With Chinese New Year just around the corner, spring cleaning is on many’s to-do list, as it also symbolises “out with the old, in with the new” in Chinese culture. According to the Consumer Council’s survey on the labelling information of 40 bathroom and toilet cleaning products on the market, the models were generally found to lack sufficient product information on their labels to guide correct usage. The Council points out that general consumers might not be aware that bathroom and toilet cleaners could contain strong acids and corrosives, as well as their concentration. Inappropriate use might irritate the skin or respiratory system, and in the worst case, mixing of such chemicals might have serious consequences. The Council urges manufacturers to ensure accurate and comprehensive labelling information, and to include important product information in both Chinese and English, including the ingredients, instructions for use, safety warnings and special precautions, to allow consumers to make mindful choices.
Besides, the green elements of the surveyed models were relatively low. For example, only less than 20% provided an eco-friendly refill pack, or had packaging made from recycled materials. Some models did not specify the plastic code of the container, making it difficult for consumers to identify its recyclability. As for models with biodegradability claims, none of them presented the biodegradation rate and were thus hard to be compared. The Council expects manufacturers to strengthen product sustainability by introducing more eco-friendly practices throughout the products’ life cycle, from the selection of raw materials, manufacturing process, to the packaging and disposal, as well as providing certification of ecolabelling by a third party.
The survey covered 17 models of bathroom cleaners and 23 models of toilet cleaners. The labelling information was reviewed, including the ingredients, environmental claims, the use of Chinese and English safety warnings and precautions, etc. The price of the 40 models ranged from $11.9 to $54, representing a unit price of $0.17 to $1.66 per 10ml.
The 17 bathroom cleaners did not require dilution, and their key ingredients included acidic substances (e.g. citric acid), various types of surfactants, fragrances, colourings and water. The 23 toilet cleaners covered 2 categories, one type comprising the same ingredients as bathroom cleaners but possibly in different ratios to enhance certain cleansing efficacies, such as strong acids for easier removal of stains and rusts containing minerals. This category might have pH values lower than 2. The other type contained chlorine-based bleach with bactericidal and bleaching properties, the pH value of which was generally higher than 9.
According to the results of a Nordic survey, the pH values of toilet cleaners could vastly vary. Some toilet cleaners containing hydrochloric acid could have a pH value lower than 2, while those containing chlorine-based bleach could be higher than pH11.5, with both types being strongly corrosive substances which could be hazardous when misused, such as causing irritation to the skin or respiratory system upon contact. Consumers should pay extra heed when using such products.
Referencing the European Commission’s Regulation (EC) No. 648/2004 on detergents, manufacturers must indicate certain ingredients and the weight percentage range on the labelling, while any disinfectants, fragrances and preservation agents present in the product must also be declared. However, from the review, 7 were not labelled with any information of the ingredients. The remaining models, despite listing the ingredients, some only provided minimal information such as water, surfactants, etc., whereas some did not provide the chemical name of the disinfectant, which was unsatisfactory. As for labelling related to proper usage, warnings or precautions, 5 models did not list out all relevant information in both Chinese and English, amongst which 2 models only displayed certain warnings in Japanese, such as “avoid contact with eyes”, “do not use with bleach”, and “use in a well-ventilated area”. The models in question were referred to the Customs and Excise Department for follow-up action. The Council urges suppliers to reference relevant overseas regulations and list out the ingredient information and instructions for use on the labelling in a clear and detailed manner, as well as to display warnings and special precautions in both Chinese and English, to ensure safe and correct usage of the cleaning products.
When purchasing bathroom and toilet cleaning products, aside from their efficacy, consumers should also consider whether they comply with sustainability principles. Amongst the 40 surveyed models, only less than 20% (7 models) offered refill packs that could help reduce plastic waste, out of which only 4 models provided pouch packaging with less plastic materials, whereas only 15% (6 models) claimed to have packaging with recycled materials. Although most of the models displayed the plastic code or plastic material on the container, namely 3 types of recyclable plastics – type 1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET), type 2 high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and type 5 polypropylene (PP), 6 models did not indicate the relevant code, which was unsatisfactory as consumers are unable to identify its recyclability.
In terms of the product ingredients, despite the various environmental claims by 15 models, the provided information was insufficient for consumers to determine which product was more eco-friendly. For example, 7 models claimed to be biodegradable but did not specify the biodegradation rate, making it impossible for a meaningful comparison on which product is greener.
6 surveyed models displayed ecolabelling issued by an independent third party, such as the EU Ecolabel awarded by the European Union, which certifies that a product’s raw materials, labelling information, efficacy, packaging material and recycling information all comply with the stringent criteria. Besides, the Chinese Environment Mark issued by Mainland official authorities represents that a product complies with the Mainland’s environmental protection standard across various processes, from manufacturing, use to disposal. The Council encourages manufacturers to acquire and display certified third-party ecolabelling, as this type of certification maintains a more comprehensive sustainability requirement for products, from raw materials, production, to packaging and disposal.
When selecting and using bathroom or toilet cleaners, pay heed to the following:
- Choose products labelled with the ingredients, instructions for use, precautions, the name and contact information of the supplier, as well as according to the cleaning needs, such as the surface that requires cleaning, the type of stain to be removed (e.g. limescale or dirt), cleaning objectives or targets (e.g. bactericidal or mould removal), etc.;
- Examine the information on the product, including the manufacturing date and shelf life. If the product is labelled with warnings such as “danger” or “corrosive”, the products should be handled with extra caution;
- Avoid using products containing fragrances, bleach, quaternary ammonium salts, etc., in households with infants and toddlers, pets, or individuals sensitive to air pollutants;
- Never mix different cleaning agents, especially products with chlorine-based bleach with those containing acids. Mixing of such chemicals will release toxic gas, resulting in health risks;
- Use and store bathroom and toilet cleaners properly. Keep out of reach of children and store away from food, beverages, and medication, to prevent family members from consuming the products by mistake.
Download the article (Chinese only): https://ccchoice.org/543cleaners
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