The use of harmful chemicals in consumer products has become an area of increasing concern and is gaining media attention worldwide. Consumers want to be informed about the chemicals they may be exposed to in their day-to-day lives as a result of the products they use. This concern has also extended itself to the field of textiles, garments and home-textiles. To address this concern, the Oeko-Tex standards were launched in Europe in 1992.
What is Oeko-Tex Standard 100?
Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is a standard applicable to all kinds of textiles along all stages of the production chain, i.e. for raw materials, intermediate products, and ready-made products. The label "Confidence in Textiles- Tested for harmful substances according to Oeko-Tex 100" thus can be found on both garments and home textiles. Products meeting the requirements of Oeko-Tex Standard 100 standards are allowed to use the Oeko-Tex label. The Oeko-Tex 100 label assures the consumer that the product has been manufactured with a reduced use of chemicals compared with traditional methods, and therefore reduces health risk.
History of the Oeko-Tex 100 Standard
The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 was established in 1992. The precursors to this standard were the ÖTN 100 (Austrian Textile Norm 10) and the Hohensteiner Öko-Check. The ÖTN 100 was developed by the Austrian Textile Research Institute in the late eighties. The Öko-Check was developed by the German Hohenstein Textile Research Institute. Both schemes joined forces and built on their knowledge to form the International Association for Research and Testing in the Field of Textile Ecology (Oeko-Tex) that developed the Oeko-Tex 100 Standard.
After the publication of the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 by the International Association for Research and Testing in the Field of Textile Ecology in 1992, more institutes joined this initiative. Today, this initiative, called the International Oeko-Tex Association has 14 members across Europe and Japan. Testing procedures and test criteria of Oeko-Tex Standard 100 are binding for all member institutes. These are authorised to license the use of the Oeko-Tex 100 label, if the products have successfully passed the laboratory tests.
Ecological philosophy of the Oeko-Tex Association
The Oeko-Tex Association bases its standards on an ecological philosophy. Ecology in the field of textiles, according to the Oeko-Tex Association, can be divided into three areas: Production ecology refers to the different stages of manufacture. From fibre processing to the making up of finished articles, processes should respect the environment. Human ecology refers to the impact of the textiles on their human environment, i.e. the consumer. The textiles should be screened for negative or toxic impact on the human consumers. Performance ecology refers to issues of textiles in use, including the effects of washing and dry cleaning. And finally, disposal Ecology refers to the disposability of the product once it has reached the end of its life span.
Did You Know?
- Formaldehyde occurs in textiles as it is used in printing to fix the colour to the textile surface, and it is used as a preservative to stop mildew, stop creasing, stop shrinkage and to make fabric flame retardant. Formaldehyde has been found to cause skin and nasal irritations, asthma, and other respiratory problems, and has been linked to lung cancer and leukemia.
- European researchers found antimony, a fire-retardant chemical used in some crib mattresses, leaches through the mattress; they connected this finding to SIDS deaths. The livers of autopsied infants were also found to contain high amounts of antimony. Europe is moving away from flame retardants and requires them to be proven safe before use.
- The Oeko-Tex 100 lays down a list of flame retardants that are acceptable based on independent verification by toxicologists and/or dermatological institutes as being harmless to health if used appropriately. It also reserved the right to cancel acceptability of these products on the basis of new scientific research.
About the Oeko-Tex 100
The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 aims to address the human ecology aspect of textiles. The test criteria are set on the basis of scientific parameters, and limit and regulate the use of chemical substances in textiles. These include prohibited substances like carcinogenic dyestuffs as well as regulated substances such as formaldehyde, heavy metals, and softeners. In addition, the criteria catalogue also includes substances which are not yet prohibited or regulated by law but are harmful to health according to current knowledge such as tin-organic compounds, pesticides and allergy-inducing dyestuffs. Parameters are also set for precautionary measures such as skin friendly ph values.
For the complete table for limit values of chemicals and fastness, please see Oeko-Tex Limit Values.
Laboratory testing according to Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is based on the intended use of a textile product, i.e. the more intensively a textile comes into contact with the skin (and the more sensitive the skin), the higher the human ecological requirements which must be met.
Accordingly, successfully tested textile products are allocated to four different product classes:
- Product Class I: This includes textiles and textile toys for infants and babies till the age of three and regulates testing for products such as rompers, bed linen, underwear and soft toys.
- Product Class II: This includes textiles which come in direct contact with the surface of the skin when used as intended. For example, underwear, shirts, blouses, bed linen, terry goods etc.
- Product Class III: This includes textiles which, when used as intended, do not come into contact with the skin, or only have a small part of their surface in contact with the skin. For example interlinings, jackets, coats etc.
- Product Class IV: This includes textile materials used in furnishings for decorations such as table lines, curtains, textile walls and floor coverings.
Advantages of the Oeko-Tex Standard 100
Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is one of the most widely recognized labels in the textile industry world-wide. Products that have been successfully tested and certified as meeting the requirements of Oeko-Tex certification can be labelled with the Oeko-Tex 100 logo. The label is a registered trademark that shows “Confidence in Textiles – Tested for Harmful Substances according to Oeko-Tex Standard 100”. Each label carries the test report number and the name of the institute issuing the certification. The license to use the logo is granted for period of 12 months.
Apart from control tests on license holders by two independent auditors who carry out unannounced site inspections at companies with Oeko-Tex certification throughout the world., to keep a check on quality the Oeko-Tex Association requires that manufacturers have a quality control policy. Further to this, the Association finances product controls on at least 15% of all certificates issued every year.
The authorised member institutes purchase products with the Oeko-Tex label freely available in the shops and check whether the human ecological properties of the products correspond to the quality of the original test samples in accordance with the declaration of conformity issued by the manufacturer.
Tests on products from the preliminary sector are carried out on sample materials submitted by the manufacturers.
The Oeko-Tex Association also provides advertising and promotional support to its license holders to spread its message. These initiatives have made the label more recognizable for consumers.
The Oeko-Tex Association website carries a list of brands and products that are licensed according to the Oeko-Tex Standard 100. It also provides a list of certificates that have been withdrawn because they were found fault with during the regular product controls. This shows the transparent nature of testing reports. The Association’s web site also allows customers to check the validity of the certificates online if they have the label number. This allows them information about the validity status, the product class and the articles covered by the certificate discouraging false claims.
Oeko-Tex Standard 1000
One of the criticisms of the Oeko-Tex 100 was that it focused only on the human ecology aspect ignoring the environmental concerns that affecting conscious consumers. Indirectly, the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 did have a positive impact by controlling the levels of harmful chemicals; however the need for a greater environmental sensitivity on the part of the textile and garment industry became apparent.
To address this issue and to complement the product-related Oeko-Tex Standard 100, the Oeko-Tex Association in 1995 introduced the Oeko-Tex Standard 1000 – a testing, auditing and certification system for environmentally-friendly production sites throughout the textile processing chain.
To qualify for certification according to the Oeko-Tex Standard 1000, companies must meet stipulated criteria in terms of their environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes and provide evidence that at least 30% of total production is already certified under Oeko-Tex Standard 100. The required criteria include:
- use of environmentally-damaging auxiliaries and dyestuffs prohibited
- compliance with standard values for waste water and exhaust air treatment
- optimisation of energy consumption
- avoidance of noise and dust pollution
- defined measures to ensure safety at the workplace
- use of child labour prohibited
- introduction of basic elements of an environmental management system
The company is monitored by an independent auditor from one of the member institutes of the "Oeko-Tex International - Association for the Assessment of Environmentally Friendly Textiles". The certificate is valid for three years.
Manufacturing units that meet the criteria of the Oeko-Tex Standard 1000 are allowed to use the Oeko-Tex 1000 logo on their letterheads, exhibition stands and other official documents. The logo indicates that the production unit is an “Eco-Friendly Factory” based on the Oeko-Tex 1000 criteria. It is important to bear in mind that the Oeko-Tex 1000 logo is not for products. It indicates that the production unit has been audited for its environmental performance.
As of June 2008, 37 plants were certified on the basis of the Oeko-Tex Standard 1000. The certificate, however, is not yet widely known in the marketplace. This is expected to change since maintaining socially and environmentally conscious organisations is becoming a selling point, and companies are trying to meet the criteria laid down by the Oeko-Tex Standard 1000. Moreover, once companies meet the requirements of Oeko-Tex Standard 1000, it is comparably easier for them to obtain the ISO 14001 certification.
Oeko-Tex 100 Plus Label
The Oeko-Tex Standard 100plus product label provides textile and clothing manufacturers with the opportunity to highlight the human-ecological optimisation of their products as well as their efforts in production ecology to consumers.
Companies can receive this award if their manufactured products have been successfully certified according to Oeko-Tex Standard 100 and they are also able to provide evidence that the entire production chain - in other words, all production sites involved in manufacturing a product - seamlessly comply with the requirements of the Oeko-Tex Standard 1000. This label was first awarded in 1999.