Tools for the textile industry

Chemsec textile guide Consumers are increasingly demanding more information about the chemicals in their textile products to ensure that dangerous ones are not being used. This and stricter chemicals legislation gives an incentive for the textile industry to substitute hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives. Many of the world's largest textile manufacturers have already formed a joint initiative to reduce the number of hazardous chemicals in their products. Several tools and techniques are available to help substitution in the textile industry. These tools can be useful for other sectors as well.

Consider use, function and need

Mr Jerker Ligthart from ChemSec, a non-profit organisation working for chemical safety, recommends thinking about substitution on three different levels – function, use and need: "Looking at the use of phthalates in PVC printing on textiles as an example, the function of the phthalate is to make the PVC plastic soft. If you only consider the function, you might find an alternative non-phthalate plasticiser."

"You can also look at the use, which is PVC for textile printing. Bearing this in mind you might consider changing to another type of printing paste that does not require plasticisers such as silicone for example."

"However, the ultimate need is to produce textiles that are attractive. Perhaps this can also be achieved by other means, such as embroidery. Depending on the question, you might end up with several possible alternatives how to substitute. Our recommendation is to look at all the possibilities so that you have as many solutions as possible", says Mr Ligthart.

Before moving on to assessing and comparing alternatives it is important to think through what you want from an alternative. What would you like to achieve in terms of hazard profile and functionality? Is there a cost limit? How urgent is the substitution? Are there already legal requirements in place or do you have time to wait for an alternative that is currently at the research stage?

Making use of what others have been doing is the best way to get started for SMEs. You can find alternative solutions through in-house knowledge, trade associations, networks of stakeholders, reports from authorities, web-based resources or asking your suppliers what they could offer you instead. Maybe they already produce an alternative product for other customers and could provide you with the same solution.

Prioritising your substances

For the textile industry, the eleven substance groups targeted by the Greenpeace detox campaign are under the greatest scrutiny and among those, PFCs have a high priority. Alkyl phenols and chlorinated and brominated substances are also of high concern.

For those chemicals where there is no external pressure, you need to set your own priorities according to company policy. The following aspects may be of relevance:

  • Chemicals used in products intended for children
  • Other types of products that are especially close to the consumer: items related to food and feeding, bed linen and underwear for example
  • The type of hazard in relation to the product. Sensitisers, for example, are particularly problematic in contact with the skin; substances with environmental hazards are particularly problematic in rinse-off products and during textile processing
  • Chemicals that are extensively used in high volumes
  • "Flagship products" of particular importance to the company and their reputation


Mr Ligthart recommends using ChemSec's Textile Guide that walks you through the process of chemicals management from a textile industry perspective. It helps to identify potentially dangerous substances in the production process and to make sure you are actually substituting to a safer alternative. ChemSec's SINimilarity tool can also be used to verify unknown substitutes.


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