDA’s jurisdiction.

What Goes into a Safer Choice Label?

The Safer Choice Label has three variants:

  • The consumer product label
Safer Choice consumer product label
  • The industrial and institutional product label
Safer Choice industrial and institutional product label
  • Fragrance-free product label
Safer Choice Fragrance-free label

What these labels have in common are the EPA/Safer Choice logo and web address. However, the Program requires including a non-endorsement disclaimer on the cleaning product label. The disclaimer’s text is specified in the Safer Choice Standard manual.

Besides the ingredients, other labeling information is not included in the Safer Choice Partnership Agreement. Therefore, many aspects of cleaning product labeling are still left to the manufacturer’s discretion.

How Can You Apply for a Safer Choice Label for Your Cleaning Product?

Getting a Safer Choice Label means applying for the Safer Choice Partnership Program. Below are the steps involved.

  1. Familiarize yourself with the Safer Choice Program. Read the recommended resources, such as the Safer Choice Standard manual, the Safer Choice Ingredients List, the Safer Choice Master Criteria, etc.
  2. Have your product formulation profiled. Submit your list of ingredients to the EPA and an EPA-approved third-party profiler. The latter will characterize your products chemically and identify potential hazards. The EPA recommends Gradient, NSF International, and ToxServices, LLC, but it may approve other third-party profilers so long as they satisfy the Agency’s technical competency criteria.
  3. The EPA will determine the need for safer alternatives, which will be based on what the third-party profiler’s report will show. It will identify areas for improvement to help you qualify for a Safer Choice Label. The recommendations will cover the product and the facility where it is manufactured.
  4. You may initiate changes in your formulation and manufacturing practices if you choose to comply with the EPA’s recommendations. Once you implement the changes, the EPA will discuss Safer Choice Partnership terms with you.
  5. Your partnership application will be approved. You will sign an agreement as a Safer Choice Partner.

The minimum Safer Choice Partnership period is three years. After becoming a partner, you can put the Safer Choice Label on the cleaning product that you submitted to the EPA for profiling. You cannot use it on your other products unless you have them certified separately.

The EPA will audit the approved formulas yearly and may terminate the partnership agreement for labeling dishonesty.

What Are the Potential Benefits of Having the Safer Choice Label on Your Cleaning Product?

The potential benefits of marking your cleaning product packaging with the Safer Choice Label are the following:

Gives you the chance to expand your market
Commits you to environmental protection
Establishes business as a green brand
Set a good example for employees & community
Gets business ready for state-specific regulatory amendments

1.

The Safer Choice Label gives you the chance to expand your market.

Federal agencies are committed to buying eco-friendly products because of the EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program. The federal government spends $550 billion on various products yearly, including cleaning agents. Some local institutions have also adopted green purchasing practices with the EPA’s help. Getting into the EPA’s list of Safer Choice Partners allows you to connect with these well-funded organizations.

Additionally, joining the Safer Choice Partnership Program will make it easier for you to earn the support of influential consumer and environmental advocacy groups. Overall, you get the chance to expand your client base with the Safer Choice Label.

2.

Being a Safer Choice Partner commits you to environmental protection.

As a partner, you are bound to make safer products and market them in eco-friendly packaging. Caring for public health and the environment protects your loved ones, employees and everyone else in your community.

3.

Being a Safer Choice Partner establishes you as a green brand.

The Safer Choice Label can easily catch the attention of the environment-conscious, which most American consumers are. Green marketing has always been widely supported by American society, even through tough times, such as the start of the Coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.

Additionally, the Safer Choice Label is a guarantee of quality. A commitment to good quality, transparency, sustainability and safety adds prestige to your brand.

4.

You set a good example for your employees and community.

Environmental protection is a cause that appeals to most people. By becoming a Safer Choice Partner and committing to this advocacy, you set a good example to your employees and community. You can influence them to do their part in keeping the surroundings cleaner and safer.

5.

Safer Choice Partnership gets you ready for state-specific regulatory amendments.

Various states are now making laws about safety and ingredient transparency when marketing cleaning products. California and New York are taking the lead. Complying with the Safer Choice Standard gets you ready to sell your cleaning products in these big states and stay ahead of your close competitors.

So if you feel like you’re out of marketing strategies for your green cleaning product, you need not worry. Becoming a Safer Choice Partner may just be your best move yet.

And when it comes to printing high-quality product labels and package barcodes, you can count on us at enKo products! We give you top-notch, eco-friendly materials at very affordable prices. 

customer picking up a cleaning product

Conclusion

Cleaning products help tidy up surfaces at homes and in industries. However, many big brands sold these days are mum about their ingredients, so buyers are not sure of their safety.

The EPA regulates cleaning products, but its labeling rules are not very clear. Neither do they compel manufacturers to disclose their formulas completely. Advocacy groups have been clamoring for safety, labeling transparency, and sustainability in making cleaning agents, and their efforts are now paying off slowly.

One answer is the EPA’s Safer Choice Program. It offers the Safer Choice Label as an incentive for cleaning product manufacturers employing high standards of safety, quality, sustainability and labeling transparency. The Label itself covers only ingredient disclosure and no other aspects of labeling. The EPA recommends complying with OSHA and DOT standards as well when making cleaning product labels.

Getting a Safer Choice Label involves familiarization with the Program, having your formula and facility assessed, instituting the necessary changes and signing a partnership agreement with the EPA. Formula evaluators are technically competent third-party analysts approved by the Agency.

Despite its shortcomings, the Safer Choice Program has successfully enlisted more than 500 partners for the last 15 years. The federal government and some local institutions support it through mandated green purchasing practices. It is also making its headway into many consumers’ consciousness. Safer Choice Partners gain all these marketing advantages and more as impending State regulatory amendments align with the Program’s aims.

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