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Does the ubiquitous use of essential oil-based products promote indoor air quality? A critical literature review


Essential oils are frequently used as natural fragrances in housecleaning products and air fresheners marketed as green and healthy. However, these substances are volatile and reactive chemical species. This review focuses on the impact of essential oil-based household products on indoor air quality. First, housecleaning products containing essential oils are explored in terms of composition and existing regulations. Specific insight is provided regarding terpenes in fragranced housecleaning products, air fresheners, and pure essential oils. Second, experimental methodologies for terpene monitoring, from sampling to experimental chambers and analytical methods, are addressed, emphasizing the experimental issues in monitoring terpenes in indoor air. Third, the temporal dynamics of terpene emissions reported in the literature are discussed. Despite experimental discrepancies, essential oil-based products are significant sources of terpenes in indoor air, inducing a high exposure of occupants to terpenes. Finally, the fate of terpenes is explored from sorptive and reactive points of view. In addition to terpene deposition on surfaces, indoor oxidants may induce homogeneous and heterogeneous reactions, resulting in secondary pollutants, such as formaldehyde and secondary organic aerosols. Overall, essential oil-based products can negatively impact indoor air quality; therefore, standard protocols and real-scale approaches are needed to explore the indoor physics and chemistry of terpenes, from emissions to reactivity.

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This work is developed in the frame of the project ESSENTIEL, which has received financial support from the ADEME (Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Energie).

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Correspondence to Frederic Thevenet.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Angulo Milhem, S., Verriele, M., Nicolas, M. et al. Does the ubiquitous use of essential oil-based products promote indoor air quality? A critical literature review. Environ Sci Pollut Res 27, 14365–14411 (2020).

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  • Indoor air
  • Essential oils
  • Terpenes
  • Cleaning products
  • Air fresheners
  • Emission
  • Reactivity