Look for These 4 Things on the Label Before You Use Any Cleaning Product

published Aug 24, 2021
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Credit: Sarah Crowley/Apartment Therapy

For as often as you do it, cleaning should be a relatively simple process — but as everyone knows, that’s not always the case. Even just reading a cleaning product’s label can feel like trying to interpret a foreign language. While it may not seem like that big of a deal to gloss through all that text and get to cleaning, you could be missing some crucial details (and, as a result, the opportunity to properly and safely clean your home).

Thanks to the American Cleaning Institute, cracking the code on your go-to cleaning products doesn’t have to feel so laborious. When you’re scanning the label, you should be looking for four specific types of information.

Here’s why you should consult each one before buying and using a cleaning product, and how to assess some of the more complicated instructions. 

Credit: Illustration: Zoë Burnett


One of the most important bits of information to understand is the product directions.

Typically, according to the ACI, directions include information like how much product to use, which types of surfaces to use the product on, and how long the process should take. This information can have some big implications, including whether or not the product actually does its job(s).

Disinfectant products may include dwell time instructions, for example, which actually affects whether the product kills germs on the surface. And according to Alex Varela, general manager of Dallas Maids, following these directions could also protect your home surfaces from irreversible damage. 

For example, organic materials like wood or linoleum can be sensitive even to just plain water. “So cleaning products can be much more harmful,” he says. To avoid any mishaps, it’s never a bad idea to do a quick Google search for that cleaning agent and find out if it’s safe to use on the material or product you want to clean. 

Caution Warnings

Caution warnings are just what they sound like. “The caution warning will ensure you use the cleaner as intended and explain to you the negative possibilities associated with the product,” says Zeynep Mehmetoglu, owner of the DC-based cleaning company Maid Bright

For example, this part of the label will let you know if the product is corrosive, and to avoid contact with your skin or eyes, or if the area needs to be well ventilated during use. “Caution warnings also indicate that you should not mix cleaning products together or if the contents are under pressure,” Mehmetoglu says. 

Usually, safety warnings are in large, bold print. Many bottles may contain first aid instructions, too. Even “natural” cleaning products aren’t totally harmless, so it’s important to pay close attention to safety warnings, wearing PPE or opening windows when needed. 

If you’re concerned about a safety issue with a cleaning product, don’t hesitate to call poison control. 


Understanding the ingredients can help you make informed decisions about your home, and in the process, encourage proper safety practices. Most products, Mehmetoglu says, list all the contents of the cleaning solutions — but usually, products contain scientific names, which you may not understand. 

You may have to do a bit of research to crack the code. Some products contain QR codes so you can do your due diligence on the manufacturer’s website. Mehmetoglu suggests looking for the “material safety data sheet” (MSDS) for the specific product you’re using. 

Storage and Disposal Instructions

Properly storing cleaning products is an important part of ensuring their effectiveness over time (not to mention your family and pets’ safety). Cleaning product labels usually include information such as where to store the cleaner (and where not to), along with a temperature range that’s safe for the product. 

Many products also include an expiration date, since some ingredients become less potent or less effective over time. As a result, labels might also include disposal instructions for how to get rid of the cleaner when you’re done with it. 

That’s important information, Varela says, because not all products are safe to toss in the trash or pour down the drain. For example, caustic soda will become solid if you don’t let plenty of water down the drain, which could lead to major (and expensive) plumbing problems. Other products might become dangerous to inhale when in contact with different materials, surfaces, or temperatures, or pose risks to wildlife and sewer systems.