EU could ban washing instructions

We're told to always read the label, but if the EU gets its way, the label might not be all that useful in the future.

Most clothes sold in Sweden contain labels with washing instructions, and eight out of ten Swedes say they find them useful. But the labels are now being viewed at the EU level as a hindrance to free trade.

The source of the EU’s displeasure is the agreement between the Swedish clothing industry body Teko and the Swedish Consumer Agency, under which most clothes made in Sweden or for the Swedish market contain washing instructions.

When the organisations tried to renew the agreement, they were informed that it broke EU rules, as it was prejudicial to foreign clothes sold in Sweden that don’t have the labels.

The Swedish Consumer Agency is resisting any attempts to get rid of the labels, arguing that consumers find them useful. A poll commissioned by the agency from Temo showed that eight out of ten Swedes read the washing instructions before they wash new clothes, and six out of ten read them before they buy clothes.

“We think that care instructions are even more important now than they were before,” said Karin Lindell, director general of the Swedish Consumer Agency, “as our clothes contain much more complicated materials and fibres.”

“If the label gives only the name of the material, it can be difficult to decide how to wash and iron [the garment]”, she added.

Lindell added that without washing labels, it would be more difficult for people to return clothes that have lost shape or colour in the wash. Currently, she said, people who return damaged clothes to the shops are asked whether they followed washing instructions.

The agency is now pressing the government to argue its case at the EU level, to ensure that the instructions are allowed to stay.