Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

In Pursuit of Greener Cleaners

There’s been a lot of chatter about natural household cleaners lately — especially when it comes to topics like ingredient safety and transparency, and it’s easy to understand why. There are no government regulations requiring cleaning products to list ingredients on the packaging, and the lack of label transparency and oversight has some people questioning whether “greener” cleaners are really any better than conventional options.

No murky labels at Whole Foods Market

At Whole Foods Market, we believe you have a right to know what’s in the products you use to clean your home. That’s why every single household cleaner in our stores lists every single ingredient on the package*. We’ve been providing this label transparency since we launched our Eco-Scale cleaning standards in 2012. No one else — retailer, government body or trade association — is requiring full-disclosure ingredient listing to this extent. No one.

Learning what’s not in our cleaners is important, too

Our Eco-Scale™ rating system requires evaluating every ingredient for environmental impact, safety, efficacy, source, labeling and animal testing. These are the most comprehensive standards of any "green cleaners" standards-setting group, with almost 600 ingredients reviewed to date. Eco-Scale prohibits the use of harsh ingredients with significant environmental and safety concerns, like chlorine, phosphates, synthetic colors or formaldehyde-donors (preservatives which have the potential to release formaldehyde) – and that’s just for starters.

How to use Eco-Scale to make smarter, greener choices

Products are rated red, orange, yellow or green on our Eco-Scale. Each level of our rating system prohibits specific unacceptable ingredients, so you can easily identify products that are free of ingredients you’d like to avoid. Orange-rated products meet our baseline standards and prohibit the use of 44 ingredients. Yellow-rated products require incrementally higher standards and green-rated products top the tier with a total of more than 300 unacceptable ingredients. We don’t sell any red-rated cleaning products.

Don’t just take our word for it

We believe that in order to maintain these strict standards, we need to give oversight to someone other than ourselves, which is why products are audited by an independent third-party before they are color-rated on shelves.

The skinny on sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate

Two ingredients that have been getting a lot of attention are sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Unfortunately, some recent news articles have drawn the puzzling conclusion that natural products containing SLES or SLS are no different from harsh alternatives that also contain the ingredients. Inferring that two products are the same because they share an ingredient or two is pretty misleading. It’s the other ingredients that make the real difference, and you can rest assured that products on Whole Foods Market’s shelves do not contain any ingredients unacceptable to the orange tier of Eco-Scale. And if you’d like to avoid SLES or SLS all together, that’s easy: opt for one of our green-rated products.

What Eco-Scale covers: We did the dirty work for you

  • Cleaning product ingredients can be tough to decipher. That's why our Eco-Scale standards clearly state which ingredients are allowed at each level of the program, along with our rationale for determining acceptable ingredients under each tier
  • Many conventional products do not contain full ingredient listings, which makes it hard to compare conventional and natural products head to head. How can you when you don’t have all of the information you need? Our label transparency helps you know whether you’re making smarter, greener choices in the cleaning aisle.
  • All claims on cleaning products we carry must be truthful, meaningful, verifiable and not misleading. Supporting documentation is required for claims such as biodegradable, non-toxic, plant-derived, organic, etc.

We think everyone should know what puts the shine in their cleaning products. Until the day full transparency is required by law, you can count on our Eco-Scale™ rating system.

*Except for proprietary fragrance and enzyme blends. Note that as part of the audit process, all proprietary fragrance and enzyme blends are still reviewed for acceptability to our standards.