Fabric protector products might help prevent carpets, upholstery and other textiles from staining – but this protection may come at a cost to the environment.
One of the world’s most popular fabric protection products argues that these preparations help repel and release stains, which translates to reducing the amount of resources that go into washing and dry cleaning. It’s a good point, however the issue isn’t that cut and dried.
A toxic and bioaccumulative substance called perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOA) was once used in the production of Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) for fabric protection products. When PTFE degrades, it can release PFOA.
PFOA has contaminated pretty much contaminated everything – air, water, soil – and permanently, as it simply doesn’t break down.
Finally recognising the issue, some manufacturers of fabric protector products have replaced Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid with Perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS).
PFBS is also persistent in the environment, but not to the degree of PFOA. Claims have been made PFBS is not toxic or bioaccumulative.
However, the very unsettling thing is that PFBS is being detected in increasing levels in blood samples. This 2012 study noted the trend, but did not delve into the health effects – in fact, there appears to be very little research available on that aspect.
So it seems again we’re playing Russian Roulette with these sorts of compounds.
Greener fabric protector alternatives?
A GLT reader emailed me a question with regard to the safety issue and I had a lot of trouble finding products that were clearly health and environmentally friendly.
The wording used in promo of fabric protectors claiming to be green tend to dance around important topics. This isn’t always an attempt to mislead as there are also trade secret issues to consider.
Some products claim to be VOC-free; others use nano-particular technology or claim low-fluorocarbon levels. However, it’s not just what is mentioned that is important; it’s also what isn’t mentioned.
After some hunting around I found a product that may have potential for the eco-conscious – EcoShield Fabric Protector. The MSDS for Ecoshield states:
“Major ingredients in t his product are biodegradable; will not accumulate in soil or water or cause long term problems.”
Its active ingredients are fatty alcohol ethoxylates, a polymer blend and other “non hazardous ingredients” – so it’s still rather vague.
Alcohol ethoxylates are surfactants commonly used in products such as laundry detergents. Alcohol ethoxylates are not considered to impact on human health and depending on their nature, are not a huge threat to the environment. Without knowing what else is in Ecoshield’s secret sauce, there’s not much more I can write on it.
Ecoshield Fabric Protector is made in Australia, but it appears the company exports it internationally. If you live outside Australia, perhaps contact the company to find out who stocks it in your country.
As with a lot of these sorts of things, there is probably no fabric protector that is truly environmentally friendly; but if it’s something you really feel the need to use, it’s just a matter of choosing the lesser of the evils (so to speak).