The Green Clean Challenge: Full Circle vs. Green Works

January 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Air Quality, Blog, Cleaning Supplies, Front Page, Green Cleaning, Iowa, Slideshow

Today, I must boldly go where no cleaner has been for a long, long time — my bathroom.  When guests stay, I am told to keep the door closed, if not locked.

Okay, it’s a guy thing. I consider it a good way to build my resistance to all types of bacteria. It keeps me healthy. And it’s effective at keeping the cat out of my bathroom. She used to go in there to drink from the toilet. It’s a wonder she’s alive.

Ready for Round 1: Full Circle vs. Green Works. Photo: J Wasson

Ready for Round 1: Full Circle vs. Green Works. Photo: J Wasson

My wife uses many creative expressions to describe my sink, tub and toilet. For months she has asked, begged and now, finally, firmly requested that I clean it.

“Yes, Dear, I will.”

“What? Something’s up. Why are you agreeing now?”

“I had a plan. I purposely let it get real dirty so I would have a perfect environment to test our natural cleaners.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.”

[Author’s note: Before I begin this challenge, I just want to mention my prejudices. I have for a long time been a huge fan of the Sierra Club. Just this last year, Sierra Club made a deal with the Clorox Company to allow their name to be used on their Green Works™ products. This was considered by many as a sellout, since for years Sierra Club was the key combatant against the evils of chlorine — a huge polluter in all paper production — and Clorox produced chlorine. For more on this go to; search for Sierra Club and Green Works.

I can be objective in my observations for one reason. Just having a company as large as Clorox even thinking of producing an environmentally safe cleaner is extraordinary. As a marketing specialist, I understand what brand recognition can do to the consumer’s thought process. I applaud Clorox for all their efforts to “go green.” I will allow the flag of truce to fly while I am testing these products, but may not be able to when I write about the new paper mill just up the road.]

So, here I am, with today’s cleaners going head to head. In this corner, “Green Works,” by Clorox. And in this corner, “All Purpose Cleaner” by Full Circle.

I purchased both in one-quart-size spray bottles. The bottles are both number 1 recyclable plastic. That’s good.

Green Works by Clorox. Photo: J Wasson

Green Works by Clorox. Photo: J Wasson

The cost of the Green Works was $3.15, and the price tag on Full Circle says $4.19. Ouch! Both are higher than I am used to paying. My old fave, back before I knew the risks, was Formula 409; it’s also produced by Clorox and only costs $2.99 at my local store.

The ingredients listed for the Green Works pale-green fluid include: “Filtered water, coconut-based cleaning agent, (Nonionic surfactant; alkyl polyglucoside), corn-based ethanol, SDA- 3C), glycerin, fragrance with essential oil, biodegradable preservative, blue and yellow colorant.”

The ingredients listed for All Purpose Cleaner by Full Circle, which is pale yellow in color, include: “Nature derived cleaning agent, (anionic and/or nonionic surfactants), water, quality control agents, and plant derived fragrances, and/or oils.”

On the front of the Green Works bottle, I see the word “Natural,” as in “Natural All Purpose Cleaner.” Anytime I see the word “natural,” I want to know I am not being lied to. There is no real definition, even from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. “Natural” is a highly overused word. We have been scammed by that one since Bonanza was on TV.

After visiting the Clorox website, I read that they have established a “very stringent standard” for the new Clorox Green Works products. “The ingredients must come from renewable resources, be biodegradable and free of petrochemicals. Green Works™ cleaners are at least 99% natural. In certain cases we had to use synthetic ingredients, like the preservative and green colorant. But we’re working hard to develop natural alternatives so the entire line can be 100% natural.”

This is good. Not perfect, but very good. I would have dumped the green dye thing because:

1.) Dyes are scary, always were, always will be.

2.) Who are they trying to fool? You don’t have to be this obvious. A green label on the bottle would suffice.

3.) And lose the word “Natural.” Go with the words “Safe to use around children.” Mothers will love it.

4.) Your cleaner uses coconut base as the cleaning agent. Why not use coconut scent instead of another essential oil (lemon) for the smell? 5.) Why have any scent at all? Is there some unwritten rule that a cleaner has to smell?

All Purpose Cleaner by Full Circle. Photo: J Wasson

All Purpose Cleaner by Full Circle. Photo: J Wasson

The ingredients for Full Circle do not include any dyes. Score one there. And on their label they do not say, “Natural,” they use “Eco-Friendly.” Again, a bit nebulous, but politically correct. Score again.  Their front label says it contains Lemon Grass. Why do you need to add a smell to a cleaner? Is it to cover up the smell of the dirt you are cleaning? If your cleaner works, you shouldn’t have anything left that smells bad. I vote for zero scent in all cleaners. My eyes water, my throat swells shut from all perfumes anyway.

Now, to the competition.

I’ve gathered two of the same bristle brushes, two similar terry cloth rags, and I am wearing rubber gloves.  We step to my suitably dirty fiberglass bathtub. Yuck! Here we go.

First we use the Full Circle All Purpose Cleaner on the 1/3 of the tub with the drain. I spray and notice a light lemon smell. I scrub with the cloth. A little of the grime comes off. Spray again. Let it soak. Scrub with the cloth, and a little more comes off. Spray once again. This time I use the brush with a little muscle. The dirt is coming off. With some more work, it all comes off.

Lesson number 1: Cleaning this tub is not going to be easy.

Lesson number 2: Maybe these new, environmentally friendly cleaners just don’t clean as well as the old, toxic ones.

Next, I spray the Green Works on the middle third of the tub. I smell a slight lime scent. Not too strong, not as strong as Formula 409, but still a scent. I scrub with the cloth. I spray again and scrub with the cloth. Very little is coming off. I spray more, I use the bristle brush and some muscle. The surface begins to whiten. I know I’m old and weak, but this is embarrassing. My eyes and lungs feel fine; it’s my ego that hurts.

Eco-friendly cleaners may not work as quickly, but they don't pollute the air. Photo: J Wasson

Eco-friendly cleaners may not work as quickly, but they won't poison you, either. Photo: J Wasson

Now, for the sake of scientific control, I finish the last third of the tub with Formula 409. But first, I turn on the bathroom fan. I hold my breath and spray. Most of the dirt comes off with a few swipes of the rag. The rest comes off after the second spray and scrubbing with a cloth. The tub is clean, but I can’t breathe. I fall out the bathroom door (dramatically, so my wife will give me sympathy).

What are we sacrificing by using a little muscle? Our lives. Look at the bottles of 409, Tilex and Lysol brands. The warnings begin on the front of the bottles: “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.” Hmmm. That should tell you something. Now, to the back of the Tilex: “WARNING. Causes substantial but temporary eye injury and can irritate skin.” Oh, good. My “substantial” eye injury will only be temporary.

Many of the old products are poisons as much as they are cleaners. You can’t touch them, breathe them or let the fumes come into contact with your eyes. Yet, we are so comfortable around them. We have been raised with a series of ads that made us clinically paranoid of “germs.” Then we bought into the convenience of no-scrub cleaning. We bought the propaganda, and we bought the products.

Now, hopefully, we are smarter. We have a new generation of cleaning products to use that are not full of poisons. We may have to work a little harder, and we may have to pay a little more, but our lungs, our skin and our eyes will be healthier. So will pregnant mothers, babies, pets, and our elderly parents.

So for this round, I’m giving the win to Full Circle. It cleaned a little better and has no dyes. Next time, we’ll test two more cleaners that are labeled “safe,” “green” or “natural.” The winners of that round will go for the championship. Before I’m through with this series, I will make my own natural cleaners from stuff we can eat. Then, we’ll test our home-brews against the store-bought champ. Stay tuned.

Joe Hennager

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Post:

The Green-Clean Challenge Begins


One Response to “The Green Clean Challenge: Full Circle vs. Green Works”

  1. Suzanne Simpson on January 7th, 2009 12:30 pm

    I wanted to commend you for sharing your candid and honest test! And I want to plug another product for 2 reasons: One is that Shaklee’s Basic H2 is in a highly concentrated form, so you can create the strength needed for the task at hand. Two, is because it is concentrated, the production and shipment (read: greenhouse gases) of thousands of bottles is not necessary. Something we can all feel good about.
    Thanks again, Suzanne