Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Manfacturing and using detergents

Detergents are chemical substances containing soaps and surfactants that are used for washing and cleaning and can be in any form - powder, tablet, liquid or paste.

They can have significant impacts on the water environment, releasing organic chemicals which can be toxic to fish and other aquatic life. Ingredients may also not readily break down and cause long-lasting pollution in the environment.

What you must do

Label your detergent products

If you manufacture or place on the market any detergents you must include certain information on the label of your products including:

The name or trade name of the detergent.

Your business address and phone number.

The basic ingredients of the detergent. You do not need to include precise formula details. Certain ingredients, eg fragrances, must be listed in any case. The only ingredients you need to list in percentage ranges are those with a concentration above 0.2%.

List your detergent ingredients

You must produce a detailed list of the ingredients in your detergents as part of the product's safety data sheet (SDS). This must be available on request to health professionals treating allergies. The information will be kept confidential.

You should provide a basic version of this list on the internet. If you do not have a website your trade association may be able to include it on their website.

Chemicals industry trade associations


Ensure your surfactants are biodegradable

Surfactants are active ingredients which help a detergent or cleaning product remove dirt from surfaces.

If you manufacture detergents containing surfactants for the domestic sector you must ensure that the surfactants are ultimately biodegradable and so are easily broken down by bacteria into harmless chemicals.

If you manufacture detergents containing surfactants for the industrial or institutional sectors which are not ultimately biodegradable, you can apply for a derogation (permission to carry out an otherwise banned activity) from the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD), part of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). To do so you must ensure that your product passes the minimum legal standards for primary biodegradability.

Primary biodegradability is the first stage in the breaking-down of surfactants, after which they are usually less dangerous to the living environment.

HSE: Chemicals Regulation Directorate

You must keep the results of surfactant biodegradability testing which must be available to the CRD.

The CRD has produced further guidance on complying with the detergent legislation.

HSE: Chemicals Regulation Directorate - Detergents

Restricted chemicals

REACH places restrictions on marketing and using certain chemical substances and preparations, including some surfactants.

You should check the ingredients used in your detergent or cleaning product against Annex 17 (XVII) of the REACH Regulation which contains a list of restricted chemicals and their restrictions and concentration limits.

Restrictions on using hazardous chemicals

 You must not manufacture or put on the market domestic laundry cleaning products (DLCPs) containing more than 0.4% of their weight of inorganic phosphates.

HSE: Chemicals Regulation Directorate - Detergents

Further information on detergents

UK Cleaning Products Industry Association (UKCPI)

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