Last updateMon, 06 Jul 2020 6pm

How well are textiles tested for harmful substances?

Clothing and home textiles are produced from cotton, wool, polyester or other fibres. The products often have to meet certain criteria for the consumer, such as shape stability, comfort or water resistance. Chemical additives are added to achieve these features. The manufacturers are obliged to name the textile fibre, but not which chemical substances have been added during production. Consumers can still obtain information about products and their production, which is what they are, explains TÜV SÜD product expert Matthias Rosenthal, Business Development Director Europe (Softlines) for Consumer Products & Retail.

According to the law, consumer goods must be manufactured in such a way that they do not damage the health of the consumer. However, textile production is not possible entirely without chemical additives. It is necessary to limit the use of substances of concern and to try to replace them. Chemicals can be carcinogenic or hormonally active substances such as softeners, bleachers or formaldehyde. "Here, the consumer has the responsibility not to expose himself and his family to unnecessary pollutants. Seals and reputable consumer portals, on which extensive information can be found, provide guidance," says Matthias Rosenthal.

Environmental aspect of clothing and textiles

Cotton is a naturally growing raw material, but in order to cover the entire world demand, a high use of pesticides with an enormous water consumption takes place during cultivation. Various fashion chains join associations to provide financial support to farmers in developing countries and to train them in sustainable cultivation. The pollution does not only affect clothing, but also the entire home textiles sector. Curtains, bed linen or sofa covers can also be contaminated. However, clothing is not only made of cotton, but often synthetic fibres such as polyester are also used. Here, the environmental impact usually occurs unknowingly at the end consumer. Washing releases microplastics, which then end up in the waste water and pollute the ecosystem.
Check with "Softlines

In the retail trade, all products are called "softlines" that are "soft" - i.e. home textiles, clothing as well as shoes and also fashion accessories with fabric inserts. Consumer protection is particularly important here. Due to the fast-moving nature of the fashion industry, quality assurance and associated product testing is a demanding task. Manufacturers handle production in very different ways: from compliance with statutory minimum standards to ambitious, self-imposed standards, anything is possible. Information is provided by the manufacturers' websites, materials from federal and state authorities, and associations and consumer protection organisations. With "Safety Gate", the European Commission (EU) has established a platform for consumers. This rapid warning system for dangerous non-food products shows consumers products contaminated with harmful substances via a search function.

Which seals are there and what do they say?

According to the Quality Label Monitor of 2020, more than 40 percent of the men and women surveyed trust a product with a quality label more than one without. A seal conveys confidence that a product has been tested.

For manufacturers and retailers of clothing and textiles, it is often no easy task to ensure that no hazardous chemicals are used during production. More than a dozen processes can be required to produce a single textile item. The fashion market, in particular, is very fast moving and the requirements for product durability and performance are constantly changing. Consumers are becoming better informed and more critical. Legislators have responded to this with regard to textile safety and have issued stricter regulations at international level. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, CPSIA, applies to product safety in the USA, while the REACH regulation applies to the European Union.

Consumers can use test marks for orientation. TÜV SÜD developed the TexCheck test mark exclusively for the textile industry. Manufacturers and retailers of textiles who wish to affix this mark to their products must have extensive product testing and inspection carried out before shipment. As a result, only products that meet the requirements of the relevant EU directives (and US regulations), do not contain any prohibited pollutants and have the declared fibre composition are sold.

In addition, the factories of the textile manufacturers are audited, where, among other things, compliance with the industrial safety laws is checked. The test seal stands for quality, safety and environmental protection.



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