Airborne exposures to monoethanolamine, glycol ethers, and benzyl alcohol during professional cleaning: a pilot study

Ann Occup Hyg. 2014 Aug;58(7):846-59. doi: 10.1093/annhyg/meu028. Epub 2014 May 6.


A growing body of epidemiologic evidence suggests an association between exposure to cleaning products and respiratory dysfunction. Due to the lack of quantitative assessments of respiratory exposures to airborne irritants and sensitizers among professional cleaners, the culpable substances have yet to be identified.

Purpose: Focusing on previously identified irritants, our aims were to determine (i) airborne concentrations of monoethanolamine (MEA), glycol ethers, and benzyl alcohol (BA) during different cleaning tasks performed by professional cleaning workers and assess their determinants; and (ii) air concentrations of formaldehyde, a known indoor air contaminant.

Methods: Personal air samples were collected in 12 cleaning companies, and analyzed by conventional methods.

Results: Nearly all air concentrations [MEA (n = 68), glycol ethers (n = 79), BA (n = 15), and formaldehyde (n = 45)] were far below (<1/10) of the corresponding Swiss occupational exposure limits (OEL), except for ethylene glycol mono-n-butyl ether (EGBE). For butoxypropanol and BA, no OELs exist. Although only detected once, EGBE air concentrations (n = 4) were high (49.48-58.72mg m(-3)), and close to the Swiss OEL (49mg m(-3)). When substances were not noted as present in safety data sheets of cleaning products used but were measured, air concentrations showed no presence of MEA, while the glycol ethers were often present, and formaldehyde was universally detected. Exposure to MEA was affected by its amount used (P = 0.036), and spraying (P = 0.000) and exposure to butoxypropanol was affected by spraying (P = 0.007) and cross-ventilation (P = 0.000).

Conclusions: Professional cleaners were found to be exposed to multiple airborne irritants at low concentrations, thus these substances should be considered in investigations of respiratory dysfunctions in the cleaning industry; especially in specialized cleaning tasks such as intensive floor cleaning.

Keywords: asthma; cleaning products; cleaning workers; exposure assessment; irritants; respiratory; sensitizers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution, Indoor / analysis
  • Asthma / chemically induced
  • Benzyl Alcohol / analysis*
  • Benzyl Alcohol / toxicity
  • Clothing
  • Ethanolamine / analysis*
  • Ethanolamine / toxicity
  • Ethylene Glycols / analysis*
  • Ethylene Glycols / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure / analysis*
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis
  • Pilot Projects
  • Solvents / analysis
  • Solvents / toxicity
  • Ventilation


  • Ethylene Glycols
  • Solvents
  • Ethanolamine
  • Benzyl Alcohol