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Air pollution is growing fastest in monsoon-affected South Asia. During the dry winter monsoon, the fumes disperse toward the Indian Ocean, creating a vast pollution haze, but their fate during the wet summer monsoon has been unclear. We performed atmospheric chemistry measurements by aircraft in the Oxidation Mechanism Observations campaign, sampling the summer monsoon outflow in the upper troposphere between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. The measurements, supported by model calculations, show that the monsoon sustains a remarkably efficient cleansing mechanism by which contaminants are rapidly oxidized and deposited to Earth’s surface. However, some pollutants are lofted above the monsoon clouds and chemically processed in a reactive reservoir before being redistributed globally, including to the stratosphere.