The Securities and Exchange Commission has been pushing for companies to submit filings written in "plain English." I wish there could be a similar effort for labels on household items like detergent and toothpaste.
Reporting financial data in a way we can all understand is supposed to keep publicly traded companies honest. Similarly, having to tell consumers more about the ingredients they use in products to control tartar or remove stains might persuade them to use chemicals that are healthier for people and the environment.
Companies that make household cleaners and detergents don't have to tell you what's in them. Makers of items like shampoo and body lotion list ingredients, but they don't seem to care that you need a chemist to make heads or tails of them.
Although the government might have approved ingredients for public use, plenty are still being studied for their effects on the environment and our bodies. It's not surprising that the more natural a product's ingredients are, the more willing a company is to tell you about it.
Take a look at a label on the laundry detergent sold by Trader Joe's, the specialty grocery chain. Its ingredients include plant-based surfactants, soy-based fabric softener and lavender. I have a pretty good idea of what's washing my clothes.
In contrast, the label on Clorox (CLX) Bleach (Stock Quote: CLX) tells me it's made of 6% sodium hypochlorite and 94% "other ingredients." Sodium hypochlorite is caustic and potentially toxic. So what's in the other 94% of the solution?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the health effects of phthalates aren't fully known, but several studies have suggested they affect hormone production. These chemicals, which do everything from help fragrances last longer to make vinyl flexible, have been used in children's products, but are now being eliminated.
I agree that some effort is better than none. But anything a company does voluntarily, it can do on its own terms.
I don't expect SC Johnson to address the controversy that surrounds sodium lauryl sulfate, a common chemical in toiletries. But it can take a stab at explaining what the substance is: a sodium-based powder that creates suds.