Cleaning Products & Indoor Air Quality
Cleaning Products and Indoor Air Pollution
CARB's Consumer Products Program aims to reduce the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), toxic air contaminants (TACs), and greenhouse gases (GHGs) that are emitted from the use of chemically formulated consumer products, including detergents, cleaning compounds, polishes, floor finishes, disinfectants, and sanitizers. Certain chemicals emitted by cleaning products can be harmful from direct exposure or can react with other chemicals in the air to form harmful by-products. Currently the amount of reactive VOCs in cleaning products is regulated by CARB due to their potential to contribute to the photochemical formation of ground level ozone. For example, terpenes and glycol ethers are reactive VOCs, and the amount used in cleaning products is limited by these regulations. The total amount of VOCs allowed in a product varies depending on product category, but is generally set as low as feasible. For many products, the highest percentage of VOCs is found in the fragrances added to impart a particular scent.
In a 2008 study funded by CARB, researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory measured pollutant concentrations during and after simulated cleaning activities, such as mopping and general cleaning, and during use of a plug-in air freshener. Twelve of the 21 products examined contained terpenes or other VOCs that can react with ozone, with terpenes constituting from 0.2% to 26% of the product. The investigators found that chemicals emitted from the products generally were below levels of concern. However, chemical reactions did produce other pollutants at levels of health concern. Specifically, cleaning products that contained terpenes – which are found in pine and citrus oils – resulted in the production of formaldehyde and ultrafine particles in rooms where elevated levels of ozone were present. Glycol ethers, compounds classified by CARB as TACs, generally were not released at levels that pose a risk to building occupants during cleaning. However, calculations showed that high exposure situations could potentially lead to exposure to one of the compounds, 2-butoxyethanol, above health guideline values. Examples of high exposure situations include cleaning multiple interior windows with limited ventilation, or cleaning a large surface area such as a shower stall in a small bathroom.
Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen with no safe level of exposure. Formaldehyde is also a strong eye, nose, throat and lung irritant. Because there are many indoor sources of formaldehyde, such as building materials, it is found in nearly all homes and buildings. The risk of health effects from formaldehyde depends on how much a person is exposed to, so it is important to reduce your exposure as much as possible.
Health effects from inhaling ultrafine particles in indoor air is not well-understood, but exposure to particle pollutants in outdoor air is closely associated with a variety of health effects. Serious health effects from inhaling particle pollutants include heart and lung disease and premature death. People most susceptible to health effects from exposure to pollutants from cleaning products are infants and small children, professional cleaners, individuals cleaning in small enclosed areas, and people with lung or heart disease.
Actions You Can Take
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce or eliminate exposure to these indoor pollutants:
- Use cleaning agents that are certified as meeting the US EPA's Safer Product Standars: U.S EPA's "Safer Choice".
- Limit the use of cleaning products and air fresheners that contain pine or citrus oils, especially during days when ozone levels are high. For ozone forecasts, visit U.S. EPA's Air Now.
- Avoid the use of indoor air cleaners that intentionally produce ozone.
- Beware of consumer products that emit harmful levels of ozone.
- Do not use more of the cleaning agent than is necessary to complete the job.
- Rinse surfaces liberally with water after cleaning (where appropriate); 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 and for several hours after cleaning.