Saturday, April 11, 2009

Cleaning Products Coming Clean - What Really Is In Windex?

Sure, we all know what is in Windex. Right? Isopropanol, 2-Butoxyethanol, Ethylene glycol n-hexyl ether, Water, and Ammonia. Well, now you can go to a new web site set up by S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. called to describe most of the ingredients for its Windex cleaner, as well as for its Glade, and Shout brands.

The company is part of a recent trend. Other manufacturers of household cleaning products have begun disclosing the chemicals in some of their products. For example, Clorox Co. lists ingredients for its Formula 409 and other products at Seventh Generation Inc., which has long disclosed most of the ingredients for its eco-friendly cleaning products, last year started explaining chemical names in terms that consumers can better understand on its labels. And Procter & Gamble Co. plans to list its ingredients online and describe them in consumer friendly terms.

S.C. Johnson announced in March that they would disclose the ingredients in all of its home cleaning and air cleaning products. If you go to the S.C. Johnson site, for example, you can see the breakdown of its Windex Outdoor Multisurface Cleaner in terms of what each chemical does. Mostly it is Water, of course, but also listed are: 2-(8-Methylnonoxy) Ethanol (Cleaning Agent), Sodium Xylene Sulfonate (Wetting Agent), Sodium Citrate (Stabilizer), and Sodium Carbonate (pH Balancer). The plan to disclose ingredients includes products with fragrances, which generally have been closely guarded trade secrets. Other companies are less sure about doing this, because it is confidential business information; they would prefer a general category called "fragrances, dyes and preservatives." But S.C. Johnson says they prefer the "palate approach" that would give consumers all the information they need to make choices.

The move is not purely altruistic. Consumers have been asking for more information on ingredients in terms they can understand. So in a sense, companies are responding to market pressures. But they are also responding to pressure from advocacy groups who are pressing for greater disclosure. Environmental Working Group, for example, has been visibly campaigning against the use of phthalates in products, and this disclosure will make their use more obvious (and thus likely increase demand for their removal). While both FDA and European regulators have approved the use of phthalates and the industry says they are safe, personal care products are being forced by public insecurity to reformulate their products. Other groups are also pressuring industry to list all their ingredients. A lawsuit filed in February by EarthJustice on behalf of several environmental groups seeks to force Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Reckitt-Benckiser (makers of Woolite), and Church and Dwight (makers of Arm and Hammer products) to list all of their ingredients.

All of this ties in with other programs that seek greater disclosure of ingredients and their health and safety, such as REACH in the EU and TSCA reform in the US and worldwide Ecolabelling efforts. California's development of a new "Green Initiative" will also exert pressure to both disclose their ingredients and show that they are safe. Those companies that lead the way will likely gain market share as consumers more and more focus on products they feel are more sustainable.

These efforts are receiving a boost from industry trade groups that recently set up joint guidelines to encourage use of a standardized format for presenting the technical information. "Consumers want to know more to ensure the safety of their family," says a Procter & Gamble spokesman. "The industry is changing along with that."

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