The ISS is a pretty messy place, as in the image here. I have a cable mess under my desk that quickly traps dust and takes some effort to be cleaned. The ISS is much worse. And it has been crewed constantly since November 2000, by almost 100 persons now.

I suppose the ventilation and its filters takes care of some of the dust, and I can imagine that it is more efficient as a kind of vacuum cleaner in microgravity. But humans have fatty sticky skin and hair that falls off. And there's a lot of mixed materials exhaled, we exhale about as much water as we deposit in toilettes. The crew cannot walk but has to grab things with their hands in order to move. Door handles and even light switches in unclean homes are disgustingly tainted by filth because they are often touched.

What cleaning equipment, chemicals and routines are used on the ISS, and how much time is spent on cleaning? Spray bottles with detergents might not be a good idea in microgravity since it would end up everywhere, including in the lungs and on the skin of the crew. Swabbing the floor isn't even possible. I don't see images of the crew using hair nets and gloves much. Shouldn't the ISS be treated a bit like a clean room?

Is filth an important problem as in threatening the astronauts' health or restricting the life time of the hardware and the station itself?

enter image description here

Columbus laboratory on the ISS.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ And how do they fight moulds. $\endgroup$
    – user54
    Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ You make it sound like the New York City Subway - which reminds me of the genetic biome analysis Weill Cornell Medical College did a few years ago (read about it in Wired) which makes me want to ask - are there any plastic giraffes on the ISS? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 8:57
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @horsh On MIR, not much. Just try to co-exist with it. "Molds that develop aboard space stations can produce acids that degrade metal, glass and rubber.[43] The molds in Mir were found growing behind panels and inside air-conditioning equipment. The molds also caused bad smell, which was often cited as visitors' strongest impressions." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mir#Microbiological_environmental_hazards A space station seems to have the quality of living in a public toilette. People do that, but it might be a problem for private "tourists". $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 10:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ To support a "clean room" you would need other areas used for eating, sleeping, cleaning and so on. It is not possible to treat the ISS as one single celan room. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 16:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The ISS is not in any way a "clean room". The crew eats in it, washes, go to the bathroom. None of that would be allowed in a "clean room". It's more like a mobile home or RV. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 1:47

1 Answer 1


The Space Station's Environmental Control and Life Support System eliminates much of the dust and other particulates from the breathing atmosphere via HEPA filters. It also removes water vapor, volatiles such as ammonia, and of course carbon dioxide.

That still leaves dust and hairs that collect onto surfaces. Every Saturday, every cosmonaut and astronaut is assigned two to four hours of weekly cleaning duties. Many of the tasks we do at home are also done in space, such as vacuuming and wiping surfaces.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Every Saturday? That's very traditional, Saturday in many languages means "cleaning day". Half a working day per week, not too demanding. Floors require cleaning beyond hand wiping because the dirt is stepped into it, but there are no floors in space so that maybe helps. $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ @LocalFluff Scandinavian languages and... what? Wikipedia also adds Maori :) $\endgroup$
    – kubanczyk
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 12:44
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @kubanczyk Foreigners might be filthier than I wanted to believe. The civilized world of course takes a bath the day before one visits the church. $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 12:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Its not like they are constantly dragging in dirt on their shoes.. $\endgroup$
    – Innovine
    Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 10:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.