The users of biocidal disinfectant products often find the labels difficult to read, and are not always aware of the instructions for use, a survey on the use of disinfectant biocides (PT1, PT2, PT4) among 2025 Belgians reveals.
The immediate reason for this survey was the large number of accidents with disinfectants during the Covid pandemic, as reported by the Poison Centre . The increased use of disinfectants was of course expected, but the increase in the number of accidents with these products was very striking. To gain insight into the possible explanations for the accidents, 2025 Belgians were surveyed about their use of disinfectants and the reading of the label.
The survey shows that the label is not always properly read or understood. Only one in five respondents said they read the label in its entirety before purchase. Some of the users assume they know the use, and therefore no longer read the whole label. 5% to 8% of respondents (depending on the type of disinfectant) indicate the information on the label is unclear. Several reasons are given for this: poor legibility due to too small text and insufficient contrast with the background, but also the language and terms used that make the label difficult to understand.
The survey also revealed that the instructions for use are not always followed. Half of Belgians are not aware of the contact time necessary for effective skin disinfection or the expiry date of the disinfectant. Moreover, a large proportion of respondents (36%) think that alcohol gels also cleanse the skin, which is incorrect. 4% of respondents have already mixed a skin disinfectant with other products, which could render the product less effective. Half of the users of products to be diluted for surface disinfection do not follow the precise instructions for dilution (do an approximate dilution or are not aware of the proportions to respect).
Towards better product labels
The Biocides Service of the FPS Public Health and federations Detic and Bioplus-Probois are working together to make biocide labelling more easy to understand and readable. The aim is to develop recommendations for packaging of products to be diluted, and recommendations for the label, with a specific focus on the instructions for use.
An easily readable and comprehensible label is a definite plus for everyone. The well-informed user will know how to use the product in all security, and with the expected efficacy. Many accidents can be avoided by following the instructions of use, and by keeping the biocidal product in the original packaging and out of the reach of children and animals. The campaign "read before use" (only in French and Dutch) provides many handy tips for the safe use of chemical products to families (campaign website www.lireavantutilisation.be) .