Ordinary Cleanrooms

Myth: Cleanrooms are only for the rich and famous.

Reality: Cleanrooms are for ordinary people everyday.

The perception that cleanrooms are only for the rich and famous is a holdover from the early days of this industry in the 1950s and 1960s when industry growth came from such famous names as IBM and Merck. There was a mystique that only large organizations could afford this very expensive research and manufacturing space.

The United States government sponsorship of the space program also provided strong economic impetus. Much has been made of the spin-offs of the space program, as well it should. The U.S. taxpayers' investment in space-related technology continues to provide a high return on our daily quality of life.

Today when you brush your teeth, you should know that your toothbrush bristles were likely manufactured in a Class 10,000 cleanroom.

Your cosmetics were packaged in a cleanroom. Your clothing was probably cut by a laser manufactured in a cleanroom. Your breakfast food was also packaged in clean space.

Any medications you take, whether prescription type or over-the-counter type were most likely manufactured in clean space. Just about all medication ingested or injected into our bodies has been produced in a cleanroom. Even medications given to our pets come from similar clean environments.

Some Nissan dashboard trim parts are made in a Class 1000 cleanroom. The exterior trim parts of a Ford Explorer are made in a Class 10,000 cleanroom. Many components are manufactured in clean space. Two examples are anti-lock brakes and windshield safety glass inner sandwich layer film. Your fuel injectors most likely were made in clean space in either Virginia, North Carolina or South Carolina.

Every single component of a Volvo automobile must have a traceable pedigree, i.e., a completely traceable quality control paper (or computer) trail, and it is preferable that these components be manufactured in clean space wherever possible.

Most of the components of any aircraft you travel aboard were also manufactured in clean space, almost always Class 10,000 or cleaner.

At your place of work, components of your laser printer were likely manufactured in a Class 5,000 cleanroom. Parts of your portable cell phone may have come from Class 10 cleanrooms in North Carolina and California. Indeed, your cell phone probably uses a spacecraft satellite to transmit its signal. As we know, all spacecraft components require critical manufacturing control to operate in their totally unforgiving environment.

Components in your computer came from cleanrooms all over the world, most of them transported as air freight.

During your normal business day, many of the tools of your trade will have come from a clean environment. Some of you will actually work in a clean environment. Those of you who don't are likely to benefit from those who do.

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At the end of the day, should you choose to listen to a CD, know that it, too, came from a Class 10,000 or better environment. Taking a relaxing bath could involve a foil-wrapped bar of soap whose wrapper was printed in a Class 10,000 cleanroom. The information on this wrapper was engraved by the rotogravure process, and the rotogravure drum was produced in a different Class 10,000 environment.

Outlined below is a random sampling of products manufactured in and applications utilized in cleanroom space in the southeastern part of the United States, an area that represents only about 10 to 15 percent of the cleanroom space in this country.


  • Electronic test equipment
  • Molecular contamination research
  • Thick & thin film manufacturing
  • Glass fibers for fiberoptic cable
  • Printed circuit board components
  • Electrical connectors
  • Microchips
  • Photolithography
  • Ceramic capacitors
  • Nuclear monitoring devices
  • Night vision components
  • Etching chemicals
  • Laser scanners
  • Electron microscope facility
  • Crystal growth manufacturing
  • Optical systems


  • Ignition systems
  • Electronic distribution systems
  • Healthcare
  • Biohazard research & containment
  • Disinfectant packaging
  • Sterilizers
  • Biotechnology research & manufacturing
  • Satellite & hospital pharmacies
  • Hospital operating rooms
  • Parenteral drug manufacturing
  • Animal laboratories
  • Diagnostic devices
  • Pharmaceutical product packaging
  • Medical devices & packaging
  • Microbial contamination research

General industry

  • Wipes
  • Garments
  • Laundries
  • HEPA filter manufacturing
  • Photographic film manufacturing
  • Specialty paper manufacturing
  • Reflective signs
  • Aerosol research

Space and military

  • Guided missile components
  • Underwater detection device
  • Detonation devices
  • Cryogenic insulation
  • Breathing devices
  • Space environment chambers
  • Spacecraft assembly areas

These items are made by ordinary organizations for ordinary people. Only the decision to invest in expensive cleanroom space is extraordinary. It requires careful cost benefit investigation by answering such questions as:

  • Can I improve my yield?
  • Can I manufacture products in a clean environment not possible to produce in a non-clean environment?
  • Can I improve my quality?
  • Can I expand my market opportunity?
  • Can I get a 90 day pay-out period?
  • Can I improve my earnings?
  • Can I get ISO 9000 quality certification?
  • Can I outsmart my competition?

Positive answers to economic questions like these are what make clean space truly ordinary.

Richard A. Matthews

Richard A. Matthews is founder of Filtration Technology Inc. (Greensboro, NC) and president of Micron Video International. He is chairman of the International Organization for Standardization Technical Committee ISO/TC 209 “Cleanrooms and associated clean environments,” and past president of the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology. He is on the CleanRooms Editorial Advisory Board.


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