12 Common Labels: What do they mean?

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There are many ways in which one product can be more healthy than another product, for human or animal bodies or for the planet. However, some labeling can be misleading. Here are ten common labels and what they do and don’t say.


  • What it says: Made only from substances still in their native state, as they were created by Mother Nature.
  • What it doesn’t say: Not all natural substances are nontoxic!  Some examples of toxic natural substances are lead, ammonia, radon, asbestos, hemlock, and poppy. An example of a material made from a natural substance is turpentine (from pine trees). Many products are made from petroleum,  which is initially a natural substance.


  • What it says:The product is less likely to cause allergic reactions than other typical products.
  • What it doesn’t say: Only the more common allergens have been removed, in most cases. There may still be substances to which some people are strongly allergic. In addition, compromises may have been made when substituting for the offensive material, so that the product can still function. Some examples of substitute materials are petroleum-based substances or formaldehyde.


  • What it says: The substance does not cause sudden-onset health problems at concentrations normally used.
  • What it doesn’t say: A substance labeled “nontoxic” could still be over-used, at higher than “normal” concentrations. In that case it might indeed cause acute health problems. In addition, small amounts of the material over time could accumulate in the body and lead to chronic health problems. In those two cases, the material could still legally be labeled “nontoxic”.

USDA Organic

  • What it says: Grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones. The U.S. Department of Agriculture certifies in their National Organic Program (NOP) farms as well as companies that handle or process foods.
  • What it doesn’t say: These foods may be either 100% organic (a single ingredient food, such as fruit, vegetable, meat, milk and cheese) or 95% to 100% organic (in the case of a multiple-ingredient food).
  • More information on the term “organic”

All Cotton

  • What it says: Made with 100% cotton fibers. Often used for fabric or stuffing,
  • What it doesn’t say: Cotton manufactured in the United States (as an example) is treated with huge amounts of chemicals in the field, such as as pest control, weed control, and fertilizer. In the mill, still more chemicals may be added, such as dyes, formaldehyde for wrinkle resistance, anti-stain chemicals which sometimes contain arsenic,  and so forth.

Made with Organic Cotton

  • What it says: Some of the fibers are organic cotton, but not all. Otherwise, it should say, “100% Organic Cotton”
  • What it doesn’t say: What are the other fibers?

No (or Low) Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s)

  • What it says: Does not contain (or contains a low amount of) a class of chemicals which are able to rapidly evaporate. These are found in solvents, paints, caulking, cleaning fluids, etc.
  • What it doesn’t say: There are actually VOC’s contained in some foods. Examples are lemons, garlic, onions, and bread baking in the oven! People who are allergic to these foods may be sensitive to their VOC’s, but otherwise they are not harmful.


  • What it says: “Unscented” or “Scent-free” indicate a product is without chemically or naturally added scent.
  • What it doesn’t say: That does not mean that chemicals related to scent have not been added. In some cases (especially in detergent) a masking fragrance is added to cover or counteract the original chemical fragrance. This results in the illusion of an unscented product, and a person who wishes to avoid perfumes is thereby fooled. He might be completely frustrated trying to discover the chemical source of his allergic reaction, because the detergent says it is unscented and it apparently is.

No Preservatives or Biocides

  • What it says: Nothing (no preservative) has been added to prevent or slow the decay process. Nothing (no biocide) has been added to kill micro-organisms, such as bacteria or fungi.
  • What it doesn’t say: There are natural preservatives and biocides, such as Vitamin C, that would not be harmful, but could protect against fungi, molds, and toxins in food. This is an example of a desirable additive. Also, there are household maintenance materials that you might want to be sure were not going to start to grow micro-organisms. A biocide added to bathroom caulk or wallpaper paste, for example, might be a good choice!

Made from Recycled Materials

  • What it says: All or part of the item has been made from a previously manufactured product.
  • What it doesn’t say:The percentage made from recycled material may be quite low. If it is 100%, the label will probably say so. Some of the recycled material may be scrap from the original manufacturing process, which is fine, of course! Some labels may indicate how much is “post consumer,” meaning that it came from consumer recycling programs rather than the factory floor.


  • What it says: Something which is susceptible to a natural biological decay process.
  • What it doesn’t say: In typical landfills, layers of trash are alternated with layers of clay. Even if materials are biodegradable, this system won’t permit it due to the tight compaction. Ironically, some materials are touted as NON-biodegradable, with the benefit that the broken down material cannot seep into the water table.


  • What it says:The item may either be reused in its present form or broken down and re-manufactured into something else.
  • What it doesn’t say: Though the potential for recycling is there, the reality is still falling short. Many communities don’t have recycling programs or those are not fully used. Companies that could use recycled material in the manufacture of their goods do not always do so, due to cost or technological problems.

Most of this information was found in the book Creating a Healthy Household : The Ultimate Guide for Healthier, Safer, Less-Toxic Living

By | 2017-09-26T10:37:55-07:00 August 19th, 2009|Green Living, Nontoxic|

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  1. Eco-Friendly Fingerpaint | Crafting a Green World July 28, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    […] What non-toxic means is that the product won’t cause any immediate health concerns. So, you won’t get a headache or experience dizziness moments after opening the container, and probably not during one crafting session. Non-toxic products can contain petroleum products, though, along with additives and ingredients that might cause health problems with prolonged exposure or multiple exposures over time. If we’re rating craft supplies’ health and environmental impacts on a Good-Better-Best scale, think of non-toxic as falling squarely under the Better category. […]

  2. […] best alternative. Unlike the term natural, “non-toxic” is a regulated term that means the product doesn’t cause immediate health problems. Think about when you’ve used an oil-based primer in the past. You get a headache, right? […]

  3. Michael@eecofriendlyproducts.com February 1, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    This was a nice explanation of Labels. I especially liked the “What it doesn’t say” part. It captures what is sometimes implied and what I think the companies hope will be taken as fact.

  4. Kath@Pest Control Shop June 24, 2011 at 6:03 am

    We sell pest control chemicals, and you’d not believe how many people say, “What papers?” followed by, “I’ve never been asked before!” when we ask them for approved handling documentation for the relevant products.

    It would appear that there are two different worlds when it comes to labeling and handling of chemicals, but I can assure you it’s always best to err on the side of caution.

  5. Cheryl January 5, 2011 at 10:36 am

    Hi, David.
    You make a good point. There are certainly scandals involving mislabeling of imported good, such as honey from China. Like most anti-social activities, thankfully, these are in the minority.

  6. Markus @ Slimming Tea November 29, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Excellent details on what various labels mean. The “100% cotton” one really got me thinking. Our bodies are bombarded with chemicals in ways people don’t even realize.

  7. Daryl@Philips Airfryer November 4, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Dear Cheryl.

    A sincere thank you from me to you for your great blog. I have often been concerned about all the toxins we can find in our households as I know that constant exposure can lead to serious and life threatening illness…something I for one do not want to participate in! It’s also about the environment for me too. I just don’t want to contribute any more damage than necessary if you know what I mean.

    I really did not know where to start and then I found your blog…way to go.

    Any other areas i can read about this subject?

  8. OB March 16, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Thanks, this is very useful, I have often wondered what those little symbols mean and now I know so thanks a lot. Keep up the good work.

  9. Jimmy March 10, 2010 at 2:59 am

    After reading this, I think there needs to be stronger guidelines. The symbols and what they say should mean the same as the impression that they give people. There should be no gray areas.

  10. edison January 6, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Thanks for defining those words for me. I do check those labels in the products that I buy but I am quite familiar with just a few.

    • Cheryl January 6, 2010 at 4:10 pm

      Hi, Edison.
      The fact that you do check the labels puts you ahead of many who are just too confused or busy with other things to read them. Your article link did not come through properly. Go ahead and post another comment with your link.

  11. Megan December 28, 2009 at 6:18 am

    I always wondered what all those labels meant. Usually they were just weird alien-like symbols to me.


    • Cheryl December 29, 2009 at 3:26 pm

      Hi, Megan.
      I know what you mean! It’s amazing how often our understanding of something just comes down to the meanings of words and symbols. When those are cleared up, the whole subject can open up for a person.

  12. RobertSwansonSr December 22, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Funny how Fritz Henderson supposedly didn’t like rebadging cars, like the G8 as a Chevy (in this case the Chevy is a dog), but had no problem in rebadging the Opel Insignia as the Buick Regal, and the Chevy Cruze as another small Buick.

    Starting to look like GM 1986, all over again. Eeeew!

  13. Gry Dla Dzieci June 2, 2009 at 8:23 am

    I’ve recently read somewhere that rapid starts decrease mileage. How does that work? Or was it only a typo?

  14. Bretagne ferienhäuser May 21, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Wow this is awesome, I never imagine that someone can do this technique. Well its really a risk to this one in this kind of car. I really don’t like to try this. I just enjoy watching it.

  15. TP May 12, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    If hypermiling really works in any car make/model, then it should be promoted not only for cost related benefits but for its impact to our Mother Nature.

  16. Julie May 4, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    can this work on any car? i get good mileage now but everything counts

  17. Anna May 4, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    I think mileage can be improved on any car but it would be important to have a good understanding of how hypermiling is and what options you have for different vehicles. If you are serious about it you might want to get the eBook on the subject at https://livingclean.com/hypermiling/hypermilingebook.html

  18. Carla April 18, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    I have a Cadillac CTS and I have followed some of the same tricks. My car should be getting around 18-20 combined, but I have averaged around 23-24 on flat terrain here in Texas. I know that is nothing compared to yours but every bit counts.

  19. Setai March 6, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Amazing results. I was always hesitant in using this method but wow! I didn’t expect that it’d be so efficient.

  20. Odzyskiwanie Danych February 20, 2009 at 9:45 am

    Good score. I think it could be even better but the distance is too low.
    Have you heard of VW Lupo 3l? It does more than 60 mpg.

  21. Bill January 15, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    Very interesting, i’ve heard of this technique, but i’ve never really looked into it, but if it can get this kind of results, i’ll give it a closer look, thanks.

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