The Dirt on EWG's New Cleaner Database | Seventh Generation
Skip to Content
  • Pin It

The Dirt on EWG's New Cleaner Database

Author: Consumer Insights Team

The good people at the Environmental Working Group have been kindred spirits in the effort to get companies to clean up their act. Like us, they believe too many products hide their ingredients and that consumers have a right to know what's inside of them. That's where their amazing guides come in. And now they've got one for cleaners.

You can just imagine the interoffice anticipation when we logged in to calculate our own final grade and found we got (drum roll, please) a C+!

Wait… what?

In a cleaning product world filled with synthetic dyes, artificial fragrances, optical brighteners, VOCs and other things we refuse to use, Seventh Generation doesn't even get a B? Not to start an argument, but what's up with that?

Less than we thought, it turns out. First, over 25% of our stuff got an A, a grade awarded to only 3% of the nearly 2200 products rated. Our chief competitors, all of whom got cumulative grades of D or lower, didn't get a single A. So on a bell curve, we're still at the head of the class. But what's dragging our average down? Our in-house green scientists shed some light on things.

It seems the biggest issue is that EWG interpreted the terms "Essential Oils," "Botanical Extracts," and "Preservatives" on our ingredients lists as "incomplete disclosure" when in fact those terms are supplied in addition to the exact oils, extracts, and preservatives we use. EWG has let us know that they're fixing the oversight.

There's also the sticky wicket of methylisothiazolinone, a synthetic preservative used to maintain freshness in our plant-based products. (Natural microbes love to eat our natural plant-based ingredients!) EWG gives this ingredient a D, though it meets our rigorous safety and environmental standards (minus the fact that it's synthetic).  We've been searching for a natural preservative that is safe and effective and to date, we haven't been successful finding one.  We're still looking, but until we find it it's either a tiny bit of methylisothiazolinone or products that could be contaminated with microbes.

Finally, the stain fighting enzymes in our laundry liquid require a stabilizer to maintain our stain-fighting power over the course of the product's life.  EWG gives this ingredient, sodium borate/boric acid, an F due to conflicting research.  Although we know this to be an area for improvement, this ingredient meets our strict safety requirements.  We are working with EWG to understand their perspective and concerns. And our laundry powders, which all get an A, don't use sodium borate/boric acid.

Since we're already exploring preservative and sodium borate/boric acid alternatives, we should eventually get straight As. Meanwhile, our scores will change as EWG re-grades us for the complete ingredient disclosure we've offered all along. And that's far and away the most important issue here: Companies need to come clean about the ingredients in all their products. Consumers have a right to know what's inside, and we're not resting until they do. While we wait, we've got the invaluable work of the EWG. And they've got our thanks for doing it.


Alanalee picture
Methylisothiazolinone is, as you say, a synthetic preservative that 1. Has no place in a supposedly natural product and 2. Has caused a terrible reaction in a large number of people, including myself. You should be extremely pleased, if not downright ecstatic, with your C+ rating. I purchased your products exclusively until I learned they were causing this disgusting and painful condition. I will be happy to purchase them again once you remove Methylisothiazolinone, so please inform me when you do.
Carrie100 picture
I noticed that this post is dated Sep 2012. It is now March 2015 and Seveneth Gen's liquid laundry soap still contains boric acid. I still buy it. But, when will the safer alternative (that they are working to find) finally be found (and used)?
Marquis picture
Yesterday, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iPad and tested to see if it can survive a forty foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My iPad is now broken and she has 83 views. I know this is completely off topic but I had to share it with someone!
shubbsie10 picture
I am really glad you guys brought this up. I was too worried when I read it, but also, know it is not that be all end all. I was curious as to why Thyme Oil was rated a D?? Also Citrus and lemon peel was rated low. Can you explain this? picture
I am a user of the 7th Gen liquid laundry detergent. I was upset when I read the EWG's rating of it, and have started looking into others....then I read this post in the newsletter. To me it is all about perspective. If 7th Gen can answer the following questions about the laundry detergent then it might not be necessary for me to change. 1. how much sodium borate/boric acid is in a 2.95L jug (I'm from Canada)? 2. Does it form a residue on the clothes or is it rinsed off? 3. What does it do to the environment? For example is it contaminating the water table. I love this laundry detergent. It does a great job. At one time it was very difficult to get here in Canada and right now it isn't very cost friendly, but I have still been using it. I would like to continue. I look forward to your answers. Smiles Marnie
alanizmommy picture
i hate it when people skim through the database and utter in disgust when they found out that their favorite organic product has a C or lower. If only you could look into it more and see that other cleaners by Clorox and Lysol have As. Do your research people. EWG is NOT the smartest choice of reference.
reales1016 picture
Well, sometimes you just can't have it all, lol. I for one am perfectly happy with the tiniest amount of preservative to keep the products fresh and bacteria free! The alternative is a product that is *all* toxic chemicals. Pass! Keep up the good work guys!!