Pesticide manufacturer labels or safety data sheets (SDS) identify decontaminants such as chlorine bleach, caustic soda (lye), or lime. But there are limitations to that data, they do not show the degradation rate or if there are potentially toxic byproducts that could form during decontamination. Plus using lye and lime to clean is usually not practical for actual cleaning needs and they can’t be used on many surfaces.
I have reviewed the studies on decontamination and remediation of residential pesticides to find some cleaning methods that would work in real homes.
Please consult with a local Industrial Hygienist and the pesticide company that makes the product you are attempting to clean up and break down. Remember that some of these methods do produce byproducts with some pesticides.
While surfactants on their own are not enough to eliminate pesticides they are a good start and they can be used in combination with other chemicals. In the study below on hydrogen peroxide, some of the formulas contained surfactants.
My post on degreasers covers the strongest industrial formulas that are still non-toxic.
This strategy is not producing a chemical reaction and so it should not produce any byproducts. It’s a safe way to start to reduce the pesticide load.
2. Hydrogen Peroxide
In one study hydrogen peroxide effectively degraded organophosphorus and pyrethroid pesticides, but had less activity on breaking down organochlorine.
The study concluded that hydrogen peroxide is useful for the degradation of organophosphorus and pyrethroid.
In another study, building materials were contaminated with the following pesticides: malathion, carbaryl, fipronil, deltamethrin, and permethrin.
The hydrogen peroxide component in DF200 and Sterilex products was found to be highly effective for degrading malathion, carbaryl, fipronil, deltamethrin, and permethrin on stainless-steel, plywood, and vinyl.
Hydrogen peroxide containing products were most effective at degrading carbaryl (>71-99%) and least effective on permethrin (<54%).
In the same study, they also tested out full-strength bleach. Bleach effectively reduced the levels and broke down all of the tested pesticides except for carbaryl. It worked really well on permethrin, degrading it efficiently >94%.
They used a long contact time (18 hr) for both hydrogen peroxide and bleach. (source)
They used full-strength bleach which is technically not recommend by manufacturers. They suggest proceeding with caution with bleach.
4. Bacteria and Enzymes
In another study, bacteria and enzymes were tested for their ability to break down and biodegrade pesticides. They were tested in soil and water, not in real-life conditions of a home, so keep in mind because that changes things.
Among the strains tested, bacteria that belong to the genera Bacillus, Brevibacillus, Ochrobactrum, Pseudomonas, Serratia, and Sphingobium “were found to be very metabolically active microorganisms that are capable of degrading various pyrethroids”.
A few pyrethroid-degrading enzymes have been documented: carboxylase from B. cereus SM3, pyrethroid hydrolase from A. niger ZD11, EstP from Klebsiella sp. ZD112 and PytH (31 kDa) from Sphingobium sp. JZ-1. In addition, Pye3, PytZ and PytY, anthropi YZ-1 and thermostable esterase Sys410.
Folks with environmental sensitivity have used bacteria and enzymes for remediation of various chemical and biological contaminants. I have not assessed whether the products on the market that are often used by the chemically sensitive will work for this purpose.
However, the products on the market include:
- Liquid EM-1
Enzymatic high strength:
- Mold Toxin Klear
- Enzyme Komplete
Enzymatic lower strength:
- See my post on enzyme cleaners
5. Vinegar, Baking Soda, and Lemon
One study had a different goal, which was to remove pesticides from beans. Some of these pesticides are in the same class used for pesticides in homes so I thought I would list this option here.
Their formula was 4% Acetic Acid + 0.1% baking soda + 1 Lemon followed by a 2% salt solution which was partially effective in reducing the residues of the pesticides chlorantraniliprole, bifenthrin profenophos, lambda cyhalothrin, beta cyfluthrin, fipronil, flubendiamide, and imidacloprid.
Other remediation techniques:
- Sealing with polyurethane (source Johnson, M. Letter to Steve Renninger, On-Scene Coordinator, US EPA: Documentation for Previous Verbal Consultations that ATSDR Provided to the US EPA and the Cincinnati Department of Health Regarding Excessive Spray of Malathion in Several Residences; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: Chicago, IL, 2011.)
- Use urgent containment like aluminum foil.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.