Are detergents and maintenance products safe?
Yes, detergents and maintenance products are safe as long as they are used and stored according to the manufacturers’ guidance. Thus, it is important to read the label and follow the instructions given on-pack.
Detergents and maintenance products have to comply with national and European legal requirements before being placed on the market; these regulations guarantee human and environment safety. The applicable regulations are often supplemented by additional voluntary industry guidance notably to promote the safe handling and use of the products.
Many detergents and maintenance products are labelled with hazard pictograms and hazard phrases. The information on the label refers to the concentrated product in the packaging; it does not refer to the product in use i.e. when it is diluted during use (e.g. when using a hand dishwashing product in 5 litres of water).
Product safety is the highest priority for the industry. All detergents and maintenance products go through rigorous safety testing and evaluation before being placed on the market. The safety assessment includes sufficient reliable scientific data to support the safety of the product and regular reviews of ingredients and formulations in the light of new research to maintain the product’s high levels of safety.
I suffer from allergies. How do I know if a product is suitable for me?
If you suffer from an allergy it is important to consult your doctor to identify which allergens or ingredients could be the source of your problem. Knowing to which ingredient you are allergic allows you to choose products which do not contain a substance to which you are sensitive. The manufacturers of detergents and maintenance products are required by law to list the most common allergens contained in a product on its label and to publish a very detailed list of ingredients of detergents online. The relevant website address can be found on the product’s label. You can also contact the company care line: a phone number and/or an e-mail address should be given on the product label. If in doubt, speak to your doctor who can ask the company for a medical datasheet. Read more on allergens.
Are detergents/maintenance products safe for my skin?
Detergents and maintenance products are safe when used and stored in accordance with the safety instructions and warnings provided on the packaging. It is important to read the label and follow the instructions given on-pack, as warning sentences vary from one product to the next and may change over time, e.g., if a product formula changes.
However, it is important to note that, certain products such as drain cleaners, for example, are designed to be corrosive and can irritate or seriously damage the skin if used incorrectly or accidentally spilled; this is why - in this specific example - the use of gloves is strongly advised with corrosive drain cleaners, as indicated on pack.
For those persons suspecting that they may have an allergy to a detergent or maintenance product or ingredient, please read the following article and consult your doctor if needed.
I’ve heard that using cleaning sprays every day causes cause asthma. Is this true?
The overall scientific evidence does not support this statement. Full safety assessments are carried out before marketing any product. Manufacturers take steps to understand how products will be used and provide easy to follow instructions on how to use products safely.
Are ingredients in a detergent biodegradable?
All surfactants used in detergents must comply with current European legislation i.e. the EU Detergents Regulation. This Regulation requires that all types of surfactants used in detergents and maintenance products (anionic, non-ionic, cationic and amphoteric surfactants) must be ultimately biodegradable. All of the detergents have to be assessed and the results documented for control by authorities. Read more information on surfactant biodegradability here.
For ingredients that are not surfactants, monitoring of the use of poorly-biodegradable organics is being done via company members of the A.I.S.E. Charter for Sustainable Cleaning. This monitoring shows a decrease in their use since 2005.
What is the industry doing in response to environmental and sustainability challenges?
The detergents and maintenance products industry, through A.I.S.E., is a leader in driving sustainable progress through a long history of voluntary initiatives. These initiatives, which started back in 1997, have already delivered significant environmental improvements.
The Charter for Sustainable Cleaning is the industry’s flagship initiative that drives sustainable production, design and consumption of detergents and maintenance products since 2005, achieving significant savings in CO2, energy and packaging. Look for the Charter marks on the front or back label of products and you will contribute to sustainable progress.
For over 20 years, products carry sustainable use tips for consumers to save water, CO2, and money; follow the tips to help reduce the impact of the use phase.
In the same period, the industry has also delivered significant savings thanks to various compaction initiatives notably in the laundry detergent sector. Did you know that the average recommended dose in 20 years has been reduced by half?
Finally, the latest industry initiative for plastics sets ambitious targets by 2025 to increase the use of recycled plastics and make plastic packaging used for detergents and maintenance products recyclable, reusable and/or compostable.
cleanright.eu outlines many of these initiatives in the chapter on sustainable cleaning.
What is a bio-based product? Are bio-based materials used in the detergents industry?
Bio-based products are wholly or partly derived from biomass. Biomass is material of biological origin e.g. plants (whole or parts of), trees, algae, marine organisms, micro-organisms, animals, etc. Biomass can have undergone physical, chemical or biological treatment(s).
The term ‘bio-based product’ is often used to refer to a product which is partly bio-based. In those cases, the claim should be accompanied by a quantification of the bio-based content.
Materials embedded in geological formations and/or fossilised is not considered to be “bio-based”. The detergents and maintenance products industry uses bio-based materials in its products, where some or all of the fossil-based ingredients are replaced by bio-based ones, e.g. plant-derived oils can be used to produce surfactants. However, bio-based alternatives are not intrinsically more sustainable than fossil resources. Therefore, the benefits coming from an increased use of bio-based materials require a thorough life-cycle assessment to avoid any burden-shifting. Read more about bio-based materials here.
Are compacted detergents safe for the environment?
Over the past twenty years, the amount of laundry detergent used in Europe has decreased considerably, even though there has been an increase in the number of wash loads. The decrease continues, facilitated by a series of voluntary initiatives led and coordinated by A.I.S.E.. In Europe, in the last two decades, the compaction of detergents by the industry has led to overall savings of 30 million tons of product; this represents a reduction of 45%, while in the same period the number of households in Europe rose by 20%, and the number of wash loads by 23%.
Compaction helps reduce the environmental footprint of detergent products. Substantial savings have been achieved because compacted products offer the same number of wash loads in smaller packages, which reduces the transport requirements, both of which have brought down CO2 emissions.
With detergent compaction, the amount of active chemistry per wash remains the same or may even be reduced thanks to technological innovation. Hence, in terms of environmental safety, compacted detergents are equivalent or better than their less compact predecessors. Compaction of the product has therefore a beneficial impact on the environment.
Read more about compacted products.
Can I mix different detergents or maintenance products?
Detergents or maintenance products should NOT be mixed. All the important information on how to safely use detergents and maintenance products and how to obtain the best results can be found on the product label. Relevant legal references are also conveyed on- pack as per the CLP Regulation. By carefully reading and following the instructions provided, users can help protect themselves and the environment, while also getting optimal performance from their product.
The industry has also developed a series of icons that you will find on the labels of the products. These safe use icons convey the most important information to keep you safe. Of particular importance are the following two icons: do not mix with other products; and do not change container to store contents. This is because some ingredients may have a dangerous chemical reaction when mixed, e.g. you must not use bleach-based and acidic toilet cleaners at the same time, as it could cause a harmful chemical reaction.
It is also not safe to mix commonly known “natural” ingredients (e.g. vinegar, alcohols, natural oils etc.). Whilst these ingredients are safe for their common intended use, they are not designed for cleaning, especially when used together. The example of mixing acids with bleach is not a safe practice, as it risks the formation of chlorine gas.
Are drain cleaners dangerous?
Drain cleaners have a targeted function to unblock drains which would otherwise be clogged, sometimes beyond repair. Their formulas (highly alkaline and highly acidic) are therefore designed to be corrosive and can irritate or seriously damage skin if used incorrectly or accidentally spilled. That is why it is important to use these products according to the instructions written on-pack. The product should not be dangerous if used correctly, however it deserves some extra precautions as the respective warning sentences indicate.
Some points of attention to use these products safely are:
● make sure the product is kept out of reach of children at all time
● use gloves when handling this kind of product
● don’t leave the blocked sink/drain unattended – otherwise, keep the room locked for the entire soaking time.
● always close the bottle firmly with the child resistant closure, including before you throw the empty bottle away.
Is it safe to make my own detergent or maintenance products with natural ingredients?
It is not recommended to do so for the following reasons.
There is an increasing trend for Do It Yourself (DIY) or homemade detergents and maintenance products, which are made by consumers using ingredients commonly available. These homemade solutions may be considered by the general public as cheaper and safer for the environment, as they are based on commonly known ‘natural’ ingredients such as vinegar, alcohols, natural oils etc. However, whilst these ingredients are safe for their common intended use, they are not designed for cleaning, especially when they are mixed
The example of combining acids with bleach is an example of what not to do, as there is a risk that the very hazardous chlorine gas is created
In addition, these homemade solutions do not display the appropriate consumer information on pack for cleaning purposes. This means that a bottle of a homemade mixture could be used inappropriately or unsafely. Without a label that points out the hazardous properties of the ingredients, you might mistakenly imagine they are safe. When these ingredients are marketed as food or beverages, they are exempt from any legal labelling provisions that apply to chemicals. If vinegar was intended and marketed for cleaning purposes, it should then be labelled e.g. with the CLP exclamation mark due to its properties to severely irritate eyes or, if concentrated, with the pictogram for corrosion due to the hazard of damage to eyes.
The manufacturers of detergents and maintenance products have designed them with the consumer in mind, to ensure that the cleaning job is achieved in a satisfactory way while ensuring consumers safety. Consumer and environment safety are of paramount importance in the development of all these products. The industry approach is based on well-established and well-recognised scientific criteria which comply with legislation such as safety assessment principles, and life cycle analysis thinking for the environmental safety assessment. The consumer is instructed on how to use the product safely via on-pack labelling, including certain cautionary warnings.
Do detergents and maintenance products use hazardous chemicals?
Manufacturers use ingredients that are essential to the function of a product and thereby ensure the final product in which the ingredients are being used is considered safe when used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Several EU Regulations require evaluation of the human and environmental safety of product ingredients.
The question here is “how does the industry assess that a product is safe?” Manufacturers take into account the knowledge that they have on how people use products in everyday contexts, including how products are disposed of. Then, risk assessments are carried out on the ingredients being used to determine how the chemicals can be used safely (i.e. the relevant measures needed to mitigate the potential risk).
Once it has been established that the use of an ingredient is safe under certain conditions, and that these conditions correspond to the correct, intended use of the product, then an ingredient is considered safe for use in the product. Manufacturers provide all relevant information and advice on the product label so that consumers are able to use these products safely and effectively.
A simple example: alcohol can be used in a product. One of the properties of alcohol is that it is flammable. However, if the alcohol is being mixed in a water-based solution, then that risk is being mitigated. This is a risk management measure that is being taken.
Does the detergents and maintenance products industry test any of its products on animals?
The detergents and maintenance products industry is committed to the elimination of animal testing. For over 20 years, it has aimed at reducing, refining and replacing animal testing by substituting alternative methods. The vast majority of detergents and maintenance products has in the past reached the consumer without any testing of any material on animals and will continue to do so in the future.
A.I.S.E. is a founding member of the European Partnership for Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing (EPAA) initiative. EPAA is an unprecedented collaboration between the European Commission services, major companies and trade associations from seven industry sectors. The partners are committed to pooling knowledge, research and resources in order to accelerate the development, validation and acceptance of alternative approaches to animal testing.
As part of its on-going commitments, in 2010 A.I.S.E. launched a programme to investigate the applicability of in-vitro tests for skin and eye irritation/corrosion to detergents and maintenance products. This has led to successful progress recognised by the scientific community.
A.I.S.E. and its members, along with the EPAA and other partners, will continue to pursue scientific research and further explore alternative approaches to animal testing and will strive for their official acceptance by regulatory bodies.
Are liquid laundry detergent capsules safe?
Liquid laundry detergent capsules are safe when they are used as intended and as specified on the product packaging. They should be only used to clean clothes and as with all detergents and maintenance products, they need to be stored safely and in particular out of the reach of children, to avoid any accidental exposure or ingestion.
Storing liquid laundry detergent capsules in a safe place becomes really important when you have young children at home, especially toddlers when they start to explore their home surroundings by crawling. Here are the most important tips to help you keep liquid laundry detergent capsules safely away from children, but still easily accessible to you when you do the laundry:
• Liquid laundry detergent capsules must be stored high up by preference, out of reach of children.
• If that is not possible, place them in a cupboard equipped with a child safety lock
• They must always remain in their original pack, and the pack must always be properly closed.
• Store capsules separately from other everyday products such as food and personal care products.
These simple but important rules are easy to apply, and they will prevent children from getting hurt in your home by an undue contact with a product they never should get access to. The most important message is to keep capsules away from kids. Read more about the safe use of liquid laundry detergent capsules on the dedicated website www.keepcapsfromkids.eu
Why are the labels of detergents and maintenance products so complicated?
The companies manufacturing detergents and maintenance products are aware that the labels of their products are crowded with information and technical details that can be difficult to read and they are working hard to try and simplify them. The reason the labels are so complicated is due to the amount of text a label must legally contain.
There are legal requirements to communicate information on the ingredients, the allergens and precautions to ensure safe use from three relevant regulations on the label, and sometimes this information overlaps. Each product must also provide specific information about its use. In addition to this text, you will also find pictograms to indicate how to use the product safely – these are industry-wide icons that are more visual than the text.
For more details, please take a look at the video about reading the label.
Dialogue is currently in place between the industry, the EU policy makers and the various stakeholders to seek to optimise product labelling in the future, e.g. by making some of the information available only online.
How do I know which ingredients are in my product?
The Detergents Regulation sets rules for what ingredients information needs to be included on the labels of detergents and maintenance products. The main aim is to ensure that consumers are aware of what’s in the product so that, should you or anyone in your family have an allergic reaction, you are able to make an informed choice when selecting a product. Ingredients are often grouped together in ingredient families on the label, with more detailed information available online.
The Classification, Labelling & Packaging regulation specifies that a product label must provide the list of ingredients that have triggered the specific classification of the product.
Read more about what’s on the label of your product.
What are microplastics and microbeads? Are they used in detergents and maintenance products?
Microplastics can be intuitively defined as very small pieces of plastics, smaller than 5mm. However, currently there is no agreed scientific harmonised definition of what a microplastic is and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is discussing it with the experts from the EU Members States. Microbeads are those microplastics used in a mixture with a specific function as an abrasive i.e. to exfoliate, polish or clean.
The detergents and maintenance products sector is currently assessing which types of microplastics are in the scope of the ECHA definition. A.I.S.E. is also actively working with ECHA on technical and scientific aspects on microplastics related to solubility and biodegradation of microplastic particles.
As regards microbeads, the detergents and maintenance products industry has already proactively substituted non-plastic for plastic microbeads and the remaining quantities in products are very low. In the past, specific products which needed abrasive properties (e.g. for the gentle cleaning of hard and delicate surfaces such as ceramic or glass) have used intentionally added plastic microbeads. Research and the availability of alternatives (such as natural ingredients like silica) have allowed a significant decrease in the quantities used. Industry supports the phase-out of microbeads as abrasives by 2020, as proposed by ECHA.
What are endocrine disruptors? Do detergents and maintenance products contain endocrine disruptors?
Endocrine disruptor is a term used to refer to certain substances that cause harmful effects by interfering with the functioning of the hormonal system. Hormones are naturally-occurring substances produced in the body as part of the ‘endocrine’ system. They act as chemical messengers which help control a wide range of processes ranging from reproduction to immunity, metabolism and behaviour.
There are no substances used in detergents and maintenance products that have been shown to harm people or wildlife by interfering with their hormone function, as these are banned from use by law.
The EU has strict controls on ingredients used in detergents and maintenance products. More than ten years ago, a list of over 550 substances was drawn up, suggested by various groups to be investigated as being potential endocrine disruptors. Many of these are pesticides which have been banned for a long time.
Do detergents and maintenance products release harmful substances that I breathe in?
The safety of the people using detergents and maintenance products is of paramount importance to our industry, and manufacturers have a long history of working to ensure that our products can be used safely when the products are used as directed. Specifically, our products must comply with the extensive body of EU legislation such as the Detergents Regulation, the REACH Regulation, and the Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures Regulation (CLP) amongst others. A.I.S.E. member companies use exposure data (either from direct measurements of emissions or modelling) to guarantee to consumers that products can be safely used. These data form only part of a very thorough safety and regulatory assessment of products conducted by A.I.S.E. member companies prior to marketing. Companies also closely monitor and analyse the consumer experience with their products (’post-market surveillance’) and can thereby identify any unexpected issues encountered in use.
The overall process of the human health and environmental impact assessment includes:
● Hazard assessment and characterisation of raw materials
● Consumer exposure assessment
● Product and use specific risk assessment
● Post market surveillance to confirm the outcome of product safety review procedures.
What are volatile organic compounds? How can I know if detergents and maintenance products release them?
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are organic chemical compounds that evaporate easily at room temperature. There are hundreds of VOCs all around us in our daily lives and there are both natural and man-made sources of VOCs. By definition, anything that has a smell has VOCs and they are released in large quantities by trees (especially pine varieties), fruits (especially citrus), and also through human respiration.
Ingredient information for each product is listed on individual company websites in addition to clear and more extensive labelling on the packaging, this applies to all detergent products as well as air care products applying the voluntary product stewardship programme from A.I.S.E..
Just like any other ingredient, VOCs undergo a rigorous safety assessment when used in any product.
What does the industry do to ensure the safety of its air care products?
In 2007 A.I.S.E. led the development of a voluntary code of practice known as the industry “Air Freshener Product Stewardship Programme”. Companies who signed up to the programme committed to abide by a set of criteria which aim to promote best practices in the industry through responsible manufacturing and communication. It requires companies to routinely evaluate their products’ ingredients to reassure consumers that they are safe in use. It also requires companies to communicate specific ingredients’ information for each product on individual company websites in addition to clearer and more extensive labelling on packaging. The purpose of the 2007 programme is to enable consumers to make informed choices and use products safely.
A.I.S.E. updated the industry programme in 2016, including new commitments to consumers and authorities on the adequate control of the products on the market. The updated initiative increases the commitments both for the production of combustible air fresheners and for proper communication once products are ready to be marketed. Combustible air fresheners have to be tested before being placed on the market to ensure that emissions generated during use are below the exposure limit values defined by the WHO and, therefore, do not pose harm to human health. Industry is responsible to ensure that the consumer is protected also via proper communication on how to safely use the products. This is achieved via an adequate labelling of the product and by making additional information available on the product composition for those who might be interested via the company website.
What should I do if I have a reaction to an air care product?
If you find that your allergic reactions are increased when you have used an air care product, you should stop using the product and seek advice from your doctor. In accordance with A.I.S.E.'s initiative to ensure responsible manufacturing and communication about air care products, the labelling of air care products includes the instruction “people suffering from perfume sensitivity should be cautious when using this product”.
What is the industry doing to reduce the amount of plastics used for its products?
Packaging is key to avoid leakage of your product, to ensure safe use, to protect products during transport and to enable correct dosage. However, it is essential that packaging is correctly collected and disposed of to ensure it is properly recycled and potentially adverse environmental impacts are avoided.
In January 2019, A.I.S.E. opened a voluntary initiative on plastic packaging that is open to all manufacturers of detergents and maintenance products. This initiative aims to increase the uptake of recycled content in plastic packaging over the next few years. The participation in this industry initiative is open to all companies, whether or not they are members of A.I.S.E. and its national members.
The commitments are, by 2025:
● A minimum of 20% volume of recycled plastic material in the packaging of all household detergents and maintenance products in the A.I.S.E. portfolio;
● Ensuring that all plastic packaging for detergents and maintenance products can be recyclable, reusable or compostable.
A.I.S.E. will monitor progress over the years and will foster exchange of best practices, collaboration in the value chain as well as providing guidance to the industry at large.
In addition, consumers will continue to be encouraged to help by recycling packaging, using refills products according to their local collection schemes.
Why have you decided to set the target to 20% for the uptake of recycled material?
The target is defined as a minimum objective and companies are encouraged to achieve higher ambitious targets. At the same time, the initiative is aimed at covering the European detergents and maintenance sector at large. The target has been set to be realistic and implementable by as many players on the market as possible. A.I.S.E. will monitor the trends over the years thanks to the annual data reporting in the context of the initiative and assess whether a reconsideration of this target would be necessary.
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