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Substances we don’t want in our clothes

The EU has taken action to restrict the presence in textiles of chemicals known to cause cancer, change DNA or be harmful to human reproduction.

Consumers can be exposed to hazardous chemicals in textiles through skin contact, or inhalation or unintentional ingestion of dust released from the materials. The most vulnerable to exposure from these substances are often children and pregnant women, who may experience more adverse health effects.

A new EU-wide restriction, which applies from October 2020, limits the use of 33 substances classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction (CMR). These substances may be used in production processes or to give specific properties to the product, such as to make cloth shrink-proof or crease-resistant. The restriction applies to both EU-made and imported clothing, textiles such as bed linen and upholstery, and footwear.

Each of the restricted substances has different properties and they are used in different processes in the textile and footwear industries, so maximum concentration limits have been specified for individual substances or groups of substances.

The restriction covers substances from the following groups:

A full list of the substances proposed for restriction and their concentration limits is available in the regulation.

Clothing, related accessories and footwear made of leather, fur and hide as well as non-textile fasteners and decorative attachments have been excluded, as different processes are used in their production. Also, textiles used in medical devices and second-hand products that are in consumer use before the restriction applies are exempt.

Restrictions are regulatory measures to protect human health and the environment from unacceptable risks posed by chemicals. They may limit or ban the manufacture, placing on the market or use of a substance on its own, in a mixture or in a product.


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