We already put together a guide on how much water it takes to make different foods, beverages and crops.
But, the guide below is about how much water it takes to make everyday items, products and things like cars, phones, t shirts, and electricity.
We’ve organized and split the guide up into the different categories of items.
Summary – How Much Water It Takes To Make Products & Things
There’s different units of measurement used to express the water required to make different products and things
For products and things, one way is to express a water footprint is in terms of how much water it takes to produce one unit of measurement of that thing e.g. a kilowatt hour of electricity. This allows a comparison between different energy sources
Another way is how much water it takes to produce or manufacture the materials for that product or thing e.g. the individual fibres in a shirt, or the individual materials used to make a car
Another way is simply totalling how much water it takes to produce the finished product of something, such as one shirt, one pair of jeans, or one car
In any water footprint calculation, direct and indirect water used to produce a product should be considered – this provides a total water footprint for the product across the entire production process, right up to purchase and consumption, but also operation and waste disposal. So, water footprint can be assessed both by stage, and also the entire product lifecycle (all stags along the supply chains, product use, and disposal).
In terms of fibres, cotton usually requires a lot more water to grow compared to other fibres
Bovine leather can be a water intensive material to use in textiles and different products
Cars as a product usually have a high total water volume footprint to manufacture compared to many other products
Some figures don’t take into account the operational water footprint of cars though, so that number could be even higher when including water used in servicing, repairs, upgrades/modifications, fuel, and more
The same can be said for many products and things though, like for example the mining water footprint that could be added to different types of energy sources, like fossil fuels
Different types of electricity production can be more or less water efficient than others in the operational stage – for example, natural gas can be far more water efficient per unit of electricity or energy produced than coal and some types of biofuel
Solar and wind might be the most water efficient at the operation stage
In addition to the supply, manufacturing and operational water footprints, there’s also the waste disposal (and reuse) water footprint
Different waste disposal methods like landfill, incineration, recycling, composting, and so on, might use different amounts of water
Some products and things might also require a lot more water to treat and manage as waste on-site or at a treatment plant as well
With any product, it should be considered how long that product lasts for, and also it’s waste/disposal rate
A diaper might only last a few hours, a pair of shoes a few months or a year or so, and a car might last up to or more than a decade for some people
The longer a product is kept without buying a new product, the more it’s initial manufacturing water footprint averages out and decreases
There’s also miscellaneous indirect water use for some products, such as a product like water that needs to be packaged, usually with a plastic bottle.
The features and characteristics of a finished product should be considered.
As one example, 1kg of bovine leather may require a certain amount of water to produce, but the final amount of leather used in a small leather wallet is far less than the amount of leather used in a large leather jacket – and this impacts the final water footprint.
When looking at the visible and invisible water footprint of individuals, we see that the food we eat makes up a large majority of the total footprint, with meat eaters having a larger water footprint than vegetarians.
Firstly, An Asterisk About Water Footprints & Water Use
Before getting into the data on water use for food, beverages and crops, it’s worth understanding the following:
– Water footprints are only one general tool that can be used to calculate water use. They are not a comprehensive ‘final answer’ to calculating water use.
– Most water use has both pros and cons to consider – there are tradeoffs. Water use is not all unsustainable, or bad
– Water use in geographic areas where water is abundant may not be as much of an issue as water use in water scarce places. Context matters.
– Different types of water can make up a water footprint. Some types of water may be more sustainable and renewable compared to others, like for example renewable rainwater over groundwater that is rapidly being depleted
Now, onto the water footprint for different products and things …
How Much Water It Takes To Make A Pair Of Jeans
Various estimates of the water footprint of a pair of jeans vary between 2100 to 2900 gallons of water.
Jeans (cotton) – 2,108 gallons
It takes 2,900 gallons of water to produce a single pair of jeans (Most of this water is used in what’s known as “wet processing” as well as dyeing of fabric)
Pair Of Jeans – 2866 gallons of water
Cotton – … 8000L per pair of jeans
How Much Water Is Used To Make Cotton
Cotton – 2495 litres per 250g [which equals 9980 litres per 1kg]
It takes this much water to produce a kilogram (litres per kilogram):
Cotton – 10,000 Litres (8000L per pair of jeans)
The water footprint of one pound of cotton is 1,320 gallons.
How Much Water It Takes To Make A Cotton Shirt, Or Cotton Bed Sheets
It takes roughly 650 gallons of water to make a cotton t shirt.
T Shirt (cotton) – 659 gallons
That equals over 650 gallons of water for one new cotton t-shirt
According to watercalculator.org:
Bed Sheet (cotton) – 2,839 gallons
Cotton Shirt – 719 gallons of water
How Much Water It Takes To Make Leather
According to the interactive product gallery on WaterFootPrint.org:
Leather (from bovines) – 17093 litres per 1kg (A bovine animal at the end of its life time has an average water footprint of 1,890,000 litre)
According to watercalculator.org:
Leather Shoes – 3,626 gallons
Leather Shoes – 2113 gallons of water
How Much Water Is Used To Make A Mobile Phone/Smartphone
Smart Phone (mobile) – 3,190 gallons
How Much Water Is Used To Make A Car
Mid Sized Car – 39,090 gallons of water
According to watercalculator.org:
Car – 13,737 to 21,926 gallons
It takes about 39,000 gallons of water to produce the average domestic car, including the tires
Major water uses in the automotive manufacturing industry include surface treatment and coating, paint spray booths, washing/rinsing/hosing, cooling, air conditioning systems and boilers
How Much Water It Takes To Refine Gasoline
[it takes] approximately one to 2.5 gallons of water to refine one gallon of gasoline
How Much Water It Takes To Make Bio-Ethanol
Sugar beet based bio-diesel look like the most water efficient to make, followed by sugar cane, maize and then soybean in last.
According to the interactive product gallery on WaterFootPrint.org, other water estimations to produce other products are:
Bio-diesel (from Soybean) – 11,397 litres of water per litre of bio-diesel
Bio-ethanol (from Maize) – 2,854 litres of water per litre of bio-ethanol
Bio-ethanol (from Sugar Cane) – 2,107 litres of water per litre of bio-ethanol
Bio-ethanol (from Sugar Beet) – 1,188 litres of water per litre of bio-ethanol
How Much Water Is Used To Make Paper
Ream Of White Paper – 1321 gallons of water
… It takes about 3 gallons to make one sheet of paper
How Much Water It Takes To Make A Plastic Bottle Or 1lb Of Plastic
It takes 22 gallons of water to make one pound of plastic
It takes at least twice as much water to produce a plastic water bottle as the amount of water contained in the bottle
Although, when including water in the supply chain (and not just the plastic bottle), that amount of water could be six or seven times what’s inside the bottle (npr.org)
How Much Water Is Used To Produce 1 kwh Of Electricity
Natural gas appears to be more water efficient per kwh of electricity produced, followed by coal, and the biodiesel.
With biodiesel, there’s not only the water required to produce bio matter, but also the water to turn bio matter into energy.
Mining and storing/managing energy waste isn’t included in some energy water footprint.
It takes 95 litres of water to produce one kilowatt-hour of electricity
Coal plants typically use 20 to 50 gallons of water to produce one kilowatt-hour of electricity … And that doesn’t even take into account the water needed to mine the coal and store the coal waste.
Only about 10 gallons of water are required to extract enough natural gas to generate 1,000 kWh of electricity
By comparison, a coal-fired power plant delivering the same amount of energy would use about 140 gallons of water.
More than 180,000 liters of water are required to produce enough soybean-based biodiesel to provide a home with a month’s worth of energy.
This is because large amounts of water are required for irrigation of the soil in which the soybeans grow, then more water to turn the soybeans into biofuel.
Coal generally requires more water than nuclear …
Natural gas … requires less water than coal, but still needs an enormous amount of water for drilling activities and conversion to electricity
Wind and solar energy consume little to no water …
The wikipedia.org resource at the bottom of this guide has more information on the water footprint of different energy sources.
How Much Water It Takes To Make A Microchip
A microchip – 8 gallons of waste
How Much Water It Takes To Make A Diaper
Diaper – 214 gallons of water
How Much Water It Takes To Make Different Products In The United States
Virtual water footprints for different products and things differ from country to country around the world.
Below are some American figures.
The average virtual water content of some selected products in the USA in m3/ton is:
Leather (bovine) – 14,190 m3/tons of virtual water
Cotton Lint – 5733 m3/tons of virtual water
Cotton Seed – 2535 m3/tons of virtual water
How Much Water A Household Uses
Read more in these guides:
Which Industries Use The Most Water?
Read More About Water Footprints & Virtual Water
You can read more in the following guide about what a Water Footprint or Virtual Water is, how it’s calculated, and potential limitations to using it as a measurement benchmark: