Textile testing requirements and practices in the EU

Published November 3, 2022 | Updated June 28, 2024

Textiles are one of the most common manufactured goods in the world, with an annual global market value of over 990 billion USD1. As with other consumer products, it is vital to ensure their quality and safety for the end user. This can be achieved through comprehensive laboratory testing, which is an essential part of the textile production cycle from the choice of raw material to the performance of the final garment.

Some fabric testing is mandated by the European Union, but quality should be assessed beyond the legal requirements to ensure that textiles retain their functionality for as long as possible. Provably high quality and sustainability are also prerequisites for obtaining environmental labels for textile products.

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Compulsory textile testing and labeling in the EU

The European Union sets strict quality requirements for most consumer products sold within the union. Concerning textiles, the two most important EU-wide legal requirements are the REACH regulation and Regulation (EU) No 1007/2011 on fiber names and labeling.

REACH requirements

All products in the EU market that contain chemical substances are controlled by the REACH regulation. This also applies to textile manufacturers and importers who need to make sure that their products do not contain any restricted substances or that their concentrations are within acceptable limits. The limits are defined in REACH Annex XVII2 and the list of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC)3.

In clothing and other textile products, restricted substances are most often found in synthetic dyes, metallic accessories, plastic components, and preservatives used to prevent unwanted odors and molding. In 2023, the most commonly discovered chemicals that violated EU chemical regulations included prohibited phthalates and heavy metals, such as cadmium, lead, and hexavalent chromium.

Fiber composition

For textiles sold in the EU market, labels are required to state the composition of the fabric clearly4. The fibers have to be listed in decreasing percentage order, from the most to the least abundant (e.g. 80% cotton, 15% polyester, 5% elastane). If textiles are marketed as “pure” or “100%”, they must be entirely composed of a single fiber. The information must be made available in all the official languages of each EU country where the product is sold.

Assessing fabric performance and durability

Textile performance testing is not a strict legal requirement in the EU, but refraining from it may result in suboptimal-quality products ending up on the market. This contributes to excess textile waste and negatively affects the reputation of the manufacturer, which makes it important to ensure quality beyond the basic legal requirements described above.

Fabric quality is influenced by physical, chemical, and biological factors, all of which can be studied through laboratory testing. In a typical performance test, the fabric or its components (yarns and fibers) are exposed to a specified type of environmental stress. The lesser the effects of such stress, the higher the quality of the fabric is considered to be.

Textile testing standards

One good way to assess whether the quality of the fabric is high enough is to test it according to standardized test methods. Many widely used textile testing standards have been published by the International Standards Organization (ISO), the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC), and the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM). 

Examples of standardized textile tests include: 

Care labels

Care labels provide guidelines to consumers about the appropriate cleaning practices to maintain the appearance and fit of the garment after repeated cleaning cycles. Instructions on things like washing, drying, ironing, and recommended types of detergent should suit the product’s composition, fiber structure, and sensitivity to chemicals and heat.

Optimal care instructions for different fabrics are determined in laboratory tests. While there is no EU-wide legal requirement on care labels, they are crucial for lengthening the lifecycle of garments and have become an industry standard.

EU Ecolabel for textiles – What are the requirements?

Textile testing can be used to prove that a product fulfills the criteria of voluntary sustainability labels, such as the EU Ecolabel. The Ecolabel is a reliable indicator of environmental friendliness and quality, as its requirements are strict on both the materials used and the durability of the fabric. 

To receive the EU Ecolabel, a textile product has to meet the following criteria5:

  • Harmful chemicals may not be present unless they are essential for the performance of the product

  • Fibers must be produced sustainably

  • Water and air pollution must be minimized during the production process

  • The product must retain its functionality through dozens of washing cycles

Fulfillment of the criteria is demonstrated by a comprehensive range of supporting evidence, including laboratory test reports, documentation on the production process, and proof of origin for the fibers used. 

Using laboratory testing to enhance recyclability

Textile waste is one of the largest waste streams in the world – yet only a small fraction of it is recycled. Extending the service life of used fibers has clear environmental benefits, as it reduces the need for virgin fibers in fabric production. Demand for more sustainable products is also on the rise, which means that using recycled textiles may help companies boost sales.

Identifying and sorting recyclable textiles according to their raw materials is necessary for making fibers suitable for reuse. In addition to their material composition, laboratory tests can be used to sort textile waste by features like color and fiber length.

If you need textile testing services, don't hesitate to contact us through the form below. Measurlabs offers a wide range of testing options for ensuring textiles' regulatory compliance, quality, and recyclability. Our experts are also happy to help with any testing needs relating to the EU Ecolabel.

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