How Green Cleaners Stack Up in Tough Tests

You care about the environment, but you also want clean laundry, shiny dishes and a spotless kitchen.

That's why the Good Housekeeping Research Institute's home appliances and cleaning products department put 23 green cleaners - nine laundry detergents, seven hand dishwashing liquids and seven All-Purpose cleaners - through rigorous tests.

Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner scored high in several GHRI tests and can handle heavier jobs than most All-Purpose cleaners (like scouring barbecue grills and concrete floors). The secret: It's concentrated, so you dilute as needed.

Here's how Good Housekeeping tested the cleaners:

Laundry detergents -- Fifteen common stains (including coffee, ink and blood) were applied to swatches of cotton and polyester, let set for 24 hours, then washed (cotton on hot-wash, polyester on cold-wash). Swatches were compared with the industry standard for stain removal.

Dishwashing liquids -- A spinach-based "standard soil" mix was applied to dinner and salad plates and left for one hour. With a measured amount of soap whisked into a basin filled with 6 quarts of hot water, plates were washed one at a time. Soaps were evaluated on the number of plates washed and how long suds lasted.

All-Purpose cleaners -- Testers evenly spread a mixture of grease and dust on appliance enamel, a painted wall and laminate surfaces and allowed it to dry. A measured amount of each cleaner was spritzed from 6 to 8 inches away and wiped a specific number of times. Winners had to meet or beat soil-removal and grease-cutting requirements.

Green tips -- While there are no specific criteria that qualify a product as green, most that make the claim are biodegradable as well as phosphate- and chlorine-free. Usually they derive their ingredients from plants like coconut or palm (renewable sources) rather than petrochemicals like crude oil or natural gas (which are not renewable). But even if a product seems green, read the label -- and keep it away from kids and pets.

Other green steps to take:
- Try washable, reusable microfiber cloths in lieu of paper towels.
- Spritz spray cleaner on cloth, not on surfaces. You'll use less.
- Use the cold setting on your washer when possible.