How much water is needed to make a t-shirt?

Every day, we try to be more conscious of our water usage; from turning off the tap whilst brushing your teeth, taking shorter showers or closing the tap while putting soap on your hands. But there is something that all of us own that consumes 900 days worth of drinking water: Our favourite cotton t-shirt! 

The unseen or ‘virtual water’ we consume every day is like our cotton t-shirts that need around 2,700 litres of water for the cotton used to make the t-shirt. So, whilst it’s important to fix leaky taps and buy efficient washing machines, the water we use at home is only part of our total water footprint.

How can one cotton t-shirt consume so much water? 

Well, for this we need to look at how a cotton t-shirt is made. The production of cotton t-shirts includes the growth of cotton and manufacturing, dying etc. 

Cotton is a very thirsty crop. Each cotton plant is estimated to need around 10 gallons (38 kg) of water to maximize its yield. This equates to somewhere around 20-30 inches of water for the full season, when in the right climate. A full season can extend to up to 180 days, which is much longer than most other annual crops. One reason for the drastic number of water use in commercial production is due to the crowded growing conditions of the cotton plants, where between 40,000-45,000 plants are growing in 1 acre! 

In general, one kg of cotton takes around 20,000 litres. This would be enough cotton for one t-shirt and one pair of jeans! Despite the higher water use, cotton remains one of the most used textiles in the world.  

The processing of the cotton, manufacturing into a t-shirt, as well as the dyeing process needs water, too. Especially here, water pollution, which is also an important aspect when it comes to the water in your clothes, takes place. About 20% of industrial water pollution is due to garment manufacturing. Meanwhile, the world uses around 5 trillion litres of water each year for fabric dyeing alone.

Of course, this only describes the water used to produce one single cotton t-shirt. You should also consider the energy needed to create it. From the energy used to grow cotton to manufacturing and transportation. 

When a garment ends up in our closet, it’s water and energy consumption does not just stop there. Just think of the energy and water needed to wash, dry and iron your clothes. Luckily, with skipping the drying and ironing of your clothes you can save of your t-shirt’s carbon footprint. 

What are the impacts on the environment? 

While realising how much water is needed for one single cotton t-shirt, think now of the water used for all your t-shirts. All t-shirts, your family member owns. All the t-shirts the people own in your city, in your country - and globally.

And when we now consider the fact that the lifespan of a garment has decreased to 2.2  years in countries like the UK. Moreover, 87% of garments we consume end up in landfills or incinerators. This is a lot of water to go to waste. 

A report by the Global Fashion Agenda revealed that in 2015, the fashion industry consumed 79 billion cubic meters of water. This is enough water to fill 32 million Olympic-size swimming pools. This figure is expected to increase by 50% by 2030. 

While we believe that there is plenty of consumable water on our planet for everyone, this does not meet reality. Though our planet is 71% covered by water, 97% is salty and another 2% is snow and ice. This leaves us with less than one percent of accessible water. From this 70% is used to grow crops such as cotton. 

So what can we do?

One great way to work against this is by extending the lifespan of your garment. Did you know that by wearing your cotton garment nine months longer, you can reduce the water footprint of your clothes by 5-10%? This may not sound like an awful lot now, but imagine when not only one person would do this, but many more! 

Another alternative is to invest in organic cotton garments. This way you will not contribute to water pollution, due to the elimination of synthetic pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers.

How does Kleiderly contribute? 

At Kleiderly, we realised the enormous impact of clothing production when it comes to water usage, or energy consumption and more. Therefore, we see it as crucial to make use of these valuable resources as long as possible. 

With our patent-pending solution, we have developed a way to give these resources a new life by deriving waste clothing away from landfills and turn them into a plastic alternative.



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