Water Consumption in Textiles

Water is used extensively throughout textile processing operations. Almost all dyes, specialty chemicals, and finishing chemicals are applied to textile substrates from water baths. In addition, most fabric preparation steps, including desizing, scouring, bleaching, and mercerizing, use aqueous systems.

The amount of water used varies widely in the industry, depending on specific processes operated at the mill, equipment used, and prevailing management philosophy concerning water use.

Reducing water consumption in textile processing is important for furthering pollution prevention efforts, due in part because excess water use dilutes pollutants and adds to the effluent load.

Mills that currently use excessive quantities of water can achieve large gains from pollution prevention. A reduction in water use of 10 to 30 percent can be accomplished by taking fairly simple measures. A walk-through audit can uncover water waste in the form of:

  • Hoses left running.
  • Broken or missing valves.
  • Excessive water use in washing operations.
  • Leaks from pipes, joints, valves, and pumps.
  • Cooling water or wash boxes left running when machinery is shut down.
  • Defective toilets and water coolers.

In addition, many less obvious causes of water waste exist. These causes are presented below by subcategory, unit process, and machine type.


Textile operations vary greatly in water consumption.

Figure 1 summarizes the water consumption of various types of operations. Wool and felted fabrics processes are more water intensive than other processing subcategories such as wovens, knits, stock, and carpet.

Water use can vary widely between similar operations as well. For example, knit mills average 10 gallons of water per pound of production, yet water use ranges from a low of 2.5 gallons to a high of 45.2 gallons.

These data serve as a good benchmark for determining whether water use in a particular mill is excessive.