The American Cleaning Institute (ACI)

American Cleaning Institute Statement – Study addressing effects of cleaning chemicals


The American Cleaning Institute – the trade association for the cleaning products industry – released the following statement in response to irresponsible headlines and stories - attempting to summarize a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience - that distort the safety and beneficial use of quaternary ammonium compounds:

The use of cleaning products, disinfectants and their chemistries contribute to public health in homes, schools, healthcare settings and communities every single day. 

A key ingredient in many disinfectants comes from a family of chemistries known as quaternary ammonium compounds (quats or QACs for short). Quats are a group of chemicals used for a variety of purposes, including as preservatives, surfactants, antistatic agents and as active ingredients for disinfectants and sanitizers. Quats are highly effective at killing bacteria, fungi, and viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and are found in many common disinfectant products.

  • Quats are a key ingredient in trusted products used in household, commercial, medical, food service, food and beverage processing, and institutional sites. Cleaning product and disinfectant manufacturers and regulatory authorities are regularly reviewing scientific articles examining the use and potential effects of these products and chemistries to ensure they remain safe and effective and provide the benefits we all require.
  • ACI member company manufacturers make product safety a top priority. Rigorous safety tests are in place for human health that are evaluated by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval and compliance with all regulatory guidelines.

Disinfecting products, including those with quats, are highly regulated and evaluated by the EPA and FDA (which regulates their use in antibacterial soaps), as well as many international authorities such as the European Commission. For products containing quats to make it to the market, they must undergo a high level of rigorous testing in order to determine the impacts they may have on human health and the environment. Products can only be registered if data show that the intended uses (as described on the product labels) are safe when used as directed.

An active ingredient is the chemical in a product that is doing the ‘job’ the product says it does, such as disinfection. All disinfection active ingredients in cleaning products must go through extensive Agency review. For that review, the EPA requires a wide variety of scientific data for every active ingredient (such as quats) in disinfecting products. This includes acute (short term) and chronic (long term) studies on how it may affect people when it is used.

In addition to the underlying active ingredient, these data are required for each finished product.

Numerous studies are also required on what happens to quats when “released” in the environment and whether they adversely affect aquatic and terrestrial life.

In addition to conducting full risk assessments on each active ingredient, EPA also requires acute studies for each finished product: this includes skin, eye, inhalation toxicity and irritation, as well as oral toxicity. Data supporting each finished product must be reviewed and approved by EPA before it can be distributed in the United Sates.

The EPA’s process for approval of surface disinfectants is one of the most data-intensive regulatory system in the US. To register a chemical for disinfectant use, EPA generally requires more than 20 types of toxicological data involving potentially more than 30 individual toxicological studies to ensure the disinfectant poses no unreasonable acute or long-term risk to humans of all ages.

We would also like to point out a 2021 review article, Quaternary Ammonium Compounds: Perspectives on Benefits, Hazards, and Risk, published in Toxicology Research and Application, which noted:

“As active antimicrobial agents, QACs and QAC-containing consumer and professional products are highly regulated by authorities such as the US Environmental Protection Agency and the European Chemicals Agency. A complete database of guideline safety studies, covering human and environmental health, is available and has been reviewed by multiple regulatory agencies globally. The conclusions of regulatory agencies from these studies indicate no concerns regarding reproductive effects, genotoxicity, carcinogenicity, or other systemic adverse effects.” 

Additional resources:

The American Cleaning Institute® (ACI – is the Home of the U.S. Cleaning Products Industry® and represents the $60 billion U.S. cleaning product supply chain. ACI members include the manufacturers and formulators of soaps, detergents, and general cleaning products used in household, commercial, industrial and institutional settings; companies that supply ingredients and finished packaging for these products; and chemical distributors. ACI serves the growth and innovation of the U.S. cleaning products industry by advancing the health and quality of life of people and protecting our planet. ACI achieves this through a continuous commitment to sound science and being a credible voice for the cleaning products industry.