Clean Floors, Dirty Data: Limonene Contamination in GCMS Analysis

by | Jan 5, 2024

Limonene, a common ingredient in cleaners, poses a threat to the integrity of GC-MS results in analytical laboratories

In analytical laboratories, where precision is not just a goal but a necessity, unforeseen interferences can pose serious threats to standard workflows. A recent discussion on Chromatography Forum brought to light a critical issue—the contamination of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCMS) systems by floor cleaning chemicals.

Commercial cleaning products commonly contain limonene, valued for its efficacy as a natural solvent that effortlessly dissolves oils and greases and its pleasant, citrusy fragrance that neutralizes bad odors. It’s non-toxic and biodegradable, and boasts natural antimicrobial qualities, making it an eco-friendly cleaning agent.

However, as Chromatography Forum member Gizmo emphasized, the widespread use of limonene in floor cleaners presents a significant challenge for analytical labs. Gizmo noted that janitorial staff, inadvertently using these products, had already introduced this compound into the lab's GC-MS systems—a contamination far from benign, as it can seriously distort results and compromise the integrity of analyses.

In addressing this issue, forum participants proposed practical solutions. One user, cene, suggested that if limonene is only used for its scent in the cleaner, switching to an unscented version could resolve the problem. However, if limonene is the main solvent in the cleaning product, a complete change to another cleaner is essential. For situations where the ideal cleaning agent is uncertain, using plain water, possibly with a mild cleaning agent, was recommended as a nearly undetectable alternative.

Another forum member, James_Ball, highlighted that limonene and 2-butoxyethanol are particularly problematic in laboratory environments. He suggested that while ammonia-based products might be suitable for labs conducting only organic analysis, they could cause interference in spaces analyzing ammonia or Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen (TKN). This highlights the complexity of selecting a universal cleaner for laboratories engaged in diverse types of trace analysis.

While specialized products, such as those recommended in Alconox Inc.'s Critical Cleaning Guide, are typically used for cleaning lab equipment, those responsible for general lab maintenance and cleaning may overlook potential chemical residues. Recent concerns about background PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in PFAS testing labs have risen due to their presence in a range of product types, necessitating vigilance and strategic cleaning choices.

To provide practical advice, laboratories could consider specialized lab floor cleaners from brands including Steris and Ecolab. These products are specifically formulated for scientific environments, ensuring cleanliness without risking analytical accuracy.

These discussions underscore the importance of choosing the right cleaning products in laboratories, particularly those utilizing sensitive equipment such as GC-MS systems. Finding a cleaning solution that effectively cleans without compromising analytical accuracy remains a challenge, calling for careful consideration and collaboration between laboratory and janitorial staff.

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