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While there are no specific criteria that qualify a product as green, most that make the claim are biodegradable, phosphate and chlorine free, and 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.

When the bathroom starts to look grubby and you pull out all the conventional brushes, sponges, sprays and bleach and start scrubbing, you expose yourself to hundreds of chemicals that have known, and possibly unknown, toxic effects.

“Green” cleaning products claim to offer safer alternatives for humans and the planet, but at a higher price. So what’s an environmentally conscious germophobe to do?

When it comes to humans, the use of any one cleaning product—green or conventional—in small amounts and with proper ventilation probably won’t make you ill, says Tom Natan, a chemical engineer with the non-profit National Environmental Trust.

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A cleaning product is a blend of specialty materials used to remove soils and stains from a surface and to restore the surface to its original condition. Cleaning products are also used to help remove unwanted microbial contaminants from a surface.

Cleaning plays an essential role in our daily lives by providing important public health benefits to consumers beyond the obvious aesthetic benefits. Keeping surfaces clean and free of soil not only helps reduce the opportunities for spreading of germs but helps extend the life of our personal possessions.

Builders: Adjust pH to optimize cleaning performance and suspend soils.
Bleaches: Oxidize and remove soils and lighten the color of stains.
Enzymes: Biological proteins that speed the breakdown of soils.
Surfactants: Allow a product to wet surfaces, emulsify greasy soils, lift away dirt.
Solvents: Organics that dissolve soils.
Chelants: Bind with metal ions in solution (calcium and magnesium in soap scum)
Biologicals: Non-pathogenic microorganisms and associated enzymes useful in decomposing soil.
Preservatives: Allow your product to remain useable for several months after purchase.