What Is OEKO-TEX Certification? Is It Reliable?
Sustainability standards and certifications really are the best way to be sure that the product you’re buying isn’t contributing to fast fashion and was made using more sustainable fabrics.
And with 92 million tons of textile waste being discarded annually, sustainable certifications are more important than ever before! So, what about OEKO-TEX®, a certification all the sustainable influencers seem to be talking about lately… What Is OEKO-TEX Certification and is it the real deal?
What is OEKO-TEX Certification?
OEKO-TEX® standards can get a little confusing so let’s start at the beginning. OEKO-TEX®, or the “International Association for Research and Testing in the Field of Textile and Leather Ecology”, started in 1992 with the aim of using laboratory tests to ensure textiles wouldn’t put human health at risk.
OEKO-TEX® doesn’t produce its own products, instead, they are a verification system used to certify other companies' products.
The OEKO-TEX® STANDARD 100 was the first certification system OEKO-TEX® released and is still probably their best-known standard. Today, OEKO-TEX® is made up of 17 independent textile and leather testing institutes (across 60+ different countries) and have five additional different standards including:
- The MADE IN GREEN
- The LEATHER STANDARD
- ECO PASSPORT
- RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS
What Fabrics & Materials Can Be Certified by OEKO-TEX®?
What does OEKO-TEX certification mean and what kinds of fabrics are certified by OEKO-TEX®? There is a big variety of products out there that could earn an OEKO-TEX® certification so let's break it down by each standard…
The STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX®
First and foremost, what is oeko-tex standard 100? As I mentioned earlier, the Standard 100 label is what most people think of when they think about OEKO-TEX®. Not only was it the first certification they came out with, but it’s also the most common and you might see it on items like clothing, home decor, bedding, pillows, and furniture.
STANDARD 100 certified products are divided into four product classes:
- Baby products (Class I)
- Products with direct contact with skin (Class II)
- Products without direct contact with skin (Class III)
- Decoration Material (Class IV)
For an item to have the Standard 100 label, it must go through a series of tests to make sure the item is free of harmful regulated and non-regulated substances in its criteria catalog like azo dyes, formaldehyde, heavy metals, pesticides, and PVC.
Essentially, the more strict the product class, the fewer chemicals OEKO-TEX® will allow. The best part is that they will look at every stage of the item's processing as well as the types of plastics it might contain from threads to buttons, to zippers!
The criteria catalog will be updated on a yearly basis to make sure they are keeping up with regulation changes.
The LEATHER STANDARD by OEKO-TEX®
As its name suggests, the LEATHER STANDARD covers all leather goods like sheepskin, lambskin, and cowskin (and this includes clothing as well as accessories)!
Under the LEATHER STANDARD, leather from all processing levels can be certified using the OEKO-TEX® criteria catalog from semi-finished leather products (wet-blue, wet-white, etc.) to finished articles. If an item has a blend of leather and non-leather, the non-leather component will be tested against the current STANDARD 100.
STeP by OEKO-TEX®
OEKO-TEX® STeP stands for Sustainable Textile & Leather Production and is all about promoting environmentally friendly production processes and socially responsible working conditions at production sites!
STeP is a little different from OEKO-TEX®’s other certifications since it looks at the entire production chain through six different modules:
- Chemical management
- Environmental performance
- Environmental management
- Social responsibility
- Quality management
- Health protection and safety at work
With this in mind, specific processes like tanning, re-tanning, dying, fatliquoring, and finishing can be certified under STeP!
One thing I really like about STeP is that they are also trying to constantly evolve. As such, they have a new voluntary Impact Calculator that measures the carbon and water footprint at the facility level (and is free of charge to textile facilities!).
They also will recognize other credible third-party standards and certifications during this process like BSCI, FWF, SA8000, ISO 14001, and ISO 9001.
The MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX®
The STeP, STANDARD 100, and LEATHER STANDARD are all prerequisites for OEKO-TEX® MADE IN GREEN. The MADE IN GREEN certification looks at both chemicals AND working conditions for textiles and leather.
Think about it this way, the STANDARD 100 or LEATHER STANDARD + STep = MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX®. I know, it can get confusing! But you can check for MADE IN GREEN products using OEKO-TEX®’s Label Check Tool (which I will talk about in a minute).
ECO PASSPORT by OEKO-TEX®
OEKO-TEX® ECO PASSPORT looks at certifying chemicals, colorants, and auxiliaries used in the textile and leather industry which have been tested against the ECO PASSPORT standard (you know how much I love sustainable dyes!).
The ECO PASSPORT standard is unique because it runs a “CAS Number Screening” on the product. This means that the product's components will be compared against a special list of harmful chemicals. A site audit or on-site visit might also be conducted during this time to ensure environmental management and safety standards are being met.
In case you're wondering, yes, you can use chemicals certified under ECO PASSPORT to produce STANDARD 100 and LEATHER STANDARD certified products!
RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS by OEKO-TEX®
Last but not least, OEKO-TEX® also has a RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS management tool to help companies meet their supply chain due diligence requirements. This due diligence includes looking at:
- Business policy
- Risk analysis
- Integration of appropriate actions
- Continuous monitoring
- Transparent communication
- Complaint mechanism
Traders, brands, and retailers can all apply for the RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS certification!
How to Check An OEKO-TEX® Certification?
Knowing how to read clothing labels is tricky stuff. But lucky for us, OEKO-TEX® has a Label Check Tool to make it easy!
To use the tool, all you have to do is enter the label number at madeingreen.com or scan their QR code and in a few short seconds, you can find out if the OEKO-TEX® label is legit (heads up, the tool is case-sensitive!).
The tool also has a list of withdrawn certificates and labels which proves to me they are staying up to date with the changing market - a good sign! But you can always use OEKO-TEX®’s buying guide to see which brands are already on board with this system.
With this in mind, how reliable are the OEKO-TEX® Standards? Are they just another case of greenwashing?
In my opinion, the OEKO-TEX® Standards really are some of the best sustainable fashion certifications out there. The key here is that they are a third-party, independent verification system.
With 17 independent institutes and contact offices across the globe, they are less likely to play into the politics that take away their credibility or ability to be impartial like some other certification schemes might do…
Another good sign of OEKO-TEX®'s legitimacy is its annual reviews. The STANDARD 100 certification is valid for one year, so a company must resubmit its product and it will be retested on an annual basis.
OEKO-TEX® themselves undergo an internal audit for quality assurance every three years so you know they are holding themselves to a VERY high standard.
OEKO-TEX Pros and Cons
Not all certifications are created equal! And like most certifications, OEKO-TEX® has its pros as well as its cons.
What’s the Difference Between OEKO-TEX® vs GOTS?
To understand the difference between the two, let’s first answer the question, “What Is GOTS Certified”... The Global Organic Textile Standard ( or GOTS) provides a percentage requirement for how much of a product must be “organic”.
This means synthetic chemicals like pesticides, flame retardants, fertilizers, and harmful azo dyes are all prohibited. GOTS also includes standards for working conditions and is an all-encompassing environmental certification.
With this in mind, OEKO-TEX® and GOTS have tons of similarities! Both certifications look at chemical management and are recognized on an international scale. However, they also have their differences. While it's great that OEKO-TEX® looks at chemicals, this doesn’t necessarily mean a certified product is also organic.
For a product to be organic (or GOTS certified), it must be free of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and GMO cotton, all attributes that might still be present in an OEKO-TEX® certified product.
For example, semi-synthetic fibers like cupro, rayon, modal, and lyocell would not be considered organic but still might be certified by OEKO-TEX®! Another great example of this is TENCEL. While semi-synthetic, TENCEL™ modal carries the STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certification because it uses an "organic solution" that replaces sodium hydroxide.
To summarize, I would say GOTS is a more holistic certification covering all aspects of the environment including social welfare as well as human and environmental health, while OEKO-TEX looks specifically at chemicals that might affect human health.
Brands that use the OEKO-TEX Certification
- Girlfriend Collective: Makes size-inclusive activewear from recycled plastic like disposable water bottles and fishing nets salvaged from landfills and oceans. We've featured them in our guides on ethical maternity clothing, sustainable swimwear, and our master list of sustainable clothing brands.
- Sézane makes super high-quality clothing you will love. Their ethical sweaters are to die for!
- Toad & Co. is all about classic styles that are perfect for building a minimalist wardrobe.
- Encircled is one of our absolute favorite Canadian sustainable fashion brands that offer fantastic ideas to help you build a fall capsule wardrobe you will love.
A Final Word on the OEKO-TEX Certification
So, what Is OEKO-TEX Certification? OEKO-TEX® can give the reassurance you need to know you are making a more responsible choice with your money and be a more ethical shopper!
And while OEKO-TEX® isn’t perfect, they are setting the standard for better synthetic and semi-synthetic fibers on the market, and this is something I can get behind! If you found this post helpful, please help someone by sharing this article – Sharing is caring 🙂!