Biocides: They can hide in these everyday products

Biocidal wall paint
Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / FinjaM

Biocides are intended to keep pests away and are used in various areas of our everyday lives. We clarify how questionable the substances are and which products contain them.

Biocides are substances intended to combat pests (such as rats, mice, insects) or algae, fungi and bacteria. These include, for example, disinfectants, protective agents for certain materials or poisons against specific animals. Their main purpose is to protect human health. This distinguishes them from pesticides, which are primarily intended to protect plants from pests. Nevertheless, biocides are also sometimes a component of plant protection products.

Articles treated with the substances differ in whether they have a primary biocidal function or not. Goods with a primary biocide function are primarily intended to protect against harmful substances, as is the case with an antibacterial cloth, for example. Goods without a primary biocidal function contain biocides only as an auxiliary or additive. However, their main purpose is not biocidal. For consumers, it is often not obvious at first glance that a product contains biocides.

Are biocides dangerous?

Biocides are designed to kill harmful organisms and animals. They contain substances that, for example, block the nervous system or limit the pest’s ability to reproduce. These substances can also be dangerous for people, the environment and other animals, especially if used improperly. Both the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment and Nature Conservation therefore recommend only using biocides if there are no other alternatives. Textiles and other everyday products with biocides should be avoided by consumers as far as possible.

According to the UBA, there is no general declaration obligation for goods without a primary biocidal function. However, all active ingredients used and their function for the product must be noted on the packaging or the label. You can also see from advertising claims such as “antibacterial”, “antifungal”, “hygiene function” or “sanitized” that biocides were probably used.

In addition, some seals can help you to avoid biocides as much as possible. These include the Blue AngelsFSC Pure, the Naturland seal or the European eco-label for textile products. However, some seals still allow the use of certain biocides and other additives. Depending on the product, you should therefore research what the respective seal requires before you buy it.

Biocides in clothing

Socks and other items of clothing sometimes contain biocides.
Socks and other items of clothing sometimes contain biocides. (Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / LUM3N)

Sportswear and socks in particular sometimes contain biocides. The garments are then declared, for example, as “antibacterial” or “clothing with an anti-odour function” and are often more expensive than biocide-free products. However, the use of the substances is unnecessary. It makes more sense to simply wash the clothes with an ecological detergent if they smell unpleasant.

According to the Biocide Ordinance, the substances should only be used if there is a clear benefit for consumers. According to the UBA, this does not apply to clothing. A significant proportion of the biocides used are washed out again when the products end up in the washing machine. The biocides then get into natural bodies of water via the sewage treatment plants, where they can harm animals, plants and entire ecosystems. In addition, they can trigger resistance in humans (e.g. to substances with an antibacterial effect), impair the health of the skin flora or trigger allergic reactions.

By simply washing your clothes when they no longer smell fresh, you not only save money, but also protect the environment and avoid health risks.

Biocides in paints and wall paints

Paints and varnishes can also contain biocides. For example, they should prevent the formation of fungi or algae on the facade and extend the durability of the paint. If the paints are on the outside of a house, the biocides are also gradually washed out by precipitation in this case. They then either seep away into the ground or get into bodies of water via the sewage system.

To avoid this and not expose yourself to the health risks of biocides indoors, you can look out for the Blue Angel when buying paint. With some colors it is also expressly stated on the packaging that the manufacturers have not used biocides.

Antibacterial pet supplies

Feeding bowls with biocides harbor more risks than benefits for humans and animals.
Feeding bowls with biocides harbor more risks than benefits for humans and animals. (Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / eminens)

Dog leashes, feeding bowls or litter boxes that have been treated with biocides are intended to improve hygiene in households with animals. These products are not only expensive and potentially dangerous for humans and animals, they are also unnecessary. It makes more sense to clean regularly with ecological cleaning agents and to rinse bowls every day and then to keep them dry.

Biocides in the bathroom

The same applies to the bathroom: biocides cannot replace regular cleaning.
The same applies to the bathroom: biocides cannot replace regular cleaning. (Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / chriskeller)

Hygiene is particularly important in the bathroom. After all, due to increased humidity and the presence of various drains, it is considered highly susceptible to bacteria and fungi. Advertising slogans for antibacterial bathroom accessories play with these myths and consumers’ fear of mold and germs. You can buy toilet seats, shower curtains, shower hoses, razors and bathrobes with biocides, among other things.

But the same applies here: If you clean your bathroom regularly and air it out after showering, biocides are not necessary and entail more risks than benefits. Therefore, when buying bathroom accessories, pay attention to the labeling of the active ingredients they contain or, if you have any doubts, contact a specialist or the manufacturer himself.


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