When Sarah Paiji Yoo became a mom, she started to take a closer look at the quality of the water her son would be drinking. She was shocked to learn that microplastics — tiny particles of plastic — are everywhere, from our food to our oceans. Yoo vowed to reduce her plastic use but found her options were limited when it came to cleaning supplies.
“I decided to cut back on my plastic consumption but realized I didn’t have much choice as a consumer to cut out single-use plastic packaging for household products,” Yoo tells CNN Underscored. “So many of our everyday products come packaged in just one way — single-use plastic.”
To help solve this problem, Yoo, who had experience with startups, founded Blueland, a company that aims to reduce the number of single-use plastic containers we use every day. Blueland’s nontoxic and planet-friendly cleaners and hand soap are created in reusable “Forever Bottles.” To make each product, you add water to the reusable bottle and drop in a tablet of concentrated cleaning ingredients.
While each of the products can be purchased individually, they’re also sold together in a starter pack at a 20% discount, Blueland’s The Clean Essentials, for $39.
The Clean Essentials kit includes four reusable bottles and wrapped tablets to create a foaming hand soap and three cleaners (glass and mirror, multisurface and bathroom). One tablet, dissolved in water, creates 9 ounces of hand soap or 20 ounces of cleaning solution. Replacement tablets can be purchased in packs starting at $6 for three tablets.
Blueland’s name stems from its environmental mission. “The name ‘Blueland’ embodies our mission to return oceans to their natural, pristine state and encompasses the notion that our home does not stop at our doorstep,” says Yoo.
In addition to the company’s goal of reducing single-use plastic containers, Blueland cleaners and hand wash are nontoxic. All the products are certified by the environmental group Cradle to Cradle, the anti-cruelty organization Leaping Bunny and USDA Biobased Preferred. “It was really important for us, from the very beginning (actually since the idea stage), to partner with Cradle to Cradle because it is the world’s most comprehensive product assessment and certification program,” Yoo explains.
Blueland’s ingredients are all on the EPA Safer Chemicals Ingredients List, and none are on the Environmental Working Group Restricted List. “We are huge philosophical supporters of the EPA Safer Choice standards, which is why we adopted the program’s criteria as core to our product development,” Yoo adds. “With Safer Choice, each ingredient, regardless of its percentage in a product, must meet strict safety criteria for both human and environmental health, including but not limited to carcinogenicity, reproductive and development toxicity, toxicity to aquatic life and persistence in the environment.”
Blueland’s products are also hypoallergenic, vegan, cruelty-free, non-GMO, Prop 65-compliant and gluten-free. What’s more, the carbon footprint involved in shipping Blueland refill tablets is a fraction of that of a standard single-use plastic container of cleaner or hand soap, which was enough for us to want to check out and review the products ourselves.
Blueland’s foaming hand soap can be purchased as part of The Clean Essentials Kit or individually. The Blueland Hand Soap Starter Kit includes the reusable glass bottle as well as one tablet in each of the three scents: the original Iris Agave, Lemon Perrine and Lavender Eucalyptus.
The glass soap bottle has a modern look and a satisfying heft — it doesn’t shift when you push down the lever, as plastic hand soap containers sometimes do when the contents are getting low. As with all Blueland products, the hand soap is prepared by filling the glass bottle with warm water to a line marked on the bottle and dropping in a tablet. The process, which looks like an antacid dissolving in water, takes about 30 minutes, and the instructions say there’s no shaking required.
Blueland’s hand soap worked well and wasn’t drying. The three scents are light and not cloying; both the iris and lemon have a lovely fresh scent, and the lavender is the strongest of the three. All of the Blueland products have undergone independent third-party testing to ensure that they’re as effective as leading comparable brands, according to the company. And in addition to being compliant with Blueland’s nontoxic certifications, the hand soap is free of parabens, phthalates and sodium lauryl sulfate.
The Blueland system is also designed to be cost-effective. Yoo estimates that most families use about 25 bottles of hand soap per year. With the Blueland system, you would use the same number of tablets, with each refill costing $2 (or less if you buy in packs of six or nine), so it’s less expensive than most comparable foaming soaps after the first few uses. What’s more, keeping refills at the ready requires a tiny fraction of the shelf space.
“Blueland is dedicated to making it easy for people to make the right choice with products that are more effective, affordable and convenient, underscoring my belief that you don’t have to sacrifice a clean home for a clean planet,” Yoo says.
While the Blueland Hand Soap bottle is recommended for use with the hand soap tablets, it’s not required. Hand soap tablets can also be purchased individually in packs of three, six, or nine and dissolved in 9 ounces of water in any reusable foaming soap container. For families concerned about using a glass soap bottle with small kids, the hand soap tablets can be used in a reusable plastic container. We tried a set of three BPA-free dispensers, available on Amazon ($13.99; amazon.com), that worked well.
Blueland offers three cleaners: Glass and Mirror (blue), Multi-Surface (yellow) and Bathroom (pink). Each is created by filling the reusable “Forever Bottle” with warm water and allowing the corresponding tablet to dissolve.
The cleaners are sold as part of The Clean Essentials Kit ($39; blueland.com), together in The Clean Up Kit ($29 for three bottles and three tablets; blueland.com) or individually ($16 for one bottle and three tablets; blueland.com). The spray “Forever Bottles,” as their name suggests, are designed to be reused and are made from nonleaching and shatterproof BPA-free plastic. Refill tablets, like the hand soap, start at three for $6.
The unscented blue glass and mirror cleaner left windows shiny and streak-free. The lemon-scented multisurface cleaner (which works on tile, wood, counters and stone) worked well against grease on kitchen counters and dust on wood furniture. And the eucalyptus and mint-scented bathroom cleaner cut through grime on a bathroom sink and toilet.
If the products fall short anywhere, it’s perhaps the bathroom and multisurface cleaners’ ability to disinfect. Whereas a competitive eco-friendly brand touts its ability to kill 99% of germs, the Blueland cleaners are not guaranteed to do so.
“We cannot definitively say that our cleaners will kill bacteria, but our cleaner will actually wash away the bacteria,” explains Yoo. “An example I like to use is dish soap is typically not antibacterial but does actually wash away bacteria, but will not kill it on contact. We trust dish soap to clean dishes and pans that have even touched raw meat and eggs.”
So while the products are excellent everyday cleaners, you might want to opt for something stronger if you’re, say, trying to disinfect the bathroom after everyone in your family has succumbed to the stomach bug.
We loved the Blueland products: They help save money, space and, most importantly, the planet. The hand soap is a winner, and we may never go back to single-use plastic containers of hand soap. The cleaners do a great job for everyday cleaning, particularly the Glass and Mirror Cleaner. The only possible shortcoming is the question of whether the Multi-Surface Cleaner and the Bathroom Cleaner disinfect surfaces if you need them to. Other than that, we’re ordering refill tablets right now.