Outdoor Cleaning vs. the Great Outdoors: Finding a Win-Win Solution

As summer approaches, many of us are spending more time outside.  It’s not all fun and games, though – there are also outdoor chores that need to be taken care of.  Maybe your car (like mine) is covered in pollen, and could stand to be cleaned. Maybe you have some outdoor maintenance tasks to accomplish, like pressure washing your house or deck.  Or maybe you’re gearing up for summer adventures, perhaps cleaning a boat or RV to get it ready to go.

There are lots of cleaning products on the market to help you with those tasks, but have you thought about what happens to them after you’re done using them?  After you use dish soap or laundry detergent, it goes to a wastewater treatment plant or septic system, where many of the chemical ingredients, like surfactants, are able to break down before the wastewater is discharged to a waterway.  For products used outside, this isn’t necessarily the case. If you’re washing your car in your driveway, the cleaning products you rinse off may run off directly into a storm drain that will send them directly to a local creek or river.  If you’re cleaning a boat, cleaning products enter the water even more directly. In this case, the chemicals in the product won’t have a chance to break down before fish and other aquatic organisms are exposed to them.

This is why when EPA’s Safer Choice program reviews a product that will be used outside, they check to see how biodegradable the ingredients are and whether they have the potential to harm aquatic life.  Outdoor products with high aquatic toxicity are not accepted for certification, and products with more moderate aquatic toxicity must break down in the environment within a specified time frame to be acceptable.  This helps ensure that these products will be safer for fish and other aquatic organisms. The Safer Choice label also means that the product is safer for humans and pets, and it meets performance standards. People can find Safer Choice-certified products by looking for the label on-package, or by searching on the Safer Choice website.

Simple Green Oxy Solve Total Outdoor Cleaner

There are a few additional steps individuals can take to make sure their outdoor chores can be completed in a way that’s not harmful to the environment.  Using a commercial car wash can be one of the best options: here, the wash water is typically treated before discharge, and may also be recycled. Safer Choice also certifies products that are used in commercial car washes, so consider asking what products your local car wash uses.  If you are going to wash your car at home, try washing it on the lawn, where wash water can soak into the grass, allowing it to be filtered through soil rather than running off directly to a waterway. This way, there will be more time for the cleaning products to biodegrade before reaching groundwater or surface water, reducing potential harm to fish.  EPA has other tips to minimize runoff, such as using a spray nozzle to restrict water flow and using only the minimum amount of soap necessary.  In any case, choosing Safer Choice-certified outdoor cleaning products can help you check items off your spring to-do list, while reducing impacts to local waterways.

Product Formulators

For product formulators wondering which ingredients will meet these stringent criteria, CleanGredients can help.  Most ingredients listed in CleanGredients indicate whether or not they have been approved for direct release products.  Along with the other information in CleanGredients profiles, such as VOC content and maximum use levels in Safer Choice-certified products, this information helps formulators of outdoor products select appropriate ingredients and reduces the risk of failing a Safer Choice review.