What Does the PFAS Ban Mean for Makers?

A guide to navigating California's PFAS ban for makers and designers
Eric Goodwin

PFAS are getting banned in California on Jan 1, 2025

This is a very big deal in many industries at the moment and especially the outdoor and apparel industries. First off, what are PFAS you ask?

PFAS (also called PFOAS, PFOS, or PFC’s) stands for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances - which is a group of chemical compounds. Originally developed in the 1940’s, PFAS were considered harmless, however there’s a catch. PFAS have been dubbed “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down or degrade. The carbon fluorine bond that makes up the backbone of PFAS is one of the strongest bonds in organic chemistry. As a result PFAS take thousands of years to degrade, which means that they bioaccumulate in animals (and humans). So while it was initially thought to be inert, because they build up in humans over time, studies have shown PFAS to cause cancer, thyroid disease, pregnancy complications, fetal development complications, reduced response to vaccines, inflammatory disease, and many more health issues.

So banning these chemicals is a good thing, the issue lies in how prevalent PFAS are. PFAS were originally developed by Dupont and 3M and branded as… Teflon. Yes, the non-stick cooking Teflon. Then in 1969 Bob Gore found that if you heated and stretched Teflon rods quickly, you could make a fiber from it. That fiber later became… Gore-Tex. Since then PFAS have become incredibly prevalent due to their durability and ability to repel almost anything. PFAS are in everything from food packaging, cosmetics, guitar strings, ski wax, surgical instruments, fire fighting foam, etc. Most importantly though for the outdoor industry PFAS are used in waterproof breathable materials, stain resistant fabric, and DWR (Durable Water Repellent). Almost every piece of fabric in the outdoor industry has DWR on it, from shoes and boots, pants, jackets, tents, sleeping bags, chairs, hats, etc.

PFAS are amazing in performance for apparel, and most alternative DWR’s and waterproof breathable materials can’t compete on performance or price at the moment. So what we’ll see in the next few years is likely more expensive and worse performing gear. But it’s a healthier and safer alternative for humans and Earth.

With California banning the sale of anything treated with PFAS on Jan 1, 2025 - that is a very big deal, especially for the outdoor industry. (Also note that other states are banning PFAS as well but California is leading the way) So what does all this mean? We’ll cover two main groups this applies to:

Consumers and makers that don’t sell their work

For consumers, basically your performance gear will not repel water as well, need more care and upkeep, and likely be more expensive. But it will be better in the long run as more sustainable options catch up in performance. While DWR will not perform as well there are some tips to improve the performance of your outdoor gear:

Wash your technical outerwear! Outerwear from any reputable brand has been wash tested a lot (at least 50 times before going to production) so it’s designed to be washed, and washing your outerwear removes the thing that actually harms your outerwear - oil. Oils (mostly from skin) harm the performance of technical outerwear more than anything, so washing your outerwear on a gentle cycle with gentle detergent is actually good for it.

Dry your technical outerwear! Read your care instructions first - but most technical outerwear is designed to be tumble dried, and again it’s actually good for it. Tumble drying will redistribute the DWR into the fabric and improve its water shedding performance.

Re-apply the water resistance! Any DWR fades over time, and new DWR coatings fade even faster, which means you need to re-apply them. Spray on or wash in repellants should be applied when water stops beading on your outerwear.

Businesses and makers that sell their work

If you are selling clothing or any type of soft good, make sure it doesn’t contain PFAS! - Even if you don't sell in California, other states are implementing bans as well and it's only a matter of time until other states and countries catch up. You need to sort out your supply chain now because this is going to get tricky! This is a new law so there are a lot of unknowns and it has not been enforced yet so no one knows what enforcement will look like. Does it cover ecommerce and items being shipped to California? Will there be a minimum allowable threshold for PFAS? What will the fines be? Who knows! But here are some things we do know:

Enforcement will be on a per item basis - Which means each item containing PFAS will be a violation and subject to a hefty fine. If REI orders 1000 jackets from your brand and they contain PFAS each one is a violation, and each one gets a fine.

There is no current minimum allowable threshold - This means that the tiniest traces of PFAS are in violation. If the zipper on your jacket has PFAS on it, or the snap manufacturer used PFAS as a mold release, you’re in violation. Also being a “forever chemical” means that even if a mill or factory makes your PFAS free fabric but that mill uses the same equipment to make PFAS treated fabric for others - the use of the PFAS fabric could contaminate the equipment and thereby your fabric.

People could be looking for payouts - A simple test confirms whether or not fluorine is on a product, so you can bet there will be individuals and companies buying up products at the local REI, testing them for fluorine, and if they fail, looking for a payout. Science backed laws are very expensive to fight and people know this, so they know that most companies would rather pay someone off for $25K then spend $200K trying to fight it.

Business insurance may or may not cover it - Some business insurance policies are written broadly enough to cover the new law and PFAS lawsuits, others aren’t, and some specifically exclude it. One thing is for sure, now is the time to check your policy.

But the industry is moving quickly to catch up and it’s all for the best. So if you’re selling products here are a few things you can do:

Use Bluesign, ZDHC, or Oeko-Tex 100 certified materials - All three companies are updating their certifications to ban PFAS, so if you use a Bluesign certified, ZDHC certified, or Oeko-Tex 100 certified fabric (like the fabric we use for our waterproof breathable blanket project) it will be PFAS free.

Use reputable trim suppliers - Reputable trim suppliers are always a good choice since they supply large brands that will have to comply with this new law. YKK offers PFAS alternatives in their zippers, and Duraflex does not contain PFAS in any of their products.

Use C0 (that’s C-Zero) DWR, not C6 and definitely not C8! - C8 DWR has been banned for a while now, C6 DWR is what’s commonly used now but will no longer comply in 2025. C0 DWR will comply along with other sustainable alternatives.

Ask your suppliers, and get it in writing! - Ask all of your suppliers (fabric, thread, snaps, zippers, etc.) if they use any PFAS, PFOAS, PFOS, or PFC’s in any of the products you’re ordering and ask what alternatives they’re using - and get it in writing! Then if something does happen down the line you can show you’ve done your due diligence. In the words of my business law professor - “Ignorance is not an excuse”

Unfortunately for the next little while designers and consumers can expect to deal with a more expensive product that's less durable, requires more maintenane, and performs worse - which is a bit of a shock since it rarely goes that way. Just remember that as inconvenient as it is, it's an important step in taking better care of ourselves and our planet. Forcing an industry to change through regulation is painful at first, just look at past examples such as CFC's, DDT, and leaded gasoline. In many cases it can take years or even decades for the industry to catch up, and sometimes it never does. But It's a important step in the right direction.