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Safer detergents for European consumers


Regulation (EC) No 648/2004 on detergents



Detergents* can contain ingredients — surfactants* — that make them clean more efficiently but may damage water quality when released into the natural environment. As such, their use must be carefully controlled.

The regulation establishes common rules to enable detergents and surfactants to be sold and used across the EU, while providing a high degree of protection to the environment and human health.


  • The legislation harmonises testing methods to determine the biodegradability of all surfactants used in detergents. These cover primary* and ultimate* biodegradability.
  • The tests must be carried out in laboratories that meet internationally recognised standards.
  • Manufacturers are responsible for ensuring their products satisfy the legislation’s requirements.
  • Manufacturers must make available files on test results to the relevant authorities and an ingredient datasheet to medical staff, without delay and when requested.
  • Information on detergents’ packaging must be legible, visible and indelible. This includes contact details for the manufacturer and the datasheet.
  • Labels on detergents sold for public use must give details of recommended dosages for different washes in a standard washing machine.
  • National authorities may ban a specific detergent if they consider it is a risk to human or animal health or to the environment. They inform the European Commission and other EU countries of the decision.

In 2012, the legislation was amended to harmonise rules on limiting the content of phosphates and other phosphorus compounds in detergents for household laundry and dishwashing machines.


It entered into force on 8 October 2005.


Previous legislation only covered the primary biodegradability of surfactants in detergents. This regulation replaces it by laying the main emphasis on ultimate biodegradability.

The 2012 amendment introduces new limits to reduce the damage phosphates from detergents may have on ecosystems and water quality, which is a phenomenon known as ‘eutrophication’.

For more information, see the European Commission’s website on chemicals legislation.


* Detergent: any substance or preparation, whether liquid, powder or other form, containing soaps and/or other surfactants to wash or clean.

* Surfactant: one of many different compounds that make up a detergent. They are added to remove dirt from skin, clothes and household articles, particularly in kitchens and bathrooms. They lower the surface tension between 2 liquids or between a liquid and a solid. They may also act as wetting agents, emulsifiers and foaming agents. The term comes from ‘surface active agent’.

* Primary biodegradation: when a surfactant loses its surface-active ability. It is important for this ability to be lost so as to reduce as far as possible any negative effects on water treatment plants.

* Ultimate biodegradation: when a surfactant is broken down into carbon dioxide, water and mineral salts and absorbed into the environment.


Regulation (EC) No 648/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 31 March 2004 on detergents (OJ L 104, 8.4.2004, pp. 1-35)

Successive amendments to Regulation (EC) No 648/2004 have been incorporated into the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.

last update 15.02.2016