Abstract The performance of room temperature CdTe and CdZnTe detectors exposed to a radiation source can be strongly altered by the interaction of the ionizing particles and the material. Up to now, few experimental data are available on the response of II–VI compound detectors to different types of radiation sources. We have carried out a thorough investigation on the effects of γ-rays, neutrons and electron irradiation both on CdTe : Cl and Cd 0.9Zn 0.1Te detectors. We have studied the detector response after radiation exposure by means of dark current measurements and of quantitative spectroscopic analyses at low and medium energies. The deep traps present in the material have been characterized by means of PICTS (photo-induced current transient spectroscopy) analyses, which allow to determine the trap apparent activation energy and capture cross-section. The evolution of the trap parameters with increasing irradiation doses has been monitored for all the different types of radiation sources. A comparison of the results obtained for CdTe : Cl and Cd 0.9Zn 0.1Te detectors allows to deepen our understanding of the detectors’ properties and performance.