With the dramatic outbreak of COVID-19, the European detergents and maintenance products industry reminds the public of the importance of good hygiene practice.
We recommend that you stay aware of the latest information on the outbreak through your national health authorities. If that is not available, refer to the WHO website. These institutions provide their expert advice based on the latest insights.
Good hygiene practice
- Wash your hands frequently
- Maintain social distancing
- Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth
- Practice respiratory hygiene (i.e. cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze)
- If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, follow the advice provided by your national authority
- Stay informed and follow the advice given by your health authorities
In case you think that a person suffering from COVID-19 has been in contact with your surfaces or laundry, please follow WHO and ECDC advice, as well as advice provided by your national authority. Pay special attention to frequently touched surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, taps and sinks (source CDC).
What is SARS-CoV-2? What is COVID-19?
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the name given to the 2019 novel coronavirus. COVID-19 is the name given to the disease associated with the virus. SARS-CoV-2 is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans (source ECDC)
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 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.
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.
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.
Are all surfactants used in detergents biodegradable?
Yes. All surfactants used in detergents must comply with current European legislation i.e. the Detergents Regulation (EC 648/2004). This Regulation imposes 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 well-documented for control by authorities.
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 detergents and maintenance products safe?
It is entirely in the interest of our industry to make sure that the products are safe to use. We obviously don’t want to harm our consumers. Besides complying with all legal requirements, we never launch a product unless we have reliable scientific data to support its safety, which is in line with the precautionary approach. We are committed to human and environmental safety, and regularly review our formulations in the light of new scientific data to maintain high levels of safety.
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”.
Are there preservatives in detergents and maintenance products?
Yes. Preservatives are required in many detergents and maintenance products to prevent product damage caused by micro-organisms, and to protect the product from accidental contamination by the consumer during use.
Are enzymes used in detergent and maintenance products safeYes. The current use of enzymes in laundry and cleaning products represents no safety concerns for consumers. This is well-documented in published literature. Enzymes are non-toxic if ingested, they are readily and ultimately biodegradable and do not pose a risk for the environment. Many proteins can by repeated inhalation induce allergies. Pol¬len, house dust mite, animal dander, and baking flour are well-known inhalation allergens. As enzymes are proteins, they are also poten¬tial inhalation allergens. However, enzyme allergy is an occupational risk only for workers at plants handling large amounts of enzymes with the possibility of being repeatedly exposed to significant airborne concentrations. Many years of experience and numerous studies show that the enzymes used in detergents present no risk of causing allergies in consumers. There is no evidence that enzymes cause sensitisation of the skin (allergic contact dermatitis), a different form of allergy associated with low-molecular substances. The people that work in enzyme making facilities and in detergent production facilities use A.I.S.E. Guidelines to handle enzymes safely. For more information on these guidelines, please contact A.I.S.E. For more information about risk assessment click here.
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.
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.
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