Decoding Labels for Health – Green your Clean!

You never know what you’ll find in Brooklyn at any given time, but if you had happened to be at the Isa restaurant at 348 Wythe Ave in Williamsburg and walked upstairs at 6:30pm on April 27th, a surprising scene would have awaited you. It was the Human Impacts Institute’s “Decoding Cleaning Labels for Health” workshop, funded by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Environmental Justice Community Impact Grant Program.


With guest speaker Ogonnaya Dotson-Newman, Director of Environmental Health at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and Tara DePorte of the Human Impacts Institute, attendees learned about the toxic effects of all the seemingly benign cleaning products that most of us have in our homes. Audience members were asked to list all of the products that they use in their homes, and think about which ones they considered essential and which they thought were probably toxic.


After learning how to “decode” the eco-friendly labels that many corporations use for their packaging, the audience played the “Name that Sin” game on the Sins of Greenwashing website to test their newfound knowledge. The results were surprising: even after learning all about the different tactics and strategies used by companies to make their products seem green and eco-friendly, the game was still very difficult. The harsh truth is that marketing strategies have made us believe that we need 10 different products to clean, when in reality, some soap and/or vinegar would suffice.

The presentation also raised awareness of the shady marketing tactics used by chemical manufacturing companies. Not only are the images deceptive, but also chemical companies omit many of the toxic chemicals in their label’s list of ingredients. The difficulties of being an informed consumer these days are especially clear when it comes to the cleaning products that many of us use every day in our homes.


In order to be safe, we suggest:

1. Survey all of the cleaning products in your home.

2. Determine if you need all of those products, which ones can you can dispose of/substitute?

3.Check the LABELS! The EWG and GreenerChoices databases provide reliable, detailed ratings for most products.

4. Safely dispose of toxic, unhealthy cleaning products.

5. Purchase safer alternatives or make Homemade Cleaning Products.

For more information and DIY cleaning recipes, check out the extended presentation and our tip sheets, which are available in English and Spanish.

Green your clean! Take action for your health, community, and environment.

We hope to see everyone at the next workshop on Non-Toxic Cleaning, later on this fall!


By Rose Bowen, Environmental Leadership Intern and Camila Montes de Oca, Environmental Services Intern

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