It’s no secret that certain cleaning products are hard on the environment. From toxic forever chemicals (ie. persistent and ubiquitous) to microplastics and packaging, some abrasive cleaners, sprays, and wipes are causing long-term environmental damage to waterways and the countless ecosystems that depend on them – including humans as well as wildlife.
Furthermore, did you know some cleaning products may not even be vegan? This can be due to the ingredients used, or how they were tested, and as a result many commonplace cleaning compounds actually affect animals before, during, and after production.
Let’s dive into exactly what to look out for, and which cleaning products actually are vegan.
Are cleaning products vegan?
There are a variety of things to check when looking for vegan cleaning products, the first of which is the ingredients list. While some of the ingredient names are clearly from animals, others might be unfamiliar or obscure – as is the case with oleyl alcohols, which can be derived from either beef, fish, or olives, and are found in some hand soaps and sanitizers.
It’s important to note here that unless products are explicitly marked with a vegan or cruelty-free label, it’s almost impossible to figure out whether ingredients (such as oleyl alcohols) were derived from animals or plants. Furthermore, even if ingredients such as those listed in this article are not on the label, products may still contain derivatives or similar substances. (Check out PETA’s reference guide to common animal ingredients here.)
Non-vegan ingredients in cleaning products
Beeswax – which can also appear in all sorts of foods from fresh produce to sweets – is frequently used in floor and furniture polish as it gives the surface of wood a protective coating and enhances the natural shine. As with honey, harvesting beeswax takes a toll on the hive and worker bees, all while pollinator populations are falling significantly.
Glycerol, stearic acid, and tallow can all be derived from animal fat, and help to clean and remove stains when used in soap. Both glycerol and stearic acid can be produced using plants as well as animals, but tallow is specifically rendered from the fat of sheep and cattle.
Lanolin, which crops up everywhere from moisturizers to tattoo aftercare products, is the natural grease produced by wool-bearing animals like sheep. It can be found in detergents, as well as lubricants, polish, and even in products which remove or prevent rust.
Lecithin – which aids emulsification and stabilization, protects surfaces, and also helps with rust prevention – can be derived from eggs, milk, or animal flesh, as well as plants such as soy and sunflower. While the latter two varieties are most common, non-vegan varieties are still widely used in various different cleaning products.
Caprylic acid is produced from compounds produced naturally in the milk of mammals such as sheep or cows. It is also extremely widely used, and can be found in everything from dyes and perfumes to sanitizers and disinfectants due to its antifungal and antibacterial qualities.
But whether cleaning products are considered vegan isn’t limited to whether the ingredients themselves are animal derived – it also extends to whether those ingredients were tested on animals.
Cleaning products and animal testing
The testing of household products was banned by the UK government in 2015, though no animals had been used for this purpose since around 2010. The ban also does not effectively restrict the testing of all component ingredients on animals, making it ineffective at best.
Neither Europe or the US have even this minimal restriction on animal testing, and organizations such as Cruelty Free International and the Humane Society of the United States are currently campaigning against these practices.
Typical animal testing of household products might include exposure to toxins and chemicals via aerosolization, force-feeding, or injection. Even if animals survive such experiments, they are almost certainly euthanized afterwards. (Learn more about animal testing here.)
As with the UK’s “ban,” manufacturers may actually market their products as not tested on animals, when in fact the component ingredients were tested during development. Other producers – such as Ecover and Method – may retain their cruelty-free status internally, but have since been purchased by companies that do test on animals, such as SC Johnson. (While many vegans feel comfortable purchasing products from cruelty-free brands owned by non-vegan parent companies, others may avoid them).
Euphemistic phrasing can also be confusing for shoppers hoping to purchase ethically. For example, “this product is not tested on animals” may imply that its component ingredients were in fact tested on animals, or “this company does not test on animals,” which could mean that all animal testing is outsourced out to external contractors.
The Leaping Bunny logo is currently the only internationally recognized symbol guaranteeing that no new animal tests were used in the development or manufacture of a product.
Vegan cleaning product brands in the UK
There are countless ways to make your own cleaning products at home, such as mixing two tablespoons of castile soap with a few drops of your favorite essential oils and two cups of water for an effective, low-cost, vegan-friendly multi-surface spray. You could also experiment with vinegar, lemon, and water mixes for anti-bacterial cleaners and laundry detergents.
But if you want to leave it to the professionals, here are some of the best vegan and cruelty-free brands and cleaning products available right now.
British brand Astonish doesn’t test any of its products on animals and that all of its ingredients are vegan. Astonish is approved by both Cruelty Free International and the Vegan Society, and produces a huge array of products including all-purpose sprays, window cleaners, mould and mildew treatment, fabric stain removers, dishwasher tablets, and more. All of the brand’s packaging is also recyclable, and it details its other green efforts here.
Find Astonish’s products here.
Another British company, Method, also stocks a wide range of products for cleaning homes, hands, bodies, laundry, and dishes. The company says: “We don’t test ingredients or finished products on animals, nor do we order third parties to conduct animal testing on our behalf. We consider ourselves vegan-friendly as none of our products contain animal or animal by-products such as tallow. We are also approved as cruelty-free under the leaping bunny program. Our certifications are independently audited every year.” (Please note: Method is owned by a non-vegan parent company)
Find Method’s products here.
Bio-D has been producing effective but environmentally conscious cleaning products since 1989. With hand soaps, laundry liquids, dishwashing liquids, and a selection of plastic-free options, Bio D is also a member of the Vegan Society and Cruelty Free International. Furthemore, the company runs a “closed loop” recycling program to cut back on waste.
Find Bio D’s products here.
Ecover also produces a wide range of cleaning products suitable for domestic and professional use. The company says it has been Leaping Bunny certified since 2011, and is now vegan-friendly – meaning that it doesn’t use any animal or insect-derived ingredients. (Please note: Ecover is owned by a non-vegan parent company)
Find Ecover’s products here.
Zoflora has been producing disinfectants and other cleaning products for over a century. The company says that Zoflora and its suppliers do not test any products or ingredients on animals, and that none of those ingredients are animal-derived.
Find Zoflora’s products here.
Vegan cleaning products in the US
Californian brand Ecos is 100 percent vegan and has confirmed that none of its products or ingredients are tested on animals – including suppliers and third parties – anywhere in the world, even when legally required as in China.
Find Ecos’s products here.
Biokleen’s entire range of products are biodegradable, vegan, and the company says that it has never tested a single product on an animal. Biokleen produces a wide variety of cleaning products, including concentrated formulas to cut back on waste and other emissions.
Find Biokleen’s products here.
Better Life produces a range of cleaning products including dryer sheets, floor cleaner, and stone cleaner in addition to the usual all-purpose sprays, bottles, and stain removers. The company is also certified by the Leaping Bunny Organization, but it should be noted that Better Life describes its products as “plant-based” rather than explicitly vegan.
Find Better Life’s products here.
Mrs Meyer’s Clean Day spray
Mrs Meyer’s is cruelty-free (ie. does not test on animals) but is not 100 percent vegan, as some of its products do contain animal derived ingredients. However, the brand’s Clean Day multi-surface everyday cleaner is confirmed vegan friendly and linked just below.
Find it here.
Bar Keeper’s Friend Powdered Cleaner
The Powdered Household Cleaner by Bar Keeper’s Friend contains no animal ingredients, and the brand confirms on its website that it does not test its products on animals. The Powdered Household Cleaner is also free from bleach.
Find it here.