Sure, you’ve greened your bathroom – fixing leaks and retrofitting for low-flow flushes – but what happens when you clean your bathroom? Are you undoing all your good deeds by flushing toxins down your toilet?
Many conventional toilet bowl cleaners contain corrosive ingredients like hydrochloric acid and chlorine bleach that can irritate eyes, skin, and the respiratory tract, and can be fatal if swallowed. Phosphates, which can cause harmful algal blooms, are also commonly used in bathroom cleaning products.
Natural toilet-bowl cleaners replace these harsh chemicals with plant- and mineral-based ingredients that are nontoxic and biodegradable. But are these eco-products worth a shit? I decided to find out. (Hey, it’s my potty, and I’ll try if I want to!)
I gathered eight different eco-options and wielded a toilet-bowl scrubby brush against the evils of long-mellowed toilet bowls near and far. Here are the results:
Biokleen Soy Toilet Scrub
Eco-claims: Environmentally friendly with no negative effects on rivers, streams, plants, or wildlife; kind to those with chemical sensitivities and allergies; no artificial fragrance, colors, or preservatives; 99 percent VOC free and ozone safe; contains no phosphate, chlorine, ammonia, petroleum solvents, alcohol, butyl, glycol ether, SLS or SLES, EDTA, DEA, No SARA Title II, CA 65, or EPA priority pollutants; no materials listed by the ACGIH as hazardous; no animal testing or animal ingredients
Price: $4.99 / 32 fl. oz.
This soy scrub is a thick, white paste; add that to the minty scent and it feels a bit like you’re squirting the toilet with kaopectate. It does cover the bowl well, but the opaque white coloring makes it hard to see where it’s been squirted – and also where there might be extra dirty spots to scrub. It works OK, and it’s one of the few that doesn’t require a soaking or wait time, which is nice if you’re in a hurry to freshen up before a surprise visit from the mother in law.
Clorox Green Works Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Eco-claims: Made with plant- and mineral-based ingredients; biodegradable; not tested on animals; contains no phosphorus or bleach
Scent: Original (lemony)
Price: $2.59 / 24 fl. oz.
Don’t let the Clorox name on this one scare you – there’s no bleach in this product. Like the other Green Works products, it carries the Sierra Club logo and promises natural ingredients. It delivers on Clorox cleaning power, though – producing the cleanest bowl of the bunch. The thick green liquid fully covers the toilet bowl and the mild lemony/lime scent is pleasant. My only complaint would be that it produces long-lasting bubbles that don’t go away, even with a second flush.
Ecover Ecological Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Eco-claims: Plant-based ingredients — not based on petrochemical ingredients; no chemical residue; optimum level of biodegradability (far exceeds legislative requirements); safe for river and marine life; no animal testing
Price: $3.99 / 25 fl. oz.
I like that the bottle notes that Ecover’s ecological factory is built using a grass roof for insulation, wood beams from sustainable forest, and bricks made from coal mine waste. However, the contents are less likable – the strong piney scent almost made me gag as I scrubbed the toilet. And the color-less liquid made it hard to see which parts of the toilet bowl were covered.
While the Ecover product left a strong artificial piney scent, the Seventh Generation cleaner had much more natural pine scent to it, leaving the bathroom smelling like a forest rather than a Pine-Sol crime scene. Unfortunately, it was not as strong a cleaner as some of the other options – getting the bowl only about 80 percent clean after a hefty scrubbing down.
This one definitely gets points for creative design and marketing – the curvy bottle is cute enough to leave out and the wordsmiths at Method are as punny as (some) Grist staffers. The blue liquid cleans fairly well, but the strong piney-eucalyptus scent fumes are long lasting and too strong to be pleasant.
This one has a mild smell – more burnt orange than cedar. My main complaint about it (aside from the Kute product name!) is that it is so thick that it doesn’t flow down the bowl to cover it. Instead, the thick, clear get clings right where you squirt it. You’re supposed to leave it there 5-10 minutes, but I’m not sure the purpose, as it will only clean the thin line where it lands until you scrub.
J.R. Watkins Natural Home Care Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Eco-claims: Biodegradable; no animal ingredients; free of ammonia, benzene, boron, butyl cellosolve, chlorine, dye, ether, formaldehyde, isopropanol, kerosene, mineral spirit, toxin, perfume, petrochemicals, phosphate, phosphoric acid, propylene glycol, SLS, sulfate, sulfuric acid
Scent: Lemon, natural cedar
Price: $4.99 / 24 fl. oz.
This cleaner had a mild lemon scent – not too overpowering – and got the bowl mostly clean, though it recommends soaking overnight for tough stains. It was a clearish, cloudy color, which made it hard to see what parts of the bowl it covered. Bonus points for the “Gristy” labeling on the bottle boasting its “conscience cleaning power” and “guilt/anxiety-free contents.”
The “lemon verbena” scent was piney rather than being citrusy, but it still offered a bit of a “pick-me-up” effect. The toilet bowl was nice and white after scrubbing the blue cleaner away. This is a good choice, though more expensive than some of the other options.
The bottom line: The best clean for the least green was the Clorox Green Works Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner. For about a dollar more, Mrs. Meyer’s is also a good option.