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Home > By DEPARTMENTS > Green Operations > Standard Operating Procedures for Green and Sustainable Business Operations > Cleaning & Maintenance

Improve Cleaning Products and improve Indoor Air Quality

The indoor use of certain common cleaning products and air fresheners can cause an increase in indoor concentrations of some gaseous and particle pollutants. Here are some solutions.

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Actions you can take to reduce exposures

The indoor use of certain common cleaning products and air fresheners can cause an increase in indoor concentrations of some gaseous and particle pollutants. However, people who use these products can take simple steps to reduce the production of air pollutants and their exposure to them.

In a recent study funded by the California Air Resources Board (ARB), investigators from the University of California at Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory measured pollutant concentrations during and after simulated cleaning activities, including mopping, general cleaning, and use of a plug-in air freshener. The investigators found that chemicals directly emitted from the products generally were not a problem, but that indoor chemical reactions of the substances emitted produced some pollutants of health concern. Specifically, using products that contained terpenes – the fragrance components of pine and citrus oils – in rooms where ozone was present resulted in the production of formaldehyde and ultrafine particles, which can potentially harm human health.

Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen and a respiratory irritant with a very low threshold for health effects. While health effects associated with the ultrafine particles generated during cleaning are not well understood, exposure to particle pollutants from the outdoor environment is associated with a variety of health effects, including serious heart and lung disease and even premature death. Exposure to these pollutants indoors could be a concern for individuals cleaning in small enclosed areas, professional house cleaners, and individuals with pre-existing lung or heart disease.

Actions You Can Take

Fortunately, there are measures one can take to reduce exposure to these pollutants during and immediately following cleaning activities. Users of cleaning products should:
  • Avoid using cleaning products or air fresheners advertised as pine- or lemon-scented, or that contain pine or citrus oils, especially during high outdoor pollution days. For ozone forecasts, visit and click on “Local forecasts and conditions.”
  • Do not use more of the cleaning agent than is necessary to complete the job. Read and follow the instructions for use carefully.
  • Rinse surfaces liberally with water after cleaning; residual cleaning agents that remain on surfaces will continue to react with any ozone present in the air.
  • Remove the paper towels, sponges, and mops used in cleaning from the indoor living space; rinse sponges and mops well before storing.
  • Always use adequate ventilation during cleaning.
  • Keep the ventilation rate high for several hours after cleaning.

Cleaning Product Composition

Currently the amount of reactive volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in cleaning products is regulated by ARB due to their potential to contribute to the formation of ground level ozone. Because terpenes are reactive VOCs they fall under these regulations. The total amount of VOCs allowed varies by product category. The current restrictions on VOC content of cleaning products, as well as recently approved changes that take effect in the future, can be obtained from, or by calling the phone numbers provided below under “For More Information.”

Additional Results of the Study

In addition to observing the generation of formaldehyde and ultrafine particles, the investigators also noted the following results:
  • Twelve of the 21 products examined contained terpenes and other ozone-reactive compounds. The terpenes constituted from 0.2% to 26% of the product.
  • Glycol ethers, compounds classified by ARB as Toxic Air Contaminants, generally were not released at levels that pose a risk to building occupants during cleaning. However, calculations showed that high exposure situations, such as cleaning multiple interior windows with limited ventilation, or cleaning a large surface area such as a shower stall in a small bathroom, could lead to exposure to one of the compounds, 2-butoxyethanol, above health guideline values.

For More Information The full research report on this study can be downloaded from ARB’s website at

General information on indoor air quality is available at

For additional information, please contact ARB’s Public Information Office at 916-322-2990, or leave a voice mail message on ARB’s Indoor Air Quality Information line at 916-322-8282.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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