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The PFAS in your waterproof jacketand why the outdoor industry is struggling to quit them  


February 2023

In the longtime quest to create outerwear that can withstand adventures in all kinds of weather, over the last century outdoor brands have adopted a solution that cannot be found in nature. That solution is fluorocarbons. Commonly used in durable water repellent (DWR) treatments, fluorocarbons are highly effective at repelling water and dirt. Properties that explain why many brands have grown so reliant upon them. 

However, in the wake of data showing the harmful impacts certain fluorocarbons—namely those identified by acronyms such as PFAS, PFC, and PFCec— have on the environment, wildlife and humans, many outdoor brands have been endeavoring to phase them out. All while grappling with the dilemma of how to do so without sacrificing the high performance standards consumers have come to expect. 

Haglöfs has made significant headway towards their goal of completely eliminating harmful fluorocarbons from their collection. But, like many outdoor brands, their journey has been complicated. Something Martin Ericsson can attest to. He works in Haglöfs’ Quality Department as the Product Compliance Coordinator. A role that involves utilizing his chemical engineering background to ensure that the chemicals in Haglöfs’ products meet legal standards and legislation. Here, he joins the conversation to help decode the problem of fluorocarbons and talk about the PFAS that are still in some of Haglöfs’ products. 

What are fluorocarbons and what does PFAS, PFC and PFCec mean? 

A fluorocarbon is a manmade compound formed by a bond between fluorine and carbon. There are many different types, hence the proliferation of various—and often confusing— acronyms such as PFC, PFAS and PFCec, used by the textile industry to define and categorize the harmful ones. Recently, the business and scientific community have agreed upon PFAS as the collective name for relevant fluorocarbons. 

“This is a large group of chemicals, close to 5,000 chemicals,” says Martin. “Some organizations claim that they are PFC free, but then they might have PFAS in their products. There is also a group of chemicals called PFCec, a definition created by Gore-Tex, one of the biggest manufacturers of membrane technologies with DWR. There is clearly some overlap between these different groups but, at Haglöfs, we have now moved to use the PFAS definition. PFAS includes more substances of relevance for the textile industry and is better defined.” 

PFC: Perfluorinated compounds (or carbons, or chemicals)  

PFAS: Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances   

PFCec (Gore-tex’s definition): Perfluorinated compounds of environmental concern  

Alongside evolving definitions of harmful fluorocarbon groups, consensus has also changed regarding the number of carbon atoms in the molecule that is considered to be harmful. The previous perception in the scientific community was that shorter carbon chains are less harmful. But now, this has been proven to be not necessarily true.  

“It used to be that C8 fluorocarbon-based treatments were the only dangerous ones, but now scientists understand more and have concluded that shorter chains, such as C4, C5, C6, and C7 are not good for the environment either,” explains Martin. “So in the best case, we remove all PFAS substances.” 

Which products contain PFAS? 

“DWR treatments are the main source of PFAS, but it is also important to understand that, in some products, the membrane is by definition a PFAS,” says Martin. 

This means that a membrane can be PFAS-free but there can still be PFAS in the DWR. Or the opposite: PFAS might be in the membrane but the DWR is PFAS-free. Additionally, PFAS can be found in smaller product details such as the zippers or taping.   

“While it would be great to have a ‘PFAS-free' stamp for products, authentically claiming that a product is free from PFAS is very difficult to do,” says Martin. “The chemicals are so long lasting in the environment that you and I surely have them in our bloodstreams. If we were to analyze one of our ‘PFAS-free’ garments, we would likely find traces of PFAS in it. So brands need to be very careful with how they communicate about it.” 

Why are these substances harmful? 

The same chemical properties that make PFAS so effective when applied to outerwear— water and dirt repellency and durability—pose a big problem when PFAS are released into the environment.  

“One thing about these substances is that they are not formed in nature at all, they are formed by humans—so if we ever find them in nature they have been made by humans,” says Martin. 

According to Martin, the largest amount of PFAS in the environment today comes from a now banned fire extinguisher foam, as well as from the textile, paper and plastic manufacturing industries. The release of these substances into the environment largely occurs during the manufacture and disposal of PFAS-containing products. However, in the case of textiles, it can also happen whenever garments with PFAS-containing DWR are washed.  

“Since the fluorine and carbon bond is so strong, it does not break down easily. It stays in the environment. So if you run a PFAS-containing garment through the wash, the substances will go down the drain and eventually go out to the ocean and into the fish, and then the eagle will eat the fish and it will bioaccumulate.” 

The impacts from PFAS bioaccumulating in the environment are still being studied. But so far, they are suspected of being carcinogenic as well as toxic to the reproductive system. According to Martin, we have now reached a point where the effects are becoming more apparent than ever before.   

“If we're looking at the actual toxicity of these substances I would say they are not very toxic,” he says. “That is why, for many years, we’ve had them in our waters and haven’t seen very big effects. But since they basically never break down, the levels in the environment get high enough for them to become toxic.” 

So does repeatedly wearing a PFAS-treated jacket put one’s health at risk?  

“As a consumer wearing PFAS-treated garments you are not in any specific danger,” Martin says. “It is not you wearing the treated garment that is going to expose you to the chemicals. What could put your health at risk is too much PFAS ending up in your drinking water from the industry and from the accumulative usage of PFAS-containing products in your area. That is when it can get risky.” 

If PFAS are so dangerous, why aren’t brands and the textile industry moving faster to stop using them?  

According to Martin, one of the main barriers to going PFAS-free is the potential performance downgrade. 

“I think a fear shared among many outdoor brands is that if they were to just stop using fluorocarbon-based fabrics and DWR treatments in their products then consumers would choose other brands that do use them because they are better performing.” 

Aren’t there any responsible alternatives brands could use to make outerwear effectively dirt and water repellent?    

“One alternative could be to give products water repellency by using wax instead, and that is what some brands are doing,” says Martin. “But if you use wax you have to reapply it often, and the performance is not as good.”  

Another possible solution Martin highlights is the adoption of biomimicry-based alternatives.  

“Some companies are already looking into how to mimic the surface structure of the lotus flower, for instance, which is naturally very water-repellent. At Haglöfs, we are already considering these types of solutions. But the problem with these kinds of materials, called ‘nano-materials’,  is that they are so small they can pose problems for the environment or our health." 

How do we move forward from here? 

“Widespread regulations are a major part of the solution,” says Martin. “The ultimate would be to establish an outright ban of dangerous substances like PFAS, and we do see signs of hope. For example, bluesign®’s updated standards, as well as the European Chemicals Agency’s recent proposal which would significantly restrict the introduction of new PFAS into the environment.” 

As of 2023, bluesign® no longer allows any new PFAS-containing materials to be registered and, from 2025, garments and new materials with the bluesign® label will not be allowed to have any PFAS at all. The European Chemicals Agency’s proposed PFAS restrictions are currently under review, with potential approval expected by 2025. If approved, the phase-in periods would last 18 months to 12 years, depending on the sector and availability of substitutes.  

“In the meantime, companies should take responsibility and learn about the dangers of the chemicals they are putting out there,” he continues. “It’s also very important that the customers ask the question to show that they do not want PFAS in the products they buy. We are already getting a lot of questions at Haglöfs. 

So what should consumers ask for? 

“Bluesign® is a good start, OEKO-TEX® is another certification that they should ask for,” says Martin. “Asking that products comply with the REACH legislation is also important. Just keep in mind that these labels do not necessarily mean that a product is PFAS-free, it means the fluorocarbons that are established to be harmful are not present.” 

What is Haglöfs doing about PFAS? 

All products at Haglöfs comply with two sets of Restricted Substances Lists (RSLs), one is by bluesign® and the other is one they have established themselves. The RSLs restrict the kinds of chemicals and other materials that can be used in their products, including all known problematic fluorocarbons.  

“Our aim is to reduce the use of known problematic PFAS to the greatest extent possible,” says Martin. “So far, our largest focus has been on reducing PFAS where they are used in the greatest quantity, such as DWR treatments and main product materials.” 

The bluesign® RSL is an international standard developed with the goal of eliminating harmful substances right from the start of the manufacturing process, reducing the impact on workers and on the environment, ensuring responsible use of resources and guaranteeing the highest level of consumer safety. bluesign® RSL includes all known problematic fluorocarbons as well. 

“For a product to be bluesign® approved, the materials need to be certified by bluesign®,” explains Martin. “This means that some styles are compliant with the bluesign® RSL, but are not bluesign® approved since the materials might not have gained bluesign® certification. 

The Haglöfs RSL requires that Haglöfs’ suppliers use industry best practices to proactively manage chemicals. This includes meeting the requirements of the RSL as well as providing safeguards for consumers, workers, and the environment. (The full list of restricted substances can be read here.) 

Why have two RSLs? 

“The Haglöfs list is, in many ways, a copy of the bluesign®, but bluesign® does not cover all the products we have at Haglöfs,” explains Martin. “For example, it does not have shoes or packaging within its scope. So in order to have a comprehensive list that covers everything, we need to comply with bluesign® for clothing and then use other limits for packaging for example. But all Haglöfs clothing products comply with bluesign®.” 

Both bluesign® and Haglöfs RSLs are more restrictive than the preceding law, REACH, meaning that Haglöfs goes beyond legal requirement when it comes to the chemicals used in their products. Both RSLs are updated on a regulated basis, in accordance with new scientific findings. Haglöfs also ensures through due diligence that their suppliers comply with Haglöfs RSL (and, when applicable, the bluesign® RSL). This means that they analyze the material of certain products from their collection. What they look for are those chemicals regulated by the Haglöfs and bluesign® RSLs and, consequently, also the preceding law. 

However, this does not mean that Haglöfs’ products do not contain any PFAS at all.  

“The PFAS that remain in our product line are legal according to the RSLs, however, our ambition is to become 100% free of these substances,” says Martin.  

To reach that goal, Haglöfs still has a lot of work to do.  

“The PFAS we haven’t managed to eliminate yet are the ones that can be found in zippers, membranes and taping, for example,” says Martin. “We are currently in dialogue with our suppliers to reach better alternatives.”   

Quick facts on PFAS   

  • PFAS are a large group of chemicals frequently used in consumer products that have been identified as being harmful to the environment and human health. 
  • PFAS can be found in the fluorocarbon-based fabrics and DWR treatments commonly used for high-performance outdoor clothing. 
  • Haglöfs has eliminated the vast majority of PFAS from their products but still has more work to do.  
  • Widespread regulations and legislation, such as those by the European Chemicals Agency and REACH, are a vital part of the solution. 
  • Choose products with bluesign® and OEKO-TEX® certifications, and ask brands if their products contain PFAS before you buy.


About Martin Ericsson 

At Haglöfs since 

May 2022 


Product Compliance Coordinator 


Chemical engineering in material science from Uppsala University  

Best part of job 

“One reason I wanted to work for Haglöfs is that I'm very interested in the outdoors. It’s really fun—it’s a good group of people and everyone shares the ambition to make the products as good as possible.” 

Favorite outdoor activity  

“Ski touring. Downhill skiing in general but especially ski touring. We have really good places to go here in Sweden as well as Norway. I also like hiking in the summertime.”