What to do when you are concerned about an intensive odour emitted by a product

Tukes has received several enquiries about products which emit an intensive chemical odour. In this section we seek to provide responses to the most common questions.

I purchased a new item of clothing which emits an intensive chemical odour. What should I do?

Various different chemicals are used in textile production, for example, for the purposes of pre-treatment of raw materials, dyeing and final finishing of fabrics. Textiles may release chemicals especially during the initial period after taking into use and when they are first washed for a couple of times. A good basic rule is before use to wash all new items of clothing and other textiles that come into contact with skin. You can also air them before use. It should be noted, however, that on the basis of an intensive or unpleasant odour alone one cannot conclude what chemicals the product contains or whether it is harmful to health.

What should I do if the odour persists after washing and airing?

Consumers should primarily contact the store that sold the item of clothing and inform them of the issue related to the product so that the problem can be addressed together with the customer and supplier and, where necessary, with the relevant authority.

Consumers can also report to Tukes a product that is hazardous or has a safety defect. You can submit a report on a product, for example, when you suspect that clear medical symptoms are caused by a chemical contained in the product.

How can I know whether my clothes contain chemicals harmful to human health or the environment?

In fact, consumers have no way of knowing this, and economic operators have no legal duty to provide information to consumers on the chemicals used in the production and treatment of articles, with the exception of certain substances of very high concern (SVHC) specified in legislation and articles treated with biocidal products. The starting point, however, is that economic operators are responsible for the products they place on the market and for ensuring that the products are safe for the intended purpose of use and comply with the statutory requirements.

Business lines can also apply for various voluntary extra labels, and licence to use these labels on products is granted on condition of compliance with a set of criteria, including those specified for chemicals. Chemicals have also been taken into due consideration in the criteria specified for a number of textile labels (e.g. the EU Ecolabel, the Nordic Ecolabel, the Ökö-tex 100 standard and the GOT standard). Licence to use these labels is granted only to applicants whose products do not contain certain harmful chemicals. Licence is granted for a fixed period, and the criteria are reviewed every two or three years. Further information on the labels is available from the organisations which manage these voluntary ecolabelling schemes and grant the licences.

From whom can I enquire whether a product potentially contains hazardous chemicals?

Tukes as a supervisory authority has no specific information on the chemical composition of articles, because Tukes does not issue any preliminary approvals or rulings or carry out investigations before a product is placed on the market.

The producer or importer of the article is the primary source of further information on the substances contained in the article. The consumer should ask about the properties of the product first from the store selling the product and through this channel obtain more information from the producer.

In order to ensure that an article is safe to use, the seller has a legal duty to provide information to consumers on whether any of the substances included on the SVHC Candidate List maintained by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is present in the relevant article above a concentration of 0.1% weight by weight. This information must be provided no later than 45 days after information was requested. Further information on how to make a request as well as the names of the chemical substances on the list are available on our website.

In the cases where an article has been treated with a biocidal product (e.g. mould and mildew prevention substances), further information on the biocide treatment can be requested from the supplier of the article. The economic operator must provide all available information free of charge no later than 45 days after information was requested. Under normal conditions, after biocidal fumigation of spaces or containers used for storage or transport purposes there should not in principle be any residues of the treatment substance in the products subsequently stored or transported in such spaces or containers. The seller’s duty to provide information is not applied in these situations.

Who is liable for damages, if chemicals contained in a product cause harm or damage?

The Chemicals Act (599/2013) does not contain any provision on consumer’s right to damages in the event that a chemical product causes harm to health or property damage. Tukes has no jurisdiction over liability for damages governed by civil law, and, thus, Tukes cannot, for example, order the economic operator responsible for a product to compensate the consumer for any medical costs, loss of income or other expenses arising from harm to health caused by a product, even in the cases where the product has been determined to be dangerous and non-compliant with the statutory requirements. In the event that the consumer who has sustained harm to health or property damage cannot settle the matter with the economic operator amicably, the consumer can bring civil action for damages against the economic operator before a court of law.

Further information on chemicals is available on the ECHA website.

Texts: Marilla Lahtinen, Elina Vaahtovuo, Paula Kuusio