Green chemistry is a design process that strives to reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous substances. It’s the best way to describe Bon Ami’s approach to product design. We didn’t start out striving to be green. We just started out with simple ingredients and simple processes to give you products that work well without dangerous chemicals.
One green chemistry tactic involves finding new uses for what was once considered waste. (An empty plastic bottle, for example, doesn’t need to be waste: It can be recycled to make something new.) This approach, too, is part of our roots. A key ingredient in our scrubbing powder, first sold in 1886, was feldspar. At the time, feldspar was a waste product at quartz mines, and was being tossed away – until someone noticed that shovels used in the tossing were always shiny. One company’s waste became another company’s key ingredient.
For more than a hundred years, we’ve stuck to a short list of ingredients largely because our company culture led us to keep the recipes simple. As environmental awareness grew in and around our company, we found other reasons to stick with the simple ingredients. What was once a habit or a sense of tradition became an intentional pursuit and a statement of purpose. Today, it’s more important than ever to keep it simple.
We’ve changed the mix of ingredients over the years. We replaced the tallow soap with a cleaning agent made from corn, coconut, and palm oils. We’ve added new products, and have found ways to keep them both simple and green. In designing liquid cleansers with fragrances (we still offer fragrance-free versions), we’ve chosen natural essential oils, never synthetic scents.
Ingredients, with names you can pronounce
Baking soda ~ Sodium bicarbonate : This common kitchen ingredient helps our formula absorb odors so your cleaning experience is more pleasant.
Bio-degradable cleaning agents (from corn, coconut, and palm) ~ Alkyl polyglucoside and potassium alkanoate : The chemical name for our primary cleaning agent is alkyl polyglucoside, or APG. That mouthful refers to the combination of glucose and fatty alcohols inherent in the natural oils of corn, coconut, and palm. Bon Ami uses a non-ionic cleaning agent, which helps you clean away greasy soils like lasagna and leftover vinaigrette from your dinner dishes. Our Dish Soap also contains a touch of a second cleaning agent, potassium alkanoate, that is also made from renewable corn, coconut, and palm. Besides assisting with the cleaning, it helps to keep other ingredients well blended at cooler temperatures.
Biodegradable preservatives ~ Methyl isothiazolinone and methyl chloro isothiazolinone : Water is the medium of life, and any time you have a product with water, there is a chance that bacteria will grow in it after time has passed. Bon Ami uses the minimum amount of bio-degradable preservative needed to keep our products free from such risk. Our preservative rapidly biodegrades, is non-persistent in the environment and non-bioaccumulating.
Citric acid : Citric acid is another ingredient used to soften water. It has a chelating effect, which means that it ties up minerals and impurities so that the formula can clean better.
Corn alcohol ~ Ethanol : We use a small amount of natural corn alcohol, in compliance with regulations regarding VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. The alcohol acts as a natural solvent on surface greasy soils to help clean them away. It also allows our All-Purpose spray to dry more quickly.
Epsom salts ~ Magnesium sulfate : Ever take a bath with Epsom salts to help soothe your skin? That’s why we add them to this Bon Ami product. Epsom salts condition the water to help ingredients to be milder on the skin.
Essential oils : Bon Ami uses only 100% natural essential oils for our scented products. This allows our fragrances to be mild and pleasant. It also allows for an added boost to your cleaning experience. The Tangerine Thyme blend uses the essential oils of mandarin orange, tangerine, orange, thyme, and clove.
Feldspar : Feldspar is the original gentle abrasive used to formulate Bon Ami. It has a hardness of 6 to 7 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness, which is softer and less abrasive than the silica that competing products use. Our feldspar comes from North Carolina and North Dakota.
Limestone ~ Calcium carbonate : The powdered limestone in our products acts as a gentle abrasive to help scrub away dirt and stains. Limestone has a hardness of about 3 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness. Our limestone comes from Quincy, Illinois.
pH adjuster ~ Sodium metasilicate pentahydrate : The pH of natural raw materials is variable. The compound we use adjusts the pH toward the optimal range, which is a bit more on the basic (less acid) side. This pH allows our products to clean greasy kitchen and bath soils.
Soda ash ~ Sodium carbonate : Soda ash is an old-fashioned ingredient that helps to make the formula more basic. That means it’s more effective on soils and softer on your hands.
Tallow soap : Tallow soap is made from purified animal fat and soda ash. The simple formula is ancient: the first records of this soap-making process date back almost 5,000 years.
Water : Good old H2O. Yes, you add your own in the kitchen or bathroom, but adding a little in the formula helps everything flow more smoothly. Our formulas are made with deionized water, which has the impurities removed. It's easier to maintain pH and efficacy standards with deionized water.
Xanthan gum : This is a food-grade thickener used to add viscosity and help keep the solid ingredients suspended within the liquids. You can find xanthan gum in common grocery store staples like creamy soups and ice cream.
... and ingredients we do not include
Shaped by the chemically-sensitive
We kept things simple largely because that’s what we knew best. But there were other factors that reinforced this approach.
Our connection to a community of people sensitive to an increasing number of pervasive chemicals had a significant impact on our company and our practices. At a time when other cleaning products kept introducing new cleaning agents, new fragrances and more bleach, we were admittedly tempted to follow along. But the letters from a small group of chemically sensitive people – expressing real gratitude to us for avoiding harmful substances – helped us stay the course.We remain connected to this community, and the dialog continues to shape our thinking on product and package design.
Simple solutions to common challenges
When developing liquid products, we committed to using 100% post-consumer recycled (and recyclable) PET for the containers. Our manufacturer had trouble producing perfectly clear and consistent bottles – some bottles had slight blemishes, and some looked to be a slightly darker shade than others. Our product designers struggled to find an engineering answer (they obsess over quality) until they reconsidered the question. Realizing it may have nothing to do with engineering, they asked: Does it really matter if the bottles have blemishes? The quick answer: Of course not! We figured our customers wouldn’t mind, particularly if a few blemishes on the bottles meant fewer blemishes in nature. We now look at these bottles and rather like the imperfections. We try to tell our sales force that they have a handmade look!
In committing to use natural and essential oils in some liquid products, our designers quickly saw that these ingredients don’t behave like the synthetics typically used in scented cleansers: The oils, naturally, rise to the top, just like in salad dressing. But the only way to around that is to use additives - or shake the bottle. So we asked another simple question: What would our customers prefer - synthetic stabilizers or natural elbow grease? We decided they wouldn't mind putting in a little extra effort.