Consumer groups demand more information on chemicals in cleaning products

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Saturday, February 27, 2016
Consumer groups demand better product labels for cleaning products
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Manufacturers are revealing more about what is in their cleaning products - but some health and consumer groups want a law to make sure every ingredient is on the label.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Most of us are used to finding lists of ingredients on food, medicine, even cosmetics, but you might not realize there is no requirement to list all of the ingredients on the labels of cleaning products.

Many of those products are a part of daily life, used to clean our homes, workplaces, and schools. A lot of cleaning products carry legally required warning labels about poison or eye or skin irritation, but most do not list all ingredients on the label.

A lot of consumers would like to have access to that information. Vaughn Rice, a father from Alameda, told us "I don't see why they (cleaning products) would ever not be labeled. I mean you just want to know what's in some product you are using in your home."

Public demand is now pushing many companies to disclose their ingredients. A few actually list all the ingredients, and a growing number post at least some ingredients on their websites.

The Clorox Company, based in the Bay Area, now has a phone app to find ingredients for its product lines. You can look up a product by name and an ingredient list pops up.

We found a wide range of company policies among cleaning product manufacturers and they are not always straight forward.

For example, Bill Allayaud, with the Environmental Working Group showed us a bottle of Woolite. It does not list any ingredients, but the label says you can get them at a company website.

He searched the website while we watched and there was nothing about ingredients. Eventually after lots of clicking around, he called a phone number on the site. He was put on hold for a few minutes and was finally told to check another website, not the one listed on the bottle.

Finally, almost 15 minutes after he first started looking, he found the ingredients. But the list was not complete because, like a lot of product information, it doesn't show what's in the fragrance. Some products, including Tide laundry detergent, just give a list of hundreds of ingredients that could be in the fragrance.

Allayaud said there are a lot of consumers with health issues who want more information. "Maybe I'm allergic or have asthma or my pregnant wife wants to use it."

None of the major cleaning product companies we contacted would do an interview, but Brian Sansoni, with an industry group called American Cleaning Institute, cited trade secrets as a reason some ingredients are not disclosed. "Each and every product may have a specific formulation that is unique for that product."

Nancy Buermeyer with the Breast Cancer Fund does not buy it. According to Buermeyer, "The reality is that all their competitors already know what's in these products because they can use labs to figure out what those chemicals are. So the only people that are left in the dark are the government, consumers and workers."

Sansoni claims critics are distorting information about minute amounts of chemicals. "The fact is the cleaning products that are on the shelves today are safe and effective when used as directed."

A large coalition of consumer groups is pushing to get California to require all ingredients be listed on cleaning product labels. The measure failed to pass the Assembly last month, but the coalition plans to keep trying.

Links to supporters of #ComeClean campaign to require all ingredients be listed on labels of cleaning products including Seventh Generation,

Breast Cancer Fund and the Environmental Working Group.

We reached out to several major cleaning product companies asking for interviews and information about their ingredient and labeling policies.

The Clorox Company sent the following statement:

"We're proud of our work on product ingredient communications. The Clorox Company was the first major consumer packaged goods company to introduce a voluntary, Web-based program for our cleaning, disinfecting and laundry products in the U.S. and Canada in 2009. Communicating about our ingredients online gives consumers easy access while allowing us to provide more detailed information and timely updates. Since we launched our program, we have continued to be an industry leader in this area, disclosing preservatives, dyes, the fragrance palette and fragrance components used in our products. We are always looking for ways we can provide meaningful information to our consumers so they can make even more informed choices about the products they purchase."

For Clorox ingredient information, click here.

Procter and Gamble sent the following statement:

"Thanks for your question. Our overall goal is to provide people with ingredient information they are interested in so they can make informed choices about our products. We share the ingredients in our cleaning products on our website - type a brand name here to see details. "

The information on each product appears as a PDF. Procter and Gamble's statement went on to say: " With respect to fragrance ingredients, in the PDF is a link that contains a list of all fragrance ingredients we select from in designing our product fragrances. We are currently updating this information and plan to post it on with other common ingredient questions at This new product fragrance webpage will include a list of ingredients we do not use, as well as a list of ingredients we do use, because we are finding that consumers care equally about both."

Reckitt Benckiser, maker of Woolite and other brands, sent a couple of emails, indicating someone from the company might contact us, but no one did. RB Ingredient information, click here.

SC Johnson did not respond. For SC Johnson ingredient information, click here.

For the American Cleaning Institute, Ingredient Communication and Ingredient Safety Initiatives, click here.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney