Articles treated with antibacterial agents

More and more articles are treated with chemical substances to prevent, for example, bacterial growth and unpleasant odours. But the antibacterial agents usually disappear after the first few washes and are released into the environment where they can cause harm. It is therefore advisable to avoid articles that are treated with antibacterial agents.

Some articles are treated with chemical agents called biocides to reduce bacterial growth and unpleasant odours, for example, to make a sports shirt odourless. Everything from clothing, and cutting boards to cat litter, and toilet seats may have been treated with antibacterial substances. An article that is treated is usually labelled with wording such as “treated to prevent bad odour”, “for lasting freshness”, “anti-odour”, “hygienic protection”, “antimicrobial” or something similar.

Antibacterial treatment is usually not needed in these everyday items. It has been shown that better results can be achieved by cleaning the kitchen worktop with ordinary cleaners and water to remove the dirt in comparison to an antibacterial worktop. And if a garment or similar has been treated with with antibacterial agents, these agents usually disappear after just the first few washes and are released into the environment where they might cause harm.

These substances can contribute to antibiotic resistance

Some of the biocides are suspected of being able to contribute to the increasing resistance to antibiotics in society. This means that the bacteria are developing new mechanisms to resist the effects of the antibiotic. This in turn can lead to certain diseases becoming difficult or impossible to treat. Triclosan, triclocarban and silver are examples of such antibacterial substances. They have also been shown to damage bacteria that are needed when water is treated at treatment plants. It is therefore advisable to avoid articles that are treated with antibacterial agents.

The Swedish Chemicals Agency commissioned an analysis of these articles to determine how quickly antibacterial substances used to counter the smell of sweat in textiles are washed out. The study showed that after ten washes, between 10 and 98 per cent of the substances had been washed away. Until we know more about how the substances can harm health and the environment, we should consider whether we really need such articles.

According to EU rules on biocides, articles that are claimed to have an antibacterial effect must be labelled and the name of the substance that provides the effect must be disclosed on the label.

When you are in the store, ask what the article contains so that you can make an informed choice.

More information on articles treated with antibacterial agents

Your right to information

The website skyddaantibiotikan.seexternal link

Regulations for treated articles

Antibiotic resistance from a safety perspective (MSB)external link

Last published 15 February 2021