Detergents – streamlining and updating the EU rules

Detergents are widely used in our everyday lives, in everything, from hair shampoo to laundry powder, from shaving foam to stain removers. The EU currently regulates these products, providing a high degree of protection to the environment and human health, and intends to strengthen its legislation.

Detergents are defined by the Detergents Regulation as any substance or mixture, containing soaps and/or other surface active agents, which are the active ingredients of detergents (known as surfactants), intended for washing and cleaning processes. Detergents may be in any form (liquid, powder, paste, bar, cake, moulded piece, shape, etc.) and marketed for or used in household, or institutional or industrial purposes.

The Detergents Regulation entered into effect in October 2005. It establishes common rules to enable detergents and surfactants to be sold and used across the EU market. It stipulates that surfactants used in detergents must be fully biodegradable and it regulates how products should be labelled with ingredient and dosage information in order to protect human health (e.g. skin allergies) and avoid overuse of detergents.

The Regulation is applicable to the manufacturing, sale, and use of detergents; as such, any natural or legal person responsible for placing a detergent or a surfactant for a detergent on the EU market must comply with this regulation.

These include:

  • Manufacturers/producers of detergents;
  • Importers of detergents;
  • Any person changing the characteristics of a detergent;
  • Any person changing the labelling or packaging of a detergent;
  • Packagers.

The European Commission is seeking the views and experiences of all relevant parties through an online open consultation on how to improve the current legislation in order to achieve clear, simplified and updated rules that allow for innovative products and sustainable new practices, burden reduction for manufacturers and clearer information to consumers, and an optimised protection of human health and the environment.

The open consultation follows the latest Evaluation of the Detergents Regulation and the Fitness Check of the most relevant chemicals legislation (excluding REACH), which revealed a number of weaknesses and areas for further improvement. These include overlaps with other pieces of EU chemicals legislation such as the Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) and the Regulation on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures. It points out unclear information to consumers, an increasingly complex regulatory framework for detergents and the need to update the legislation to adapt it to recent market developments and consumer practices.

The Revision of the Directive contributes to the EU Green Deal and the EU’s chemicals strategy for sustainability that aims to better protect the public and the environment against hazardous chemicals and encourage innovation in developing safe and sustainable alternatives. It also contributes to the EU Industrial Strategy and its 2021 Update by assessing the need to introduce digital labelling for detergents as a means of providing clearer information to consumers.

Stakeholders from public administration and authorities, industry and consumer associations, academia, industry stakeholders, market surveillance authorities, NGOs, civil society and citizens and consumers and professional users of detergents are invited to partake in this online consultation and provide their input by May 25, 2022.