The increasing manufacture and use of products based on nanotechnology raises concerns for both workers and consumers. Various studies report induction of pulmonary inflammation after inhalation exposure to nanoparticles, which can vary in aspects such as size, shape, charge, crystallinity, chemical composition, and dissolution rate. Each of these aspects can affect their toxicity, although it is largely unknown to what extent. The aim of the current review is to analyse published data on inhalation of nanoparticles to identify and evaluate the contribution of their physicochemical characteristics to the onset and development of pulmonary inflammation. Many physicochemical characteristics of nanoparticles affect their lung deposition, clearance, and pulmonary response that, in combination, ultimately determine whether pulmonary inflammation will occur and to what extent. Lung deposition is mainly determined by the physical properties of the aerosol (size, density, shape, hygroscopicity) in relation to airflow and the anatomy of the respiratory system, whereas clearance and translocation of nanoparticles are mainly determined by their geometry and surface characteristics. Besides size and chemical composition, other physicochemical characteristics influence the induction of pulmonary inflammation after inhalation. As some nanoparticles dissolve, they can release toxic ions that can damage the lung tissue, making dissolution rate an important characteristic that affects lung inflammation. Fibre-shaped materials are more toxic to the lungs compared to spherical shaped nanoparticles of the same chemical composition. In general, cationic nanoparticles are more cytotoxic than neutral or anionic nanoparticles. Finally, surface reactivity correlates well with observed pulmonary inflammation. With all these characteristics affecting different stages of the events leading to pulmonary inflammation, no unifying dose metric could be identified to describe pulmonary inflammation for all nanomaterials, although surface reactivity might be a useful measure. To determine the extent to which the various characteristics influence the induction of pulmonary inflammation, the effect of these characteristics on lung deposition, clearance, and pulmonary response should be systematically evaluated. The results can then be used to facilitate risk assessment by categorizing nanoparticles according to their characteristics.