UPDATE: If you decide to join ePantry, click here to save $10 on your first order and get a free soy candle! This is an affiliate link that will give me a discount, too–at no cost to you. As noted below, this was NOT a sponsored post; ePantry encouraged me to sign up as an affiliate after they read this post.
Last week, I explained some things to consider before subscribing to household product deliveries. Now I’m going to tell you about my experience with one particular subscription service and the specific products I bought from them. This is not a sponsored post. Aside from the special offer of $10 discount plus a free bottle of dish detergent, I received no special consideration from ePantry or any of the product manufacturers, and I did not tell them I was going to write a review. After evaluating each product, I’ll tell you what else I recommend in this category–not all products are available through ePantry. I have been using Earth-friendly cleaning products since 1997, so I’ve tried a lot of them. If you’re just starting to switch from conventional cleaning products to plant-based ones, I hope to help you choose cleaners you’ll like!
I first heard of ePantry from a blog that was raving about it and offering a special introductory offer. My first thought was that I don’t need to subscribe to green products because I’m able to buy them by the case to save money or to buy them in my local stores when I’m there buying groceries anyway. Still, I spent some time looking around ePantry’s site. Most of the products they carry are just a few brands–Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, and Method–all of which I can buy at Target, for gosh sakes; they didn’t have the more interesting brands that my local crunchy hippie store sells, let alone anything I’d have to buy by mail. Prices were okay but not all that exciting. Oh well. I decided it wasn’t for me, but I was glad that other households who don’t shop in crunchy hippie stores would be using green products for more of their cleaning because they could get them so conveniently (which seemed to be the gist of the comments on that blog).
Four months later, I saw the same special offer on Jaimie Ramsey’s blog, and this time I took it. Why? Well, our springtime calendar was beginning to fill up with special events, and when that happens, I have to scale back the grocery shopping, planning menus based on what we have in the pantry supplemented with strategic forays to stores when Daniel or I have time to get there–it’s not possible to time our shopping as well as we normally do, and that can mean running out of something. Also, I realized that although we can buy Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day and Method products at Target, we hadn’t actually gotten around to trying any of those products except Method foaming hand soap. (Seventh Generation, on the other hand, is a brand we’ve bought frequently since 1997; we’ve tried most of their products.) I decided to use ePantry’s special offer as an affordable way to motivate myself to write some product reviews!
First, here are the pros and cons of the ePantry service, in my opinion. ePantry is fundamentally an earnest small business trying to do good in the world. It has many good features:
- All the products are selected for low environmental impact, low health risks, and effectiveness. This is an improvement over ordering from a company that stocks some green stuff along with a lot of non-green stuff: You don’t have to sort it out and pore over all the fine print! Of course, I urge everyone to be a well-informed, conscientious consumer…but if you are overwhelmed by all the choices on the market, this can help you at least narrow down to some of the better options.
- It’s quite flexible about what goes into each of your shipments. Even the “suggested basket” from the special offer could be completely customized, removing items and putting in others so that you receive only things you know you can use. This prevents waste and saves you money.
- You can cancel a shipment if you don’t need anything that month (or two months–the default setup is to receive a box every two months, but you can get them more often if you like).
- There are no membership fees or anything like that. You only pay the stated price of the products, plus shipping.
- You can quit at any time without penalty. This and the above 3 features make this a much better deal than, say, those book clubs I got into a couple of times, where the introductory deal was great but then the prices got higher and you had to buy a minimum number of “monthly selections” before you could quit.
- The user interface is excellent. It’s easy to browse the products, see what you’ll be getting in each shipment, and make adjustments. It emails you (or texts you, if you prefer) when a shipment is coming soon, reminding you to check whether or not you need those things or need to add something else to your order.
- You can return anything at any time for any reason, without paying shipping charges. Wow.
- For each order, ePantry makes a donation to conserve 25 square feet of rainforest through The Arbor Day Foundation’s Rainforest Rescue program.
These are the downsides to ePantry that I see:
- They are located in California. I live in Pennsylvania. This means that my order is being shipped across the continent. It would be more eco-friendly to order from a company closer to home. (But if you live in or near California, this is a plus!)
- Most of that excellent user interface is accessible only after you enter your email address and answer some questions about your household needs. I resented not being able to look through the full range of available products before deciding whether or not to get involved. (However, you can contact them via telephone or live chat to ask if they have a certain product.)
- They brag about having 3 dogs, rescued from an animal shelter, in the office. I’m highly allergic to dogs. Although I haven’t had any allergic reaction to handling my shipments, the idea that there are dogs roaming around the office is disturbing to me. [But see the box below for reassurance about this!] And although caring for unwanted dogs is compassionate, dogs are really bad for the environment, so being a dog-friendly company is not a green practice, as the “Did you know?” card that came with my order implies.
- As the highly inspiring Zero-Waste Chef pointed out in a comment on my previous article, any subscription service is going to tempt you to consume more, because you’ll feel like you’re getting a box anyway so you might as well throw a few more things in there…. Beware of buying things you don’t need!
UPDATE: After reading this article, Carly Asher from ePantry contacted me:
I couldn’t help but notice your concern over the dogs in our office. I want to let you know that there is no need to worry about dogs being near your shipments 🙂 Though we do have dogs in the office, 100% of our order fulfillment is done in our warehouse, 20 minutes away from the office.
That’s good to know!
Now, here are the products I’ve gotten from ePantry in my first two orders and my family’s opinions of them. Because most of these products include added fragrance and many of them are available in multiple scents, I’ve included our opinion of the fragrance separate from our opinion of how well the product does its cleaning job.
Method antibacterial bathroom cleaner
This spray cleans hard surfaces and kills germs. It’s supposed to be good at removing soap scum, but I must admit I haven’t yet had time to do a really thorough bathroom cleaning that would assess this ability fairly. What I have done is to spray this stuff on the orange mildew that was taking over our woven polyester shower curtain. It removed about 80% of the orange stains and 100% of the pungent odor! This was vastly more effective than sloshing full-strength vinegar on the shower curtain (which should have worked but never seemed to have any effect) and vastly easier than taking the curtain off the rings to wash it in the washing machine. Effects lasted 3 weeks before I sprayed it again.
I’ve also been using this cleaner on the toilet seat and outside of the toilet. I spray it on, wipe off dust and visible yuck, then spray again and let it sit 10 minutes before wiping off, as directed by the label. It makes me feel slightly less panicked about my one-year-old daughter’s desire to lick the toilet–although I’m still trying to teach her not to do that!! Besides, the label says not to use this cleaner on food-preparation surfaces, so it is not for licking. I like the way it makes the toilet surfaces feel squeaky-clean, and it doesn’t seem to leave behind a film that attracts dust, unlike the more soapy-type cleaners I’ve used.
I also spray the inside of the diaper pail with this cleaner after I take out the bag of dirty diapers for washing, and then leave the lid open and let the pail dry overnight. Again, it deodorizes better and more lastingly than vinegar.
So, what’s in this stuff?? The bottle says it is 5% citric acid and 95% “other ingredients”. Although Method has a very reasonable ingredients policy in general, it doesn’t disclose all the ingredients of individual products. That bugs me! I know that citric acid is an effective and safe disinfectant, and I bet that a lot of the rest of this solution is water…but I’d feel more comfortable with a complete list of ingredients, you know? UPDATE: When I learned that the Environmental Working Group gave this product a grade of F, I contacted method (apparently their brand name is supposed to be lowercase) asking for details of the ingredients. Here is the response:
The antibac ingredients are not listed online nor on the label due to EPA regulations. The cleaner is comprised of citric acid, a surfactant, and fragrance.
method actively promotes the transparent disclosure of cleaning product ingredients. We continue to support the overall spirit of EWG’s ‘Guide to Healthy Cleaning’ in its aim to provide meaningful product safety ratings to shoppers. We have been very active in trying to help EWG improve the quality of its guide. However, method does not align with EWG’s current methodology for calculating data and generating results. We believe it is incomplete and excessively broad, resulting in potentially misleading results. We hope EWG will continue working to make its ratings model more scientifically accurate. We expect, as should the audiences they promote their findings to, that the results will be thoroughly-researched, up-to-date and truly reflective of a company’s ingredients and products.
I can assure you that every single ingredient that is used in our products is non-toxic and safe for use around adults, kids, and pets. If an ingredient doesn’t meet our strict standards, we don’t use it. We also vet all ingredients through an independent third party testing agency, the EPEA, who tests our products for safety, toxicity, and biodegradability.
A better indicator of our commitment to safety and sustainability is our Cradle-to-Cradle certification, which we consider to be the highest standard available. The certification includes extensive measures for safety, toxicity, and environmental impact, rooted in. You can learn more here: http://methodhome.com/beyond-the-bottle/our-business/.
I’d be happier with specifics on what the “surfactant” (that means a cleaner, like a detergent) and “fragrance” are made from, or at least reassurance that they are plant-based. I’m skeptical that EPA regulations forbid complete listing of ingredients because (a) what?! and (b) some other brands have complete lists on their labels. However, I’m willing to continue using this cleaner because of the company’s strong overall standards, and to trust that the ingredients are safe.
Fragrance: Spearmint. I really like this scent because it’s pleasant, it isn’t too strong, yet it lingers for a while and seems to remove other odors rather than fighting with them. I was surprised to see online that many people dislike this particular scent and even think it smells like urine! I disagree. In my opinion, it not only smells better than the naturally-arising scents of bathrooms but smells better than most bathroom cleaning products.
Verdict: I bought a second bottle of this stuff in my second ePantry order so that I can have one for each bathroom. It’s my favorite of the new-to-me products. Much as I like the idea of using plain, cheap vinegar for cleaning, I’ve never been happy with it as a bathroom cleaner; I like this better. It will take me a while to be sure it isn’t damaging chrome or painted wood surfaces (vinegar damaged the paint on our wooden toilet seat) but so far, so good. However, if you will be visiting a Target store or ordering from target.com anytime soon, I’d recommend buying Method antibacterial cleaner there instead. Target’s price is $3.19, and yesterday I noticed they were running an online coupon that takes it down to $3.03–whereas ePantry charges $4.99 for the same size bottle.
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day tub & tile cleaner
This is a foamy spray for cleaning hard, grimy surfaces. Although I haven’t spring-cleaned our tiled bathtub/shower surround as thoroughly as I plan to do Real Soon Now, I have cleaned it in the past two months! This is the cleaner I used for that and for weekly scrubbing of the bathtub and bathroom sink. It reminds me of those charming “scrubbing bubbles” made by Dow Chemical that I used as a kid, only without the burning sensation in my sinuses. Spray it on, let it work for a while, and then about half of the gunk wipes off with no effort, while the other half comes off with gentle scrubbing and perhaps a few more spritzes of cleaner. This is easier than mixing dish detergent and baking soda, and it isn’t abrasive at all, yet it works well. Recently, I haven’t had dish detergent in the bathroom, so I’d been scouring with baking soda by itself, and that really takes a lot more effort than this handy spray cleaner. It gets the gunk out of the low spots in our textured tiles, and it gets the grout clean enough for my satisfaction without my having to scrub so hard that I’m actually removing grout! It also did a nice job removing a sheen of steam-deposited soap scum from the painted gypsum-board walls of our bathroom–but make sure to test it on an inconspicuous area of any painted surface before assuming it will be safe to use on paint.
Fragrance: Lavender. It’s okay. We don’t think it really smells like lavender so much, but it’s not objectionable.
Verdict: This is pretty good stuff. If you like to scrub with baking soda, that’s great–it’s affordable and low in environmental impact. If you enjoy scrubbing but have been using Comet or some other scouring powder with questionable ingredients, try baking soda–here’s how to make your own cute shaker out of reused materials. But if you’re not cleaning your tub/tile/sink as often as you’d like because you don’t feel up to scrubbing, this could be the right cleaner for you.
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day dishwashing liquid
We have tried at least a dozen different brands of Earth-friendly dish detergent. This one is nice and sudsy at first, but if you’re washing a lot of dishes or they’re greasy, the cleaning power doesn’t last. Daniel says he ends up using more of it for the same dishes than he would need when using our favorite brands. However, it’s been fine when I’m washing just 4 baby bottles and the big kid’s lunchbox in an inch of water and the smallest possible squirt of detergent.
Fragrance: Honeysuckle. It’s pleasant but a bit too strong. Honeysuckle is Daniel’s very favorite scent, and he says this doesn’t quite smell like it but is “just flowery”.
Verdict: It’s okay but nothing special. Earth Friendly Products’ Dishmate is the very best dish detergent, in our experience. If that isn’t available to you, Seventh Generation dish detergent is very good, too–just don’t buy the “lemongrass & clementine zest” scent, urgh.
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day multi-surface cleaner
This is a spray cleaner for general use on hard surfaces, including sealed wood. My main goal was to find something that would loosen stuck-on food from Lydia’s high chair, which is wood with a watertight varnish. This works well enough–especially if you let it sit for a while between spraying and wiping–but it’s not fabulously awesome. This cleaner works very well on the kitchen sink and counters, though. Spray and wipe, and most stuff comes off with no scrubbing.
Fragrance: Lemon Verbena. It’s too strong and smells too “janitorial” for us. I was particularly grossed out when I ate some stray food that was on Lydia’s high chair tray after dinner, when I hadn’t cleaned the tray since the previous night, and I could taste the cleaner, blech! In my second ePantry order, I bought another bottle of this stuff in Rosemary scent, and it’s much better. It really does smell like rosemary, which we like, but the scent is not as overpowering as the Lemon Verbena. (I thought about utilizing ePantry’s satisfaction guarantee to return the Lemon Verbena, but my church’s kitchen didn’t have any kind of spray cleaner around, so I donated it.)
Verdict: This is fine for the sink and counters, but the spray cleaner we really recommend is Earth Friendly Products’ Orange Plus. For the high chair, I finally realized that what works best is plain hot water–put some in a bowl, dip a cloth in it, and wipe–it melts off the dried food and leaves no residue.
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day glass cleaner
Brief experimentation indicates that this works better than any other green glass cleaner we’ve tried–but we are infrequent window-washers who take years to use up a bottle of glass cleaner, and we haven’t gotten around to using this brand very much. However, in our trial, it got the window nice and clean, and it was easy to wipe off without streaks. The nozzle is quite good at producing an even mist instead of dribbles.
Fragrance: Rosemary. Smells a million times better than Windex.
Verdict: If you want to use a bottled glass cleaner, rather than wash windows with vinegar and hot water, this is a good choice. Personally, I am so bad at getting around to washing windows that I feel that only a ready-to-spray product is going to get me to wash any windows ever.
Method squirt+mop wood floor cleaner
Our ten-year-old Nicholas is in charge of cleaning the hardwood floors of our living room and dining room once a week. He uses a small amount of cleaner to moisten the dust so that it sticks to the mop. He feels that this cleaner itself is probably just fine, but the bottle design is awkward: It tends to dribble in unwanted directions unless you squeeze it so decisively that it ejects a lot more cleaner than you need for a small section of floor.
Fragrance: Almond. Pleasant and not overwhelming. Nicholas wants to keep this cleaner because he likes the smell so much, but we’re considering trying it in a different bottle.
Verdict: Nicholas prefers the trigger spray bottle of Earth Friendly Products’ Floor Cleaner, which lightly mists a patch of floor.
Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day liquid hand soap
We normally use a soap foamer so that the soap goes farther, but I decided to try this soap in a pump bottle just to see what it’s like. It was getting our hands clean, but because we didn’t like the fragrance, we passed it on. (Like the multi-surface cleaner, it was something our church could use.)
Fragrance: Bluebell. Very strong, musky smell, like aftershave. It lingered on our hands and was distracting when eating.
Verdict: Fragrance aside, this is an okay soap. More about hand soap below.
Yes To liquid hand soap
A small drop of this soap creates two hands’ worth of rich lather. I feel very clean after using it, but it doesn’t dry out my skin.
Fragrance: Coconut Lemongrass. Nicholas and I both think this smells delicious!!! Daniel isn’t such a coconut fan. Lydia evidently thinks it smells yummy, as she kept trying to suck on the bottle until we moved it out of reach, and she wants to suck on our freshly washed hands.
Verdict: Mmmmm! But we haven’t yet tried this soap in our foamer. See below.
Method foaming hand wash
Unlike all of the above products, we’d bought this one before. The soap is adequate. We buy it to get the foaming pump, which can be refilled for years before the spring wears out or the parts go out of alignment. I threw one into my second ePantry order because one of our foamers had gone wrong.
Fragrance: Sea Minerals. I chose this one because it’s blue, which goes with our bathroom, although I think it’s silly for soap to have added coloring. The fragrance is kind of weird, almost medicinal, and makes me wonder what “sea minerals” are and whether anyone would expect them to smell good. We’ve bought a couple other fragrances of Method foaming hand wash in our acquisition of foamers, and none of them was especially pleasant nor very objectionable–they all kind of smell “like public restroom hand soap”, we say.
Verdict: Buy this stuff to get the foamer, use up the soap that comes in it, then refill it with 5 parts water to 1 part Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap, one of the safest soaps on the market. We’ve been using Dr. Bronner’s for years and recommend it over all other hand soaps and shower soaps–but it really requires a foamer for efficient use as a hand soap, because it is highly concentrated yet thin; it doesn’t work in a pump bottle. (Dr. Bronner’s also makes liquid soap that comes in pump bottles, but it’s more expensive per use than their castile soap, which looks expensive but really goes a long way.) UPDATE: ePantry started carrying Dr. Bronner’s!
Seventh Generation dishwasher detergent powder
This is the dishwasher detergent I’ve been buying for our church, to stop people from buying Cascade or the terrible supermarket brand just to make sure we have something on hand to wash dishes! I’ve been trying to get the church more organized in supply purchasing so that we aren’t always running out of stuff and we buy green, healthy products…. The church has two dishwashers, a big restaurant-style one that’s run by an employee after Sunday coffee hour and big events, and a typical dishwasher that’s used when ordinary parishioners (who don’t know how to work the big one) are cleaning up after smaller meals. This detergent works well in both. The dishes nearly always get completely clean, there’s no lingering flavor, and water streaks are minimal. I got some of this in each ePantry order just for convenience. They only offer a smallish box, the same size that’s sold at the supermarket near church. Bigger boxes are a better value…but I have to get to the store to buy them!
Fragrance: None; this is the “free & clear” variety.
Verdict: Completely satisfactory. Results may vary in different dishwashers. If it works for you, you’ll probably want to buy a larger box for better value and less packaging waste–unless you live alone or you use the dishwasher only on special occasions. In our dishwasher at home, we’ve always used Biokleen powder, which also works very well. I like the Citrus Essence scent, which “smells clean” but is quite mild, usually unnoticeable after the dishes have dried. I also like saying “Biokleen powder” because it reminds me of “iocaine powder”, which reminds me of one of my favorite films, The Princess Bride. 🙂 Biokleen comes in a nice damp-proof canister, so it doesn’t clump up in humid weather, and then the empty canister can be reused to hold hardware or markers or other non-food items.
Seventh Generation toilet bowl cleaner
This also is a product we’d tried before–but not for many years. I remember it as being white and gloopy and awkward to use. It must have been reformulated, because what I received from ePantry is a clear, gel-type stuff that squirts through a very thin nozzle. It cleans the toilet just fine.
Fragrance: Emerald Cyprus & Fir. It doesn’t smell like Pine-sol, more like real pine trees. Nice, but it’s kind of a strange scent for a bathroom.
Verdict: It works just as well as Clorox Green Works, which I’ve been using for several years. I had been frustrated with all the other Earth-friendly toilet bowl cleaners I’d tried before that, and I went through a phase of trying to clean the toilet with baking soda but being sad about the results, so finally I pushed aside my mistrust of Clorox and was thrilled at how well their product cleans. However, Green Works has a really strong fragrance that annoys Daniel even though it “smells clean” to me–so I’m glad to have found something less nasally aggressive that works.
What about laundry detergent?
We didn’t buy any laundry detergents from ePantry, but it would be neglectful not to mention laundry detergent since it’s a type of cleaner that everyone needs, and we do have extensive experience with the Earth-friendly varieties. (We also have lots of advice about setting up a line-drying system that works for your lifestyle to save energy and reduce wear-and-tear on your clothes.)
Fragrance: Lots of plant-based detergents have a “free & clear” variety that’s great for people who have sensitive skin or dislike fragrances in clothing. Personally, I enjoy a nice-smelling laundry detergent. The only bad experience I can recall with the fragrance of a green laundry detergent was the Magnolia & Lily scent of Ecos–it was way too strong, like having flowers mashed into your sinuses.
Verdict: If you want unscented, Green Shield is supposed to be one of the safest detergents on the market and is certified organic; we tried it recently, and it works well, but we miss having fragrance. We recommend Biokleen (which is so highly concentrated that the conveniently small bottle lasts a long time), Sun & Earth, or the Lavender or Lemongrass scented Ecos. Seventh Generation laundry detergent also cleans very well, but we haven’t tried the scented kind since they changed the scent. I hope these reviews are helpful!
What else do you want to know about Earth-friendly cleaners? I’m happy to answer questions.