New process for stone washing jeans consumes nearly 80 percent less water compared to earlier.

1.9 billion jeans are sold worldwide each year. And jeans with a vintage look have been in fashion for a long time. But to get that faded finish, new jeans must go through a process called stone washing.

Making one pair of stoned washed jeans requires more than 70 liters of water, nearly a pound of chemicals and vast amounts of energy. Multiply that by the number of jeans sold worldwide every year, and you get a snapshot of just how much our jeans impact the environment.

Now stone washed jeans can be produced in a more sustainable way.

Sprayed on the jeans
“Novozymes has worked with Garmon to develop a new process where enzymes are sprayed on garments in closed systems such as washing machines,” says Andreu Colomera Ceba, account manager at Novozymes. “This new process saves up to 80 percent of water consumed when stone washing the garment. Instead of needing 70 liters of water to make a pair of jeans, you only need 14 liters.”

Stone washing of jeans normally takes place in large, open washing machines where the enzymes are added in the water. But spraying the enzymes on the garment instead is more efficient and reduces water consumption.

Garmon is an Italian supplier of chemicals for the textile industry, and the spraying process takes place inside newly-developed washing machines made by Tonello, an Italian maker of garment finishing appliances.

Denim designer Piero Turk talks about how denims can be made more sustainable in this video: “I think the future of denim is to find a way to produce that is respecting the planet.”

Saving water
Until enzyme technology was introduced, jeans manufacturers used pumice stone and chemicals to stone wash jeans. In the early 1990s, Novozymes’ scientists developed the first stone washing enzymes which could loosen dye from the fabric for a more sustainable wash. Spraying enzymes directly onto the garment is new innovation that further reduces water consumption.

”We developed a new enzyme solution for this process and worked together with Garmon and Tonello to test its use,” says Christian Wieth, Global Marketing Manager at Novozymes. “Enzymes are now used in a way where it was impossible until now”.

Stone washing of jeans – from pumice stones to enzymes

 Stone washing of jeans has undergone three main evolutions through time.

  • 1960s: The jeans were “washed” with pumice stones and chemicals in large washing machines. This water-intensive treatment is harsh on the jeans and the environment. It also weakens the fabric, giving jeans a flossy appearance.
  • 1990s: Novozymes’ scientists developed the first stone washing enzymes and the textile industry could replace pumice stones for a more efficient and sustainable process with a more gentle effect on cotton fibers.Enzymes are a biological solution and they can cut consumption of chemicals, water and energy for textile producers. Used for stone washing of jeans, the enzymes break off small fiber ends on the yarn surface, thereby loosening the dye so the jeans get that vintage look. Enzymes are added to water when the denim fabric is washed during the manufacturing process.
  • Today: Enzymes can be sprayed on garments. Spraying enzymes directly on the garment instead of adding them in water inside the washing machines eliminates the need pumice stones and multiple rinses and saves water usage by 80 percent.