Statistics in brief - Preservatives

Preservatives are used to prevent products from being destroyed by micro-organisms. Certain preservatives - bactericides - act against bacteria, others - fungicides - against fungal growth. Other substances have less specific effects.

Sectorial breakdown of preservatives, 2010
SectorQuantity, tonnesNumber of preservatives
Pulp and paper manufacturing 2,398 57
Electricity, gas, steam and air condition supply 1,628 7
Water supply 1,455 10
Manufacture of paints 900 96
Manufacture of other chemicals 278 33
Manufacture of adhesives 173 21
Manufacture of wood wares except furniture 167 3
Manufacture of base plastics 148 3
Manufacture of cosmetic and hygiene articles 140 54
Manufacture of other organic base chemicals 77 8

Source: Products Register, Swedish Chemicals Agency 2010.

Preservative products are raw materials bought by industry partly to preserve the products that are produced and partly to make the materials used in different processes last longer, e.g. coolants for metal processing or in process waters. In all, 11,000 tonnes of preservatives were manufactured or imported 2010. This figure can be exaggerated because several large industrial chemicals are also used for other reasons than preserving, e.g. sodium hypochlorite for bleaching. The main part of preservatives is sold to the pulp and paper industry. Manufacturers of paints and adhesives also buy much preservatives to protect their manufactured products during storage.

Number of chemical products that contain preservatives

Graph. Number of chemical products that contain preservatives.

Source: Products Register, Swedish Chemicals Agency

The number of products that contain preservatives increase steadily. The number has tripled since 1994. In 2010 almost 18 000 chemical products contained one or several preserving substances. Also cosmetics, food and pharmaceuticals contain preservatives but they are not represented here as they are not registered in the Products Register at KemI.

Preservatives in chemical products, 2010
Type of productNumber of productsConsumer available products
Water-based paints 6,252 2,910
Water-based adhesives 1,281 518
Cleaners 1,234 510
Other paints 1,233 295
Pigments, colouring agents 1,132 134
Binders 1,084 1
Fillers, putty, sealants 623 391
Surface active agents 573 12
Polishes 542 266
Cooling agents for metal processing 413 4
Other adhesives 403 49
Printing inks 318 7

Source: Products Register, Swedish Chemicals Agency

About 1,724 tonnes of substances intended to act as preservative in the finished product were found in about 18,000 chemical products. The remainder of the preservative supply is used in cosmetics, health and medical products and food or is used directly by the industry.

The table above shows that most preserved products are paints, adhesives and cleaners. The number of  preserved products increases subsequently as more products become based on water instead of organic solvents and thus become more prone to microbiological attack.

Distribution of the quantity of the most common preservatives, 2010

Graph. Distribution of the quantity of the most common preservatives, 2010.

Source: Products Register, Swedish Chemicals Agency

Many different substances are used as preservatives. In 2010, the companies had labelled 432 different substances as active preserving substances in their products. These substances work in low concentrations, most often less than one per cent. Distribution can be widespread, since even a small quantity can be present in many different products.

The single largest group of substances used as preservatives are the isothiazolines. The share of the group phenols, benzoic acid based substances and carbamates are increasing, whereas alcohols and formaldehyde releasers decrease.