What are the environmentally friendly techniques for washing jeans ?

Did you know that our favourite piece of clothing is also the most polluting ? Jeans, which are a wardrobe staple throughout the world, have a considerable impact on the environment, both through their manufacturing process and their use. Volcom has decided to take the problem seriously and to imagine more ecological denim jeans for tomorrow.

New, more ecological denim wash techniques

Under pressure from NGOs and international organisations involved in the development of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), some manufacturers have committed to changing the way they produce jeans. At the same time, new solutions are emerging to bring eco-responsible jeans to the market, notably by using innovative washing techniques.

Discover these latest techniques.

Ozone ecological denim wash

Ozone (03) is a gas that is obtained by enriching the Dioxygen (02) contained in the air. Ozone washing consists of sucking air into a pump, transforming it into Ozone and releasing it directly into the machine where the jeans are located. The Ozone washing technique is interesting for several reasons. First of all, it is a process that allows us to obtain a very aesthetic result. Infact, the treatment of jeans with Ozone has a similar effect on the colours as the action of the sun's rays. Secondly, Ozone does not generate any pollution as, once released into the air, it becomes Dioxygen again. It’s a natural process that avoids the use of chemicals and eliminates a number of washing and rinsing cycles. This technique consumes much less water and produces unpolluted wastewater.

Enzyme ecological denim wash

An enzyme is an organic protein produced by living cells. Enzymes are capable of catalysing a chemical reaction. Since the 2010s, many university research centres and independent laboratories have been trying to find ways of using them in the textile industry. Firstly, enzymes act on textile fibres without degrading them, unlike chemical treatment products. Secondly, the use of enzymes in the manufacturing process of jeans, particularly during washing, avoids polluting the rinsing water. This is a true ecological advancement. However, such a process is difficult to implement on an industrial scale. Solutions are currently being studied to establish how to use these enzymes on a larger scale, and above all in a closed circuit in order to reduce wastewater production.

Laser ecological denim wash

Laser washing is the third environmentally friendly way to make jeans that look as good as they feel. Like enzyme and ozone washing, laser washing does not create pollution. It’s currently the most precise process that can be used. Patterns are stored in the computer’s memory and reproduced identically for each pair of jeans. This makes it possible to obtain lines and speckled or scratch effects, for example. The machines also contain pre-registered patterns featuring basic and original designs.

At Volcom, in addition to using organic cotton, REPREVE® hemp fibres and Econyl® recycled fibres, we endeavour to reduce the impact of our clothing manufacturing by using ecological washing techniques. For example, we have decided to replace the use of pumice stones with washing processes that use enzymes or Ozone.

The impact of jeans on the environment

Jeans are among the most polluting items of clothing. A pair of jeans can travel nearly 65,000 kilometres, from the harvesting of the cotton to the product’s marketing. The different stages of production are so separate that it can be difficult to trace the products. The distances travelled by jeans throughout their production process make their carbon footprint particularly high and makes the denim industry one of the sectors that emits greenhouse gases. For their colouring, the improvement of their texture and their washing, jeans have to undergo a series of treatments and rinses which consume enormous quantities of water. These treatments are regularly carried out with chemicals such as nitrates, arsenic and mothballs, which are responsible for soil, water and air pollution.


Why should traditional washing techniques no longer be used ?

Washing is one of the processes in the denim manufacturing chain. It’s this process that allows us to obtain an aesthetic, supple denim, with the effects of wear marks already visible. Traditionally, it is carried out using the sandblasting technique. But what is sandblasting ? It’s a process that consists of projecting sand at high pressure. It is carried out, by hand, by workers who are exposed to fine particles of silica, granite, sand and stone. Sandblasting has been banned in European Union legislation because it causes silicosis and other serious respiratory diseases. In addition, it is a highly polluting process. Unfortunately, many manufacturers, rather than innovating, prefer to relocate their factories to countries where sandblasting is still allowed.

Today, many manufacturers use pumice stone to wash jeans. However, this is a non-renewable resource that is taken directly from the seabed. It is essential to use "stoneless" techniques from now on.