PFAS Forever Chemicals in Softlines

PFAS found in textiles and apparel

PFAS found in textiles and apparel

PFAS in textiles & apparel: Why should you be concerned

The recent rise in reports on PFAS found in textiles and apparel is incredibly telling. From tablecloths, napkins and carpets to rain jackets, shirts and hiking pants, these chemicals have been detected on products labelled as waterproof, stain-resistant and environmentally-friendly, across popular retailers with softlines departments, including Walmart, Target and REI. Signed petitions of over 60,000 REI customers1 are only the beginning of consumer consciousness – it has already ignited the persistent move by authorities to take stronger action against PFAS, starting from the manufacturing hotbeds. This leaves many textiles and apparel manufacturers to buckle up with increasing regulations in the European Union (EU) and the United States (US).

Evidently, there is a need to step up – with PFAS imposing considerable harm on the environment and human health, textiles and clothing manufacturers have an important responsibility to safeguard consumers. Paying attention to the intricacies of PFAS chemicals, starting from the definition, will be helpful.

What Is PFAS?

PFAS, also known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are made up of a complex group of over 9,000 manufacturing synthetic chemicals used to produce a variety of consumer products, notably textiles and apparel. Particularly useful for their water, stain and oil-repellent properties, PFAS are therefore commonly used to produce many types of textile products, which includes sportswear, baby clothes, fashion apparel, carpets, mattresses and sofas.

On each stage of a product’s lifecycle, PFAS chemical substances easily break off from the products and move into the environment because they are highly persistent and volatile. In addition, they are bioaccumulative and toxic, so they do not break down in the environment, lending them the apt term, “forever chemicals”.

Forever chemicals on everyday wear

According to a study by non-profit organisation, Toxic-Free Future, 72% of outdoor apparel and furnishings sold by the world’s major retailers labelled as stain or water-resistant indicated the presence of PFAS2. These forever chemicals recorded also appeared to be a combination that included about 74% of previously banned PFAS. Another study conducted by environmental health research group Silent Spring Institute uncovered children and adolescents exposure to perfluorooactanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) – over 60% of these apparel and textiles labelled as “eco-green”, “non-toxic”, “waterproof” and “stain-resistant” were found to contain PFAS3.

How harmful are PFAS?

These per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances travel into our body in numerous ways4. We are exposed to PFAS commonly through consumer products, whether they are carpets we keep our feet warm on or the comforter we snug beneath when we sleep. The volatile forever chemicals found on these textiles and apparel can easily enter and build up in our bodies through our skin when we touch these surfaces and via our respiratory system upon breathing. In other instances, consuming food grown on PFAS contaminated soil or drinking water with PFAS compounds increases exposure to these harmful chemicals. Infants and young children can also expose themselves through their mother’s milk5.

The effects of forever chemicals can be devastating. The U.S Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that PFAS exposure can cause severe health problems like liver damage and an increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease6. It can also cause prostate, kidney and testicular cancers, as well as decreased fertility7. Pregnant women face higher risks of increasing blood pressure too. In children, developmental effects or delays are apparent – from low birth weight and bone variations to accelerated puberty.

Pressure on textiles & clothing manufacturers to bring change

PFAS in textiles & apparel: Why should you be concerned

Media reports have revealed the effects of these forever chemicals. Consequently, they mount pressure on textile and apparel manufacturers to ban the use of PFAS in softlines, pushing for safer alternatives. Presently, the EU has begun restricting PFOA, PFOS and C9-14 perfluorocarboxylic acids (PFCA) with these chemicals added to the international Stockholm Convention8, an environmental treaty that focuses on eliminating and reducing the release of persistent organic pollutants in the environment. Furthermore, the restriction of undecafluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA), its salts and related substances in the EU has reached a final phase and is expected to be published in near future.

European regulators have also identified other substances of very high concern (SVHC) within the PFAS group, such as perfluorobutane sulfonic acid (PFBS), which happens to be a replacement of PFOS. In the US, reporting obligations will become mandatory for manufacturers and importers from 20239, allowing authorities to better record and characterise the sources and amounts of manufactured PFAS in the country.

With these, it is no surprise that manufacturers in the EU and US will need to test their products for PFAS so that they can abide by both local and international regulations, and ensure seamless business operations. However, the different testing guidelines and non-standardised list of PFAS across make it a challenge for them to collectively comply, leading to many skipping such an important step during their innovation and production phase.

Owing to increased consumer awareness of these forever chemicals lately, not paying attention to PFAS testing can have negative consequences on brand reputation. The aforementioned REI example is only one but impactful case study that exemplifies the influence consumers have on the success of any brand. Investing time and effort in PFAS testing and developing PFAS-free products will thus bode well for any textile and apparel manufacturer.

How TÜV SÜD can help you

With a complete range of chemical testing, certification, auditing and advisory services, TÜV SÜD can help textile and apparel manufacturers like yourself overcome any testing barriers. Together with our global network of accredited laboratories, we can perform PFAS testing for your softlines so you can ensure compliance with EU and US regulations and standards.

Our PFAS testing include:

  • Identification of restricted PFAS under EU standards – EN 17681 Part 1 & 2 and ISO 23702
  • Determination of total organic fluorine (TOF) content to meet US state regulations in anticipation of passing the proposed state law into action
  • Identification of PFAS in chemical formulations which are banned from intentional use in the production of textile materials, leather, foam, rubber, adhesives and trim parts.

In addition to PFAS testing, we also offer consulting services for businesses who require greater awareness and comprehension of PFAS market regulations, and need to analyse any financial risks. We will work closely to find mitigating solutions for you.

By supporting textile and apparel manufacturers with their testing needs, we help to reduce the impact of technological risks, enabling us to retain and inspire consumer trust in innovation. The world can be a better place to live in when we rally together to ignite change and achieve betterment for our communities without compromising business progress.


1 https://saferchemicals.org/2022/01/12/60000-rei-customers-tell-rei-end-the-toxic-trail-of-pfas-pollution/

2 https://toxicfreefuture.org/toxic-convenience/results/

3 https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.1c05175

4 https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/health-effects/PFAS-exposure-and-your-body.html

5 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/may/13/pfas-forever-chemicals-breast-milk-us-study

6 https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/pfas-health-risks-underestimated/

7 https://www.epa.gov/pfas/our-current-understanding-human-health-and-environmental-risks-pfas

8 https://echa.europa.eu/hot-topics/perfluoroalkyl-chemicals-pfas

9 https://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/tsca-section-8a7-reporting-and-recordkeeping


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