Cleaning products cause indoor pollution

Organic compounds released while cleaning can result in indoor pollution
08 March 2022


Cleaning product spray bottle


Cleaning products produce traffic-levels of pollution indoors...

Chemicals called "monoterpenes" are often added to commercial cleaning products to impart ‘fresh’ lemon or pine scents. But high concentrations of these monoterpenes can accumulate indoors, especially in poorly-ventilated spaces where they can paradoxically behave as pollutants.

Inhaling them regularly can cause irritation to the airways, headaches, organ damage, or even cancer. In addition, at high concentrations, they react chemically with ozone to form nanoparticles that are irritant in their own right.

In a study from Indiana University, researchers looked at commercial cleaning products and subsequent reactions with airborne ozone, which generates indoor pollutants.

These experiments were performed in a kitchen-sized room with ventilation typical of the average office. The floors and surfaces were cleaned with a commercial cleaning product for about a quarter of an hour to simulate a routine daily visit from the cleaner.

Within seconds of using the cleaning product, the concentration of monoterpenes increased significantly and ozone concentration dropped. Products of the chemical reactions between the two were then detected in the air.

This was followed by  a surge in nanoparticle counts as the ozone and monoterpene reaction products agglomerated.

Worryingly, the nanoparticle concentration after a cleaning session was comparable with traffic pollution you'd encounter on a busy street.

Nanoparticles are a respiratory risk because they penetrate deep into the lungs and can even enter the bloodstream where they lead to respiratory and cardiovascular complications. And while vehicle-associated pollution particles have been well studied, the health effects of indoor particle pollution formed by cleaning products has been relatively overlooked. 

The findings are particularly relevant to people who do a lot of cleaning as part of their job and those who have augmented their cleaning regime during the COVID-19 pandemic. Until the effects of these nanoparticles on public health is better understood, decreasing the time spent cleaning with products that contain monoterpenes, and installing ozone filters, might be a good idea...


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