Whole Story

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Are Your Cleaning Products Transparent?

By Jody Villecco, September 23, 2011  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Jody Villecco
We believe in full disclosure. That’s why we are now requiring all cleaning products sold in our stores to list every single ingredient on the label by April 2012. So, if you’ve noticed your favorite laundry soap now has a longer list of ingredients – it may not be a reformulation – it’s most likely because we’re asking our suppliers for complete transparency in their labeling practices. When it comes to cleaning products, there are no government regulations for listing ingredients on packaging. This doesn’t sit well with us. As a result, we developed our Whole Foods Market Eco-Scale™ rating system to help you make the best choices about the cleaning products you use to do laundry, wash dishes, mop floors and more! By Earth Day 2012 – April 22nd – all of the household cleaning products in our stores will list full ingredients on their packaging and be rated and third-party verified based on safety and environmental impact.

With the launch of our new standards, Whole Foods Market is the first to require full disclosure ingredient listing on household cleaning products. No one else — retailer, government body or trade association — is requiring full disclosure ingredient listing to the extent that we are. Here’s a little bit of background: Many people are surprised to hear that full disclosure labeling is not currently required for cleaning products by the government. Almost three out of four adults (73%) falsely believe that the government requires household cleaning products to provide a list of ingredients on the label, according to a Whole Foods Market survey conducted online in April among 2,483 US adults aged 18 and over. Another two-thirds (64%) believe that many household cleaning brands opt to disclose the full list of ingredients on packaging, when, in fact, few provide this information on product labels. Why is this important? One word: Transparency. You deserve to know what's in your cleaning supply products. How can you make good choices if you don't know what you're using to clean your homes on a daily basis? We feel it’s important to include this information on actual labels (not just on company websites) so that this information is available to you while you're shopping. Here’s the nitty-gritty on what you can expect from products sold in our stores:
  • Ingredients must be listed on all products on our shelf by next Earth Day (April 22, 2012). This gives our suppliers time to make the required changes to their labels.
  • Ingredients will be listed in INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients), which is already commonly used for personal care products.
  • Listing ingredients or ingredient blends as “proprietary” or using a trademarked name without an INCI name is not allowed, except for fragrances and enzymes only. (Note that as part of the audit process, all fragrance and enzyme blends will still be reviewed for acceptability to our standards).
What does all that mean to you? Well, you may start to see some unfamiliar ingredients listed on your cleaning products. The fact is that cleaning supply products are made from ingredients that most people may not be entirely familiar with. I always say that learning about cleaning supply ingredients is like learning a new language.  If you have questions about any of these ingredients, some of which are multi-syllabic or may seem very “chemically,” let us know. For each ingredient, we have an explanation of why we allowed the ingredient in the appropriate tier, or why it was a better alternative than other available ingredients. It's important to keep in mind that many conventional products do not contain full disclosure ingredient listings, so it will be difficult to compare conventional and natural products head to head. Full disclosure ingredient listing is the norm for food, supplements and personal care products. We are hoping that some day the same will be true for household cleaning products. If you’ve got questions about the potentially new ingredients you might be seeing in your favorite household cleaning products, contact us for further information. What do you think? Should ingredient listings on household cleaning products be regulated like the rest? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
Category: Green Action, Grocery




cat @ cat's belly fat cure says ...
I had no idea cleaning products didn't have full disclosure of ingredients. Good to know!
09/23/2011 8:19:12 AM CDT
Gillian Bliss says ...
This is great! I recently bought a Martha Stewart Natural bathroom cleaner. It made my eyes water, my nose run and I had difficulty breathing. No way was it natural. I like Bio Kleen products and they never have this effect on me. I looked at the ingredients on the MS product and saw nothing in the ingredients that would cause this problem, something had to be hidden in there.
09/23/2011 10:30:22 AM CDT
Jessica Moran says ...
What about "fragrance?" A lot of products list it as an ingredient, but don't say what the fragrance is made of. Even if it's listed as "natural fragrance" how do I know what goes into that?
09/23/2011 11:02:08 AM CDT
Andrea says ...
I have been using Melaleuca products for years. As a cancer survivor I know the importance of what gets used in my home and around my family.Melaleuca was green before it was popular to be green. Hooray for Whole Foods and their protection of the environment!
09/26/2011 5:13:30 AM CDT
diane says ...
Thank you for doing this! I hope it becomes the new standard. Please open a store on the west side of Phoenix.
09/28/2011 6:44:10 PM CDT
Donn Griffith says ...
Great standard to set. Hopefully you will have others follow with full disclosure. It would be great to know where food is grown and have all ingredients in other products also. Keep up your leadership role.
09/28/2011 8:23:17 PM CDT
Adam says ...
so great, raising the bar and setting the trend once again, love it.. it will be interesting to see who reformulates now that all ingredients will be disclosed (exposed)
09/28/2011 9:10:33 PM CDT
Jenifer Parker says ...
How about full disclosure on GMO in our FOOD products?
09/28/2011 9:33:00 PM CDT
I believe all products, especially laundry detergents, cleaners, other chemical type products should have all their ingredients listed. Of course, I believe every product out their produce "by mankind" should have "a complete ingredient list" on the label. Thanks for keeping on top of it! We need to have a store down in the Bellevue NE area.
09/28/2011 9:44:02 PM CDT
kathy says ...
Yippee!! So glad to hear someone's getting after the household cleaning sector. We've been eating (whenever possible) organic food/drink for years & switched our toiletries about 8 years ago as well. At the same time, we switched to "natural" cleaning products...by April, '12, we' ll know for sure if our cleaning products are natural...had no idea they might not be!
09/28/2011 10:25:27 PM CDT
Amy Anderson says ...
God bless you!!! I am so thankful someone else cares about me and the future of the next generation. I cannot use most products because of perfumes and nasty chemicals.
09/28/2011 11:19:25 PM CDT
Steve Schweitzer says ...
That's great, way to go. This is the kind of pressure that is always required because all too often, the manufacturers knowingly try to hide, or rename, ingredients they want to use because it is more cost effective to their profit margins. Now do the same thing with GMO's and labeling. Force them out as well. Require that transparency. Good job.
09/29/2011 6:35:58 AM CDT
Jayme Osborn says ...
Hooray for full disclosure labeling! Imagine my shock recently to find that "ionic and anionic surfactants" is just another way to say "sodium laurel sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate", two ingredients I was trying to avoid! I applaud your pressure to the cleaning product industry. Keep up the good work!
09/29/2011 7:10:42 AM CDT
Deb says ...
I love it that your store has enough clout to require this from it's suppliers. That's how the system should work...the people require it, not the government. Keep the pressure on! We are behind you!
09/29/2011 7:36:12 AM CDT
janejohnson says ...
@Jennifer Thank you for reaching out. Rumors that Whole Foods Market has been “bought out” by Monsanto are absolutely not true. Whole Foods Market owns all of its stores and is not affiliated with Monsanto or others in the biotechnology industry. Our goal at Whole Foods Market is to provide informed consumer choice with regard to genetically engineered ingredients. We source our entire line of national store brand products (365 Everyday Value and 365 Organic) to avoid GMOs, working closely with our suppliers to ensure that they avoid the intentional use of GMO ingredients. We have also enrolled our entire line of national store brand products in the Non-GMO Project Product Verification Program, a third party program which verifies that food producers follow best practices for GMO avoidance. We’ve also encouraged many of our branded vendors to do the same, and we have thousands of Non-GMO Project Verified items on our shelves. For a shopping list of Non-GMO Project Verified products carried by your local store, please visit the store’s webpage. Visit http://wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/ and select your local store from the menu.
09/30/2011 2:07:24 PM CDT
H says ...
YEA!!! Way to go, Whole Foods! What a great step! What about “fragrance?” Many list it as an ingredient, but don’t say what goes into it. EWG's database usually scores personal products negatively because most any chemical can be labeled as fragrance. Will it be part of the audit process?
09/30/2011 6:02:24 PM CDT
Tracey Tiret says ...
Yes, the ingredients should be listed and regulated; Not to mention EcoLogo Certified, and Non-GMO Verified. CleanVia is the first Ecologo Certified and NON-GMO Verified Cleaner. Ever. The All-Purpose Cleaner, and Cleaner Degreaser (concentrated) is industrial strength; And is compatible with people who have multiple chemical sensitivity disorder. There is no added fragrances, and the line is non-petroleum (plant based). I hope to see these products on your shelf soon. With Gratitude, T.T.
10/01/2011 7:06:31 PM CDT
Marcus says ...
I think this is great, but I get concerned about the mentality that natural is necessarily less caustic. I've seen cleaning products recently which use a variety of natural, volatile (essential) oils, such as thyme and pine oil which are somewhat toxic depending on the concentration of thymol and very irritating to skin and lungs. Oftentimes, lavender is added to products, and while it sounds calming, in contact with skin it causes skin cell death. And yet I see other people here posting a dislike for sodium laureth sulfate, which has a great track record as a mild detergent. Sodium lauryl sulfate has a bad name, and while it's much more sensitizing than sodium laureth sulfate, it has nowhere near the problematic qualities of volatile oil. In short, I hope the review of ingredients is based on journaled research rather than folk wisdom. There certainly are synthetic ingredients to be wary of, such as triclosan, which the FDA is now reviewing the safety of. There are good and bad natural and synthetic ingredients. But remember that every ingredient is a chemical, including water, and each should be judged based on its merits, not emotion.
10/01/2011 11:56:43 PM CDT
Melanie Rees says ...
Im so glad you are doing this. I aways trust Whole Foods for good products and food.
10/02/2011 6:59:00 PM CDT
Andrew Ari Clibanoff says ...
This kind of leadership by Whole Foods provides a clear and present benefit for not just California and Proposition 65 but all of America and our small green planet.
10/02/2011 7:49:17 PM CDT
Mark says ...
Yes I agree everything should be labeled . I read everything before I bye it and I don't want to be deceived because everything is not there . thank you for taking this route . I think it's a bright way to go.
10/04/2011 7:55:58 AM CDT
Sabrina Fernandez says ...
Dear Whole Foods- You are way ahead of the curve. I love you guys for that! This is something that could revolutionize the way people shop for products and can dramatically improve the indoor air quality in our homes. Thank you so much for this initiative. Your green living friend- Sabrina
10/04/2011 10:22:33 AM CDT
Beth says ...
Thank you for your continuing efforts to improve the World around us. I too have have concerns about the products and fragrances which often cause the hayfever or allergic responses.
10/04/2011 3:36:15 PM CDT
Michaela says ...
Thanks for being the ones to lead the way on an issue that is so important! You are not only breaking new ground, you are educating us! Now that is awesome!
10/05/2011 4:18:41 AM CDT
Michaela says ...
Thanks for being the ones to lead the way on an issue that is so important! You are not only breaking new ground, you are educating us! Now that is awesome!
10/05/2011 4:18:44 AM CDT