When it comes to living a vegan lifestyle, it’s not just about diet. Being vegan means, wherever possible and practicable, avoiding all products and practices which involve the exploitation of animals. When it comes to cleaning products, there are two considerations for vegans; firstly, that a product or its constituent ingredients have not been tested on animals; secondly, that the product does not contain any animal-derived ingredients.
In this post, we will provide you with all the information you need to determine whether your cleaning products are vegan friendly. We will also explore some of the top vegan-friendly cleaning products and brands to make your household shopping easier.
Animal testing and household cleaning products
The use of animal testing for ‘finished’ household cleaning products was banned by the UK government back in October 2015. In practice, however, ‘finished’ household products had not been tested on animals in the UK since 2010. While this may sound good, it makes little difference to the welfare of animals because the ingredients used in many household cleaning products are still tested on animals even if the ‘finished’ products themselves are not. This is essentially a loophole in the legislation.
So how is this allowed? Basically, if a supplier manufactures an ingredient that is primarily intended to be used in household products, then they would be prevented by legislation on testing this ingredient on animals. However, if this ingredient were intended to be sold and used for various other purposes, the company would potentially be able to undertake animal testing on it. The key word here is ‘primarily’, and in practice, this can mean that a supplier is able to test an ingredient on animals providing this ingredient was intended to be sold to no more than 49% of companies that manufacture household cleaning products.
The important takeaway here is that companies are allowed to say their product is not tested on animals when the finished product is not, but the ingredients themselves are. This means that a product that says ‘not tested on animals’ on the label may not be cruelty-free at all.
When shopping for vegan-friendly cleaning products, you should be looking for cruelty-free certification. Products bearing cruelty-free certification logos have been independently assessed by rigorous standards.
When we originally posted this article Method cleaners were on this list. We received a few comments on our social media channels pointing out that, although on the face of it Methods plant-based formulation is vegan. The parent company SC Johnson is far from squeaky clean and have a horrible history of animal testing which is ongoing. Because of this, Methos has been removed from our list and replaced.
Which animal-derived ingredients are commonly found in cleaning products?
A large number of household cleaning products contain animal-derived ingredients. Reading the label may not always help you determine whether animal-derived ingredients are present because, confusingly, chemical names for these ingredients are often used.
These are some of the animal-derived ingredients which are commonly used in household cleaning products:
- Myristic acid (this may be sourced from animal fat if not plant-based)
- Stearic acid (this may be derived from animal fats also if not plant-based)
- Tallow (derived specifically from beef fat)
- Allyl alcohols (this may be extracted from several species of animal such as fish, for example)
- Caprylic acid (this may be sourced from milk if not plant-based)
- Glycerol (may be derived from animal fats if not plant-based)
- Lecithin (this is waxy nervous tissue from animals if not plant-based)
- Oleyl alcohols (may be sourced from beef fat or fish oil if not plant-based)
- Beeswax (produced by bees)
As you can see from this list, part of the confusion that comes with checking ingredients is that the same names can be used for ingredients that may be plant-based or animal-derived! As with animal testing, it is essential to always check the label of a cleaning product for cruelty-free certification. Let’s take a look at what to look for…
There are several different certifications that you can look for on cleaning products in the UK to determine whether they have been independently assessed or verified to be cruelty-free. These are:
Leaping bunny approved products will be stamped with the above image. Leaping Bunny is an internationally used certification that verifies that a product and its individual ingredients have not been tested on animals. To be leaping bunny approved, companies must implement a rigorous supplier monitoring system to ensure the ingredients they source are not tested on animals. These monitoring systems are independently audited.
Beauty Without Bunnies
PETA’s beauty without bunnies certification programme requires companies to have a company-wide, global ban on animal testing. Approved companies may display the above logo on their products to show they are cruelty-free. However, it is important to note that, unlike the leaping bunny programme, this certification is not independently audited and verified. It is instead upheld by honesty. Companies under this scheme are required to fill out a questionnaire and sign a statement of assurance. This statement asserts that the company is not presently involved in conducting, commissioning, or paying for animal testing either for the ingredients they use, their formulations, or finished products. They also pledge not to do so in the future.
Choose cruelty-free is an Australian based standard but is used internationally. Choose cruelty-free approved products will be stamped with the above logo. In order to be approved for the choose cruelty-free certification, companies must either have ceased animal testing for a minimum of five years prior to approval or evidence that both they and their supply chain has never participated in animal testing. Choose cruelty-free has pledged that, as of 2021, they will become entirely vegetarian and no longer certify brands that use non-vegetarian ingredients in their products (i.e. blood products, which means ingredients that have been derived from animals in such a way that results in death).
What about brands that self-assert they are cruelty-free?
Some companies choose not to apply for one of the cruelty-free certification programmes but instead self-assert that they or their products are cruelty-free. In such circumstances, you will have to use your own judgement to decide whether to trust them and purchase their products.
There are a few points worthy of mentioning here. Firstly, it is important to know that the term ‘cruelty-free is not legally or formally defined or regulated by authorities. What this means is that companies may claim to be cruelty-free when this is not 100% true. For example, they may not test their finished products on animals but source ingredients that have been.
Secondly, it is important to be critical when reading labels because some seemingly ethical phrases may just be cleverly worded and crafted to deceive you. Let’s take a look at some possible examples…
- ‘we never test our products on animals’
This, or similar phrases, can be misleading if not accompanied by cruelty-free certification. It simply states that the products are not tested on animals but don’t mention the ingredients. In addition, the word ‘we’ may suggest that, although this company doesn’t test on animals, their suppliers do.
- ‘we are against animal testing.’
Unfortunately, some brands claim that they are against cruelty to animals but still participate in animal testing to one degree or another, whether directly or through association with a supply chain that does. Simply stating that you are against something does not evidence that you are not involved in it.
- ‘our products are cruelty-free.’
This, or similar phrases, can be misleading when not accompanied by official cruelty-free certification because, as previously mentioned, the term ‘cruelty-free is open to interpretation since it is not formally defined. This means that, in theory, a company could define their own criteria for being cruelty-free and make the above statement on their products when it is untrue.
Of course, not all brands that self-assert they are cruelty-free are trying to mislead you. Some may, in fact, be entirely cruelty-free and vegan, while others may sincerely believe they are but be unaware of issues in their supply chain. If in doubt, consider contacting a company for clarification. Be rigorous when asking questions and only purchase if you are 100% satisfied with their responses.
Are cleaning products labelled as vegan?
Some cleaning products may be labelled as vegan. They may be independently verified to be suitable for vegans, such as by The Vegan Society. Products verified as vegan by The Vegan Society will bear the following logo:
Other brands may choose not to apply to use the vegan trademark above but instead self-assert that their products are suitable for vegans. This is not the same as the potentially misleading statements we explored above, however, because the term ‘vegan’ is not ambiguous or misleading. Legislation requires that information provided voluntarily must be accurate. Otherwise, companies are risking a series of possible negative consequences, including:
- Claims for misdescription under the Sale of Goods Act or the Consumer Rights Act
- An investigation by Trading Standards into product packaging descriptions
- An investigation by the Advertising Standards Agency regarding any promotional materials relating to the product in question
- Negative press and reputational damage
- A costly product recall and having to redesign packaging and marketing materials
Having said this, there have been occasions where companies have falsely claimed a product is suitable for vegans when it wasn’t. In 2018, for example, the cosmetics brand Glossier was required to apologise and refund customers who had purchased a mascara that was advertised as vegan-friendly when it, in fact, contained beeswax, which is quite obviously an animal-derived ingredient.
Some companies may choose to avoid making statements about a product being vegan friendly when it is, perhaps because they cannot be absolutely certain that there was no cross-contamination with non-vegan friendly ingredients during the manufacturing process or because it would be too costly to check their supply chain so they cannot be certain. If a product is labelled as cruelty-free and the ingredients are free from animal-derived products, you may choose to use your own discernment when deciding whether to purchase or not.
However, it is simply easier to go with brands that are clear about where they stand ethically and able to assert 100% that their cleaning products are suitable for vegans. Let’s take a look at some of these brands next…
What cleaning products are vegan?…
The following are some of the top brands offering vegan-friendly cleaning products:
UK company Ecozone offers a range of entirely vegan (and certified) products, including laundry, dishwashing and cleaning products to leave every room sparkling. Ecozone offers pet-friendly and eco-friendly products also. Their products are available at many major retailers, including Amazon, Tesco, John Lewis and Ocado, as well as vegan specific retailers such as the Vegan Kind Supermarket.
All Bio D products are vegan and cruelty-free with no exceptions. Bio D is a member of the Vegan Society and cruelty-free international. They adhere to the strict guidelines of these organisations to help put an end to animal testing. Their products are made here in the UK from ethically sourced ingredients with 100% recycled plastic bottles.
Smol offers a range of entirely vegan and cruelty-free products, certified by the leaping bunny programme. Smol delivers products directly to your door, with repeat subscription-based services available. They offer laundry and dishwasher products as well as surface sprays. Smol is environmentally conscious with its packaging, offering refillable and recyclable options.
Astonish offers an entirely vegan and cruelty-free range of household cleaning products. They have an extensive range including laundry and dishwasher products, surface sprays, oven and toilet cleaners. Astonish products can be purchased at all major UK supermarkets as well as a wide range of other retailers stocking household products.
Zoflora offers a range of beautifully scented disinfectants that are cruelty-free and vegan-friendly. Zoflora can be purchased at all major retailers, including Amazon, Aldi, Tesco, Iceland, M&S, Wilko and many more.
*If you have animals, be careful using Zoflora anywhere the animals go as it is toxic.
Supermarket own-brand vegan cleaning products
If you’re looking for potentially cheaper options, many major retailers have recently released their own vegan-friendly cleaning ranges. This includes:
- Wilko’s ‘Doesn’t Cost the Earth’ cleaning range
- Marks and Spencer own-brand products
- Tesco’s Eco Active range
Always check the label to double-check each individual product within these ranges is vegan friendly!
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