“Many ‘stain resistant’ school uniforms sold in the UK use per- or poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) in coatings, even though this does not increase the product’s lifespan or reduce the frequency of washing, a study has revealed.

Scottish-based environmental charity Fidra conducted a survey of 637 parents or guardians of school age children across the UK, to establish whether consumers adjusted their behaviour in response to stain resistant finishes of uniforms.

It also created a database of uniform suppliers, such as supermarkets and department stores, with information on whether their products have PFAS-based coatings. Six out of 13 retailers it surveyed continue to sell PFAS-coated uniforms, it said, while others are phasing out their use in uniforms and other products.

The primary argument cited for using PFASs in stain resistant and easy-care finishes is that they increase product lifespan and decrease the need for frequent washing, Fidra said…

However, the charity found the opposite to be true. The respondents who valued stain resistant finishes washed the items more frequently and replaced them more often than those who considered the finishes unimportant. And the former group replaced trousers and skirts on average seven weeks earlier than the latter, it added.

Stain resistant finishes are only guaranteed for around 20 washes, and this raises the question of whether they are needed in the first place, Fidra said.

It made the following recommendations:

  • include behaviour in full lifecycle analyses to fully assess the environmental impact of stain resistant finishes;
  • give consumers the opportunity to find out about the finishes and their environmental impact;
  • develop ways for consumers to explore and engage with the issue; and
  • encourage consumers to assess the need for washing and replacement on an individual item by item basis rather than falling into habitual behaviour patterns.”

Read the full article by Clelia Oziel