Laundry Care Labels Grab the Regulatory Limelight

by Sam Kazman on July 25, 2011

in Blog, Features

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Great news–the Federal Trade Commission is reexamining its textile care labeling regulation!  This is the rule, first issued in 1971, that requires those little labels in clothing that tell you “dry clean only” or “wash in cold water” or whatever else is appropriate.  Some people find certain of these labels irritating—literally irritating, that is, like when they’re made of stiff fabric that rubs against your neck.  Personally, I find them pretty handy, though I’m not sure we need a federal rule to guarantee their presence.

The FTC says its reexamination is part of its systematic review of all its regs.  It’s not clear whether the end result will be better or worse.  Right now the rule actually prohibits any reference to “professional wetcleaning” in a label (that’s the allegedly eco-friendly water-based type of commercial cleaning, as opposed to traditional solvent-based drycleaning).  Perhaps that will change.  On the other hand, the FTC is also considering whether to mandate care instructions in foreign languages.  That’s sure to make those itchy labels even itchier.

Here’s my suggestion:  any label that states that an item can be home-laundered should also state the following, “If your washing machine is a newly-manufactured conventional top-loader, don’t even bother trying to wash this or any other article of clothing.”  This would reflect the fact that, as Consumer Reports found several months ago, these washing machine models are now “often mediocre or worse.”  

The reason for this degraded performance is the Department of Energy and its increasingly stringent energy efficiency standards.  A new fabric label rule pointing this out would be a great way for the FTC to prove that it’s an independent agency.  Of course, it would also make those labels itchier too, and for that I apologize.

Send your comments to the FTC by September 6, in as many languages as you wish.

Misha Jelinek July 31, 2011 at 6:56 am

Every home should have 1 large washing machine and one small washing machine…the dryiers are not that serious with light loads and big washers are efficient too if not top loaded. In california it costed $200,000 to add a strick 15 new waterfountians to some schools that were lucky. Im happy they can drink the water in california.

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