Outdoor cleaning products can harm the environment

Cleaning products for outdoor use contain surfactants that can harm the environment.

Summer is the season for outdoor cleaning of garden furniture, tiles, boats, etc. The cleaning effect of the products is due to their content of surfactants. In a study of 20 selected cleaning products in four different categories, DHI has made an environmental risk assessment of four surfactants: ADBAC1, DDAC2, ADAO3 and cocoamidopropyl betaine. The substances are found in products for tile cleaning, wood wash, roof cleaning and boat cleaning, all available for purchase from retailers and online.

Of the 20 products analysed, 14 of them are assessed to have environmentally harmful effects when discharged locally to the soil or to the harbour environment.

When the product contains biocidal active substances
In addition to being surfactants, the two substances ADBAC and DDAC are also biocidal active substances. These substances are typically found in products for anti-algae treatment. Depending on how the product is marketed, the applicable legislation may differ. 

If a cleaning product contains a surfactant that is also a biocidal active substance, and the product is marketed solely for cleaning purposes it will generally need to fulfil the requirements of the EU Regulation on Detergents, the REACH chemicals regulation and other relevant legislation, but not the biocide regulation. On the other hand, if the product is marketed for anti-algae treatment of tiles or ship fouling it must comply with the rules in the EU Biocidal Products Regulation or the Danish Pesticide Executive Order.

The purpose of the study Mapping and environmental assessment of cleaning products for outdoor use is to gain knowledge of ingredients in cleaning products for outdoor use focussing on surfactants and their potential risk to the environment. This knowledge can be used by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency to clarify whether some products should be handled differently in the legislation and to provide consumers with better information on how to minimise discharge to the environment.

The environmental risk assessments were made by DHI and the analyses by the Danish Technological Institute for the Danish Environmental Protection Agency. 

To learn more about the project or environmentally hazardous substances, please contact:

Anne Rathmann Pedersen 
Tel +45 4516 9370


1Alkyldimethylbenzylammonium chloride
2Didecyldimethylammonium chloride
3Alkyldimethylamine oxide