Product review: Basic G

Crunchy moms are always looking for cleaning products that really work, without exposing the family to toxic fumes or unduly harming the environment.  Vinegar has to be the number one recommended “natural” cleaner, and it does work for a lot of applications, particularly cleaning glass.  There are indications that vinegar disinfects, but as this article points out, the claims for vinegar’s disinfection properties are often vague, and purported demonstrations of its effectiveness in isolated tests just doesn’t give me that warm fuzzy feeling that official documentation does.  Well, Shaklee claims to offer the best of both worlds – their Basic G disinfectant has those reassuring government tests demonstrating it’s effective against 40 different microbes, while they say it’s better for the environment and safer for the user than the mainstream alternatives.

Basic G lists didecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride and n-Alkyl (C14-50%, C12-40%, C16-10%) dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride as its active ingredients.  Shaklee’s information is full of happy-sounding but somewhat imprecise descriptors like “no fumes,” “safe,” and “environmentally friendly.”  I have to say I’m rather frustrated as I try to figure out whether this stuff is really much better for humans or the Earth than bleach or Lysol.  Shaklee doesn’t offer any concrete evidence.  Googling turns up lots of breathless reviews that take Shaklee’s claims at face value, and a couple sites that complain the ingredients are toxic.  Of course, I suspect these sites are pretty quick to clutch their pearls at any “chemical,” and would object to any cleaner that isn’t safe for use as a dessert topping.

Shaklee likes to note that Basic G is “EPA registered,” leaving the implication that the product is somehow certified to be environmentally friendly, but that is not what “EPA registered” means.  If a disinfectant (in this situation referred to as a “pesticide”) is registered with the EPA, that means it has been tested and confirmed to kill certain microbes effectively, and the EPA has determined certain standards for its use.  That is certainly useful information, and one reason I like Basic G is that there’s official confirmation that it works, but I think many customers are going to assume the EPA registration means it’s “green,” and that’s not the case at all.

I can tell you that the Basic G concentrate bottle and the bottle it’s meant to be diluted in both carry the standard warnings against drinking, inhalation, eye contact, and prolonged contact with skin.  Some Shaklee distributors’ sites say the diluted product is so safe you could drink it, but obviously that’s not recommended, and the fact that the warnings come on the dilution bottle as well make me really doubt it’s that safe and gentle.  (It’s also worth noting that bleach, while it is toxic and can be dangerous, really can be drunk when properly diluted.)  After all, this fluid is meant to kill living organisms with minimal contact time.  Anything that can do that is going to be potentially toxic.

So, let’s assume that this is an effective cleaner that is relatively safe if handled properly, but which isn’t as benign as soap and water or vinegar.  What’s it like to use this stuff?  Well, Shaklee doesn’t make it very easy to use.  They offer a spray bottle specifically meant to hold the diluted product.  However, the instructions on the concentrate tell you how to make 1-2 gallons of cleaner, while the sprayer holds 16 ounces.  To use the right amount of concentrate for the sprayer, you need to do some fractions, then measure out 3/8ths of a teaspoon of Basic G for each 16 oz of water.  Unfortunately, the sprayer isn’t worth all this trouble, as it has two settings: “OFF” and a high psi stream that tends to rebound at you when you shoot it at any surface.  Now I know why the warnings suggest safety goggles!  I hied over to my grocery store and bought a 32 oz sprayer (takes 3/4 tsp of concentrate) with a fully adjustable nozzle that lets me set it somewhere between a spray and a mist, like I like it.

Now that I bought a decent sprayer and wrote the correct formula on the concentrate bottle, I’m pretty happy using Basic G.  I use it in the same way I used to use bleach solution – I spray down my sink at the end of cleaning, to make sure any foodborne germs are killed, and I spray counters that may have contacted raw meat or eggs.  For disinfection of cutting boards, dishes, and utensils I just use hot soapy water or the dishwasher.  To avoid anything nasty growing in my cleaning implements, I use dish cloths that I wash in the laundry on hot, and brushes that I chuck in the dishwasher.  I find soap and vinegar sufficient for cleaning my bathroom surfaces, as I don’t prepare food on them!  So my use of germicidal solution, whether it’s bleach or Basic G, is pretty limited, and I’m not too worried about having undue impact on our health or environment.

So, bleach or Basic G?  I don’t see good reason to assume Basic G really is greener than bleach, and I use relatively little germicide so any impact is minimal.  For Basic G, one $20 bottle of concentrate will fill my spray bottle 256 times.  Several Shaklee consultant sites mention that once mixed it will last for 30 days.  To obtain it I need to locate a Shaklee rep or buy it online and pay shipping.  With bleach, I need 1 teaspoon per 32 ounces of water, and I can buy 576 teaspoons of bleach for about $2.  However, bleach solution needs to be made fresh daily, which is a pain.  And yet, it’s much easier to buy some bleach during my regular grocery run than it is to procure a bottle of Basic G.  I think they’re about neck-and-neck.  But it looks like my current bottle of Basic G will last for a few years, so I have time to think about it.

Addendum, 2/20/13

Grace was incisive enough to question the assertion that one must mix new bleach solution each day. I tried to find a source for that instruction, and didn’t find anything concrete. The WHO states that “chlorine solutions gradually lose strength, and freshly diluted solutions must therefore be prepared daily.” The CDC offers the more helpful (if more math-intensive):

Hypochlorite solutions in tap water at a pH >8 stored at room temperature (23ºC) in closed, opaque plastic containers can lose up to 40%–50% of their free available chlorine level over 1 month. Thus, if a user wished to have a solution containing 500 ppm of available chlorine at day 30, he or she should prepare a solution containing 1,000 ppm of chlorine at time 0. Sodium hypochlorite solution does not decompose after 30 days when stored in a closed brown bottle

Personally, for home disinfection, this makes me feel comfortable using bleach solution for a month or more, since I store it in a closed opaque bottle, and I’m not trying to disinfect an avian flu site or protect a cystic fibrosis patient. I clean up, and the bleach is a little safety net. If my 1:100 solution winds up being more like .5:100 by the end of the month, I don’t think I’m going to worry about it.

Thanks Grace, for bringing this up!

Just adding a note – if you wish to offer some facts, or even opinions about how great Basic G is, have at it. But if you include any marketing materials, including any link to your personal Shaklee sales page, I’m just going to mark it as spam. So don’t bother trying to drum up business with comments.

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About Christine

I'm a full-time mother to two kids, an ex-lawyer, a breastfeeding counselor, a skeptic, and (to steal a phase from Penn & Teller) a "science cheerleader." You can e-mail me at skepticalmothering (at) gmail (dot) com.

Posted on February 6, 2012, in Natural Family Living and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Great post…I just bought some basic G and could not believe they did not put how much should be in the 16oz spray bottle. Now after reading more about the ingredient in it I wish I hadn’t bought it … and stuck with my vinegar and water.

  2. I think it’s easy to mix. Just save an empty gallon jug and make by the gallon and pour into spray bottles :)

  3. My mother used Shaklee products when I was growing up and sold them for a while. I am checking into them for my family, trying to decide to just go simple with mostly homemade cleaners or choose a brand (or few) that I trust. I appreciate reading what you think about Shaklee. One question, why do you have to make bleach solution everyday? I use the same bottle for a long time — is it not effective (big bummer)?

    • Grace, thanks for asking. I had read this from several sources, but wasn’t really skeptical enough about it. I’m adding an addendum to the post about it. Thanks for keeping me honest about this skeptical inquiry thing!

  4. Our obsession with killing 99.9% of microbes is leading to resistant bugs and compromised immune systems. Vinegar and baking soda are great and inexpensive cleaners – they will even unclog a drain. Regular (not antimicrobial) soap and water for frequent hand washing is as effective in preventing illness and far less harmful to ourselves and the environment.

    http://environmentaldefence.ca/issues/toxic-nation/tips-and-guides

  5. I am a big Shaklee proponent, and I must say your concerns are valid. However for a disinfectant Basic G is a safer alternative then any other products I know. As Portia said, “Our obsession with killing 99.9% of microbes is leading to resistant bugs and compromised immune systems.” As a society we have become germaphobes .

    We use Basic G but very sparingly. This is not a product I would use to routinely clean your counters, basic H is the product for that. It cleans much better than vinegar and water (we used that for years) and it actually is cheaper. Please don’t rate all Shaklee products on your review of Basic G you will be missing out on great products and healthy outcomes for your family.

  6. Thanks very much for this write-up. I, too, have found it quite frustrating that Shaklee hides so much information about SO MANY of their products. I kind of feel that, if they are so safe, why wouldn’t they provide full disclosure? Which leads me to think, maybe the ingredients are super common and we’re just getting raked over the coals with their prices. Plus, their shipping costs are exceptionally egregious. (Most companies double the actual shipping costs, so it’s really an additional revenue source, as well.) The dire warnings on the side of the Basic G bottle had me just sideline the whole thing. It doesn’t make sense it’s as safe as they claim, yet so many warnings, even if it’s just due to concentration. And everyone online uses different concentrations of the (Basic H and) Basic G. I saw a YouTube of someone using it as a toilet bowl cleaner, yet can’t find any dilution info about what concentration they may be using for this situation. Another on YouTube routinely sprays it on doorknobs and all over other surfaces when there’s a bug going around the family as one would often use Lysol, yet to do that they would have to be using a spray bottle with a mist spray that the directions warn against for inhaling harmful vapors. I find the whole thing pretty frustrating.

  7. Christine…. I’m just finding your blog post today as I searched for info. on Shaklee’s Basic G and Basic H ever expiring. Yikes. I’ve used my diluted spray bottles for many months (year+) until it empties and I dilute another full bottle. So now I’m led to wonder if I should just mix half a bottle (I probably won’t even use that much in 30 days) so as to have smallest amount of waste.
    I guess my question is — does the UNdiluted solution ever diminish in cleaning/bacteria killing power? I’ve had my bottles for several years.
    Thank you!

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