How much water goes into making your jeans?

By: Katie Greiss

Denim is timeless, classy, and so versatile. Dressed up or down, fitted or loose, everyone loves a good pair of jeans or a denim jacket. However, denim is one of the most water-intensive clothes to make. We dug in a bit deeper to see how our favourite pairs of jeans measure up, and what can we do to minimize our water footprint.

According to a 2007 study by Levi & Strauss Co. (makers of the iconic Levi jeans), the average lifecycle of one pair of Levi’s denim consumes approximately 3,781 litres of water and releases 33.4kg of CO equivalent. Other studies looking at the average of many brands cite water consumption at upwards of 7,500 litres per pair! With more than 3.5 billion pairs of jeans produced worldwide each year, it’s clear that current denim production and its water consumption are unsustainable for our planet.¹

The production of cotton – the main component of denim - is the biggest contributor to denim’s total water consumption, measuring at nearly 70% of the total water consumed over the lifecycle of denim.

Levi’s jeans launched their Water<Less initiative in 2011 to reduce the amount of water used in their production and dyeing processes. Since it was launched, they have saved more than 3.5 billion litres of water in their manufacturing processes, and have helped suppliers to reuse nearly 6 billion litres. Levi & Strauss has also created a Water Action Strategy to commit to only use as much water as can replenish naturally, by 2025.

There are many other brands that have followed suit and committed to reducing their water footprint in the lifecycle of their denim products, including Everlane; Wrangler; MUD; and Reformation

About a quarter of denim’s water consumption occurs after the point of sale – that is, what we do with them once we buy them. The amount of water we use when caring for our jeans depends on several factors, including washing frequency and method. Over the course of one year, a pair of jeans can use as little as 152 litres of water when washed monthly in an efficient washing machine; or as much as 958 litres when washed weekly in a conventional washing machine.

Even better than buying sustainably-made jeans is to purchase secondhand and take care of the denim you already own. Increasing the longevity of your jeans not only saves thousands of litres of water but will give them the opportunity to be used by someone else once you’re done with them!

Here are a few water-conscious ideas for denim care –

  1. Wash less frequently. Instead of washing denim clothing every wear or two, stretch it out to every five wears (or more!). If they’re feeling loose after being worn, hang them outside on a sunny day or toss them in the dryer on a warm setting for 10-20 minutes. This will return their shape.
  2. If you spill food or drinks on your jeans, soak them in some warm water with mild soap as soon as you can. Dab the spot with a wet cloth and watch that messy ketchup stain disappear!
  3. When they are ready for a good wash, try and gather the biggest laundry load possible to minimize water usage, and wash on cold.

While denim consumes a large amount of water by nature, there are many steps we can take to minimize our water footprint and purchase wisely!


¹H. Pal, K.N. Chatterjee, D. Sharma. Editor(s): Subramanian Senthilkannan Muthu. In The Textile Institute Book Series, Sustainability in Denim, Woodhead Publishing, 2017.