Citrus Cleaners

What About Cleaning with “That Lemony Smell”…Citrus?

 Some school boards and consumers choose to purchase citrus-based cleaners without being aware that these may pose health concerns. “But citrus is “natural” and “green”, isn’t it?”   Some “natural” materials are indeed less toxic, however there are plenty of examples of natural poisons, irritants, and the like. Take for example, hemlock, poison ivy, pollens as allergens, radon gas, minerals such as asbestos, mercury and many other natural materials.  D’limonene, the main ingredient in citrus based cleaning products, is also an example.  It is a natural solvent that is widely used, including as a surfactant (it lifts dirt from surfaces) in cleaning materials.  It is also a registered pesticide.

Precautionary statements are required on limonene product labels.  Long-used pesticides are being examined for re-registration by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Limonene was first registered as an insecticide in 1958, and was re-approved for registration again in 1998.  It is one of those being re-examined.

D’limonene comes from citrus fruit, but can also be synthetically created from petrochemicals. This is why “limonene” and “D’limonene” are essentially the same. Look for “limonene” or “D’limonene”on the label, and for orange, grapefruit or lemony smell in shampoos, cleaning materials and other products.

D’limonene occurs naturally in smaller amounts in foods and it is not considered unsafe by the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration).  However, when it appears in concentrated amounts, as with cleaning materials, there is cause for concern.  Toxicologic problems from exposure to skin include skin irritation and sensitization, particularly with repeated exposure. Some people, such as those with pre-existing sensitivity to citrus, can not use or even be in areas which have been cleaned using citrus products.  Citrus sensitivity is common.  Schools contain students and teachers with a broad range of health concerns including this one, so it is important to choose other effective cleaning materials.

Research is showing that limonene combines with natural occurring ozone in indoor environments to produce harmful byproducts such as breathable particles, formaldehyde and acetone.

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Lamorena RB, Lee W., Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, 373-1 Daejon, Republic of Korea. February, 2008.


Tamás G, Weschler CJ, Toftum J, Fanger PO., Influence of ozone-limonene reactions on perceived air quality. International Centre for Indoor Environment and Energy, Technical University of Denmark, 2800-Kgs. Lyngby, Denmark. Indoor Air. 2006 Jun;16(3):168-78.