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Biocides and preservatives for textiles

Disclaimer: This document provides guidance and is not a legally binding interpretation and shall therefore not be relied upon as legal advice.

What is the difference between a preservative and a biocide?

Biocides are chemicals intended to kill or destroy living (micro)organisms. Preservatives are chemicals used in textiles to prevent the growth of microorganisms. Both biocides and preservatives are biocidal substances which are regulated due to major health and environmental concerns. The terms biocides and preservatives are often used interchangeably. Textiles treated with biocidal products are for instance marketed as anti-mould, anti-bacterial or anti-odour.

Microbiological sensitivity of fabrics

Biocides in the textile industry are used to prevent deterioration by insects, fungi, algae and micro-organisms and to create hygienic finishing. The level of microbiological sensitivity of a textile fabric depends on the type of fibre.

  • Textile fabrics made from natural fibres (cotton, wool, silk, jute, linen) are in general more sensitive to microbiological attacks than synthetic man-made fibres;
  • Natural man-made (re-generated) fibres such as rayon (artificial silk) are sensitive to mildew and bacteria;
  • Animal fibres such as wool and silk are susceptible for micro-organisms and insects (e.g. moths);
  • Plant (cellulose based) fibres such as cotton and linen are only susceptible for micro-organisms;
  • Cellulose based fibres are more sensitive to rot and mildew than animal fibres.

Fabric treatment with biocides

The treatment with biocides can take place before and/or during textile processing.
Different techniques can be applied depending on type of fibre composition and the application of the end-product. Outdoors clothing and fabrics, carpets and curtains are often treated with biocides.

For the chemical risk assessment of materials this is essential information from your supply chain.

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