Detergents are products containing soap or other surfactants with surfactant properties:
• wetting property,
• emulsion (foam),
• breaking bonds between the dirt and its holder.

Detergents may be in any form (liquid, powder, paste, bar, cake, piece, moulded brick, etc.) for domestic or industrial purposes.

As used in European regulations, the term detergent refers to all mixtures for cleaning/washing as well as their ancillary products:

• Products for washing:
o washing agents,
o conditioners: alter the feel of the clothes,
o auxiliary washing preparation: for pre-wash, rinsing or bleaching the clothes.

• Products for cleaning:
o "all purpose" household maintenance: clean-all, de-scaling, scouring powder, etc.
o cleaning of surfaces: floor, cars and other means of transport, equipment, mechanical installations and related equipment, machinery, instruments, apparatus, etc.

• The "other cleaning and washing preparations", intended for any other cleaning and washing process.

They are used every day in large quantities, therefore their marketing is highly regulated, they must:

• be biodegradable up to 60% in 28 days,
• be labelled with:
o the list of relevant ingredients especially to protect the health of consumers, particularly against allergies,
dosage information to avoid overuse.

In addition to being "detergents", some of these products can be considered as "biocides" and/or "hazardous mixtures". They are therefore also subject to legislation specific for these categories.

The biocide detergents

They contain one or more active biological or chemical substance(s) to prevent harmful action of a living being: bacteria (disinfectant, etc.), algae, insects, animals (e.g.: repellents), etc.

Any product claiming a "biocide" property must comply with an ad hoc regulation. It receives specific authorisation for its placement on the market and is assigned a number that must be visible on the label.

Detergents classified as hazardous mixtures

They develop intrinsic properties (independent of the claims of the manufacturer or the person who has placed the product on the market) based on the amount and type of substances present in the mixture.

Example: a detergent can be an irritant, corrosive, toxic, etc.

The labelling must:  
• have a hazard symbol accompanied by a standard phrase such as "danger";
• consider all potential hazards associated with the handling and use of the products: concentrated product will often be classified as corrosive even though its final use is in diluted, non-corrosive form. The key is to measure quantities correctly and follow the instructions.