Textile testing requirements and practices in the EU

Published November 3, 2022

Sanna Laukkanen

Sanna Laukkanen – MSc (tech.), fiber and polymer engineering

LinkedIn

Polymers & textiles, Measurlabs

sanna.laukkanen@measurlabs.com

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 extensive 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 textile testing is mandated by national and international regulations, such as the European Union’s REACH regulation and labeling requirements. In addition to compulsory compliance testing, it is highly recommended to assess the performance of textiles to ensure that they retain their functionality for as long as possible. Laboratory testing is also a prerequisite for obtaining environmental labels that are strong signals of fabric quality and sustainability.

Compulsory textile testing and labeling in the EU

The European Union has strict quality requirements for most consumer products sold within its area. 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 ensure that their products do not contain any restricted substances or that their concentrations are within acceptable limits. These limits are defined in REACH Annex XVII2 and the list of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC3). In clothing and other textile products, restricted substances are most often found in synthetic dyes, metallic accessories, and preservatives used to prevent unwanted odors and molding.

Fiber composition

For textiles sold in the EU market, labels are required to clearly state the composition of the fabric4. This is to be done by listing the fibers 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 the performance of fabrics

Textile performance testing is not a strict legal requirement, but refraining from it may result in suboptimal-quality products ending up on the market. This contributes to the environmental burden of textiles and negatively affects the reputation of the manufacturer. It is therefore important to ensure quality beyond the basic legal requirements described above.

The quality of textiles 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 some type of environmental pressure. The lesser the effects of such pressure, the higher the quality of the fabric can be considered to be.

Examples of common textile tests include: 

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). 

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 through laboratory testing. While there is no EU-wide legal requirement on care labels, they have become an industry standard. Accurate care labeling is crucial for lengthening the lifecycle of garments and thus reducing textile waste.

EU Ecolabel for textiles – What are the requirements?

Textile testing can also be used to demonstrate 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

Compliance needs to be 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 recycling opportunities

Textile waste is one of the largest waste streams in the world – and 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. As demand for more sustainable products increases, using recycled textiles also provides companies with a considerable reputational advantage.

Identifying and sorting recyclable textiles according to their raw materials is important 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 your company needs textile testing services, feel free to contact us at info@measurlabs.com. Measurlabs offers a wide range of testing options for ensuring textiles' compliance, quality, and reusability. Our experts are also happy to help with any testing needs relating to the EU Ecolabel.

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