The International Space Station (ISS) has been occupied continuously since 2 November 2000. we know from a recent answer that it is cleaned weekly

In my home when winter is over, and we are doing spring cleaning we open all the doors and windows. Doing the same on the ISS would be a bit different, but does raise the question.

Can you open the doors and 'air out' the ISS? If so what would be the impact?

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    $\begingroup$ You might not be able to evacuate all the air (and thereby all the dirt). I remember reading (sorry, can't locate source) that at least Apollo 11 had trouble depressurizing fully when on the moon. They opened the valves and the air bled out, but when the pressure had fallen close to vacuum, the pressurization rate had also slowed down, and the last bits of atmosphere was quite reluctant to go out $\endgroup$
    – Innovine
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ This gives a whole new meaning to 'air out' and 'vacuum clean.' $\endgroup$
    – WBT
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Innovine Makes sense; the air molecules are not at all obligated to evacuate the spaces — simply that there is less pressure keeping them from doing so. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 23:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Innovine according to ALSJ it was a bacterial filter on the hatch depressurization valve (remember, they were paranoid about moon germs back then!) that made it so hard to get the air out, taking more than 10 minutes to get down around 0.1 psi. The later LMs omitted the filter, and Apollo 12 depressurized more than twice as fast. But yeah, if your opening is small compared to the area you're venting, it will take a while for the last bits to go. $\endgroup$
    – hobbs
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 4:47
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    $\begingroup$ Surprised that no one has mentioned the Simpsons episode where Homer does exactly this to rid the Space Shuttle of an ant infestation - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Space_Homer. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 13:52

3 Answers 3


Because of boundary conditions, despite a massive "woosh" of air from rapid depressurization, the velocity of air near walls and other rigid surfaces approaches zero. The highest velocity of air flowing through the compartments would be where it's furthest away from the walls, and presumably anything that needs to be cleaned.


It would be extremely difficult to open the outer airlock hatch if the inner airlock hatch is open because the outer hatch opens inward, and there are tons of pressure force holding it closed.

However, if you were suicidal enough, you could open the inner hatch, and then the airlock depressurization valves, and let the station vent down to the point where you could open the hatch.

See related answer to this question

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    $\begingroup$ Without wearing spacesuits, you could not open the hatch when the station is vented down. You would be at least unconscious at such a low air pressure. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ Agreed, I was being tongue in cheek. I am not sure the question is all that serious. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 18:19

Opening the hatch might get rid of most of the loose rubble (minus everything that gets swept along, then slams into a wall), but that's not enough. Any gunk that sticks to a surface is likely to remain stuck.
Part of the ISS cleaning routine is replacing the filters. Those won't be much cleaner after depressurization either.

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    $\begingroup$ I read loose Ruble and wondered why on earth would one need change in a space station. $\endgroup$
    – Pavel
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 11:17
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    $\begingroup$ @PavelPetrman They're far more likely to use something like tortillas as currency up there anyway $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 14:55

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