Making a green sweep cleans up

Makers of "green" laundry detergent, dish soap and other home-spiffing products are cleaning up.

Sales of cleaning products labeled natural — such as those made with vegetable- and fruit-based ingredients — have steadily risen as consumers have become more chemical-phobic.

Among recent high-profile promoters of limiting exposure to toxins is renowned heart surgeon and The Oprah Winfrey Show health guru Mehmet Oz. He and co-author Dr. Michael Roizen caution consumers to steer clear of chemical cleaners in the latest book, out Oct. 30, in their healthy living "You" series.

"Be smart and use non-toxic products to clean your home," they write in their now best-selling book, You: Staying Young. The book encourages readers to do all they can to improve their personal environment and lists several Earth-friendly brands to buy, including Seventh Generation and Mrs. Meyers Clean Day.

This latest caution comes as sales of natural household cleaners hit $105 million for the year ended Oct. 6. That's up 23% over the previous 12 months, according to Spins, market researchers and consultants focusing on the natural-products industry. Spins tracks sales at natural and conventional food, drug and general merchandise retailers excluding Wal-Mart Stores, wmt which does not release sales data.

Early makers of such products were predominantly small, niche companies. But that kind of sales growth potential has prompted mass marketers of traditional products such as Clorox clx to create lines of natural cleaners. Clorox's line under the Green Works brand will launch in January.

The success of smaller players in the industry "is waking up the big guys," says Lynn Dornblaser, senior new products analyst at Mintel.

Dornblaser will address the rise of eco-friendly products in a speech to cleaning company executives in January at The Soap and Detergent Association annual conference. The theme of the meeting will be Going Beyond Green, and it is the first time in the convention's 82-year history that it will have a theme centered on the environment.

For years, people have talked about a "green revolution," Dornblaser says. "But I think we really are going to see it now. We've reached that tipping point."

A third of consumers say they feel much more concerned about environmental issues today than a year ago, according to a study released in summer from research firm Yankelovich.

A 2006 study from researcher Mintel found that 60% of consumers agreed with the statement: "I'm concerned about the impact cleaning products have on the environment."

Yet, it's not easy to be green for consumers who want to scrub their homes with natural products.

No labeling standards

There are no universally recognized label rules for "green" cleaners. Consumers must rely on makers' individual standards for their labeling and advertising.

"At its core, green cleaning is a marketing term, not a scientific term," says Brian Sansoni, spokesman for The Soap and Detergent Association. "Manufacturers need to ensure that their packaging, manufacturing and advertising is truthful and not misleading."

If they want to make sales, however, it is not enough to be green: Their cleaners also have to work as well as the chemical cleaners, Sansoni says. "The product must perform. If not, consumers are not going to buy it again, no matter how green it is."

Putting the green in clean:

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