Identifying PFAS in Clothing Labels is an Ongoing Challenge

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, is an umbrella word for a family of thousands of compounds valued for their indestructibility and non-stick qualities. At the last count, there were roughly 12,000 different types of PFAS. For years, clothing manufacturers have used PFAS, often known as “forever chemicals,” to create raincoats, boots, backpacks, and other products that are water- and stain-resistant. Almost 50% of all PFAS are used globally in the textile industry. The ability of PFAS to repel water and oil allows textile makers to create textiles that are waterproof and stain-resistant. As a result, PFAS are frequently utilized in outdoor clothing and accessories (e.g., waterproof shoes, jackets, backpacks, tents).

Yet, a rising amount of evidence indicates that the environment and human health are both negatively impacted by these chemicals.

The PFAS ability to reject grease and water as well as their high mobility allow them to migrate into the environment after leaving their original products, for example, by sliding out of abandoned landfills. This is unfortunate because many PFAS also have a tendency to bioaccumulate, which means they are taken up by living things more quickly than they can be eliminated and hence accumulate over time. PFAS have the potential to be harmful to both people and animals. PFOA and PFOS, two of the most researched members of this family of chemicals, have been associated with lowered immunological responses in children following vaccination.

Although the major transition away from PFAS in textiles is already in motion, the earliest state prohibitions won’t go into effect until 2025. Businesses are currently vying to remove them from clothing before state-level restrictions go into effect over the next few years.

Until the regulations are made, consumers are left to determine for themselves whether the products they currently own or wish to purchase contain PFAS.

As stated by Danielle Melgar, from Public Interest Research Groups, as there are no labeling regulations for PFAS, businesses can essentially say whatever they want, and many times this results in purposefully false labeling. The advocates from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Fashion FWD report that even though there are some PFAS labels, some of them may be inaccurate or misleading. For instance, watch out for labels that state that a piece of clothing is devoid of a particular PFAS chemical, such as PFOA- or PFOS-free clothing, as this could indicate the use of other kinds of PFAS.

As posited in an article by Zahra Hijri, a Bloomberg writer, according to the research work, even the designation “PFC-free” may be deceptive if businesses merely use PFC to refer to a portion of PFAS compounds rather than all of them. Activists advise customers to inquire with the manufacturer if a product includes PFAs, particularly so-called PFAS polymers, regardless of the label.

Although a few brands have spearheaded the move away from PFAS, such as the PFC-Free label used by Jack Wolfskin, Vaude Sport, and Haglofs, consumers will still need to wait until more stringent laws make PFAS-free solutions more widely available for many more brands. Many advocates have spoken against this challenge for consumers to identify the PFAS-free products. Avinash Kar from the Natural Resources Defense Council states that instead of consumers buying their way out of the problem, passing PFAS labeling rules helps ensure that the things people purchase are not damaging to them or the environment, which is something the manufacturers should be making sure of.


Hirji, Zahra. 2023. Navigating the Wild West of PFAS Labeling on Clothing.  Retrieved from

Salvidge Rachel & Leana, Hosea. 2023. What are PFAS, how toxic are they and how do you become exposed?  Retrieved from

Straková, J., Grechko, V., Brosché, S., Karlsson, T., Buonsante, V. PFAS in Clothing: Study in Indonesia, China, and Russia Shows Barriers for Non-toxic Circular Economy. International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), February 2022.

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