Commercial Textile Dyeing

Water Pollution

Textile dyeing and finishing accounts for 17-20% of water pollution globally.

Textile dyeing is the world’s second-largest polluter of water, since the water leftover from the dyeing process is often dumped into ditches, streams, or rivers. 

On a global scale, the textile industry uses between six to nine trillion liters of water each year, just for fabric dyeing. At a time when every continent is now facing water scarcity issues, that’s like filling more than two million Olympic swimming pools every year with fresh water, then not letting anyone swim in them.

A 2017 report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated that 35% of all microplastics — very small pieces of plastic that never biodegrade — in the ocean came from the laundering of synthetic textiles like polyester.

Synthetic Dyes and Toxins

There are 8,000 synthetic chemicals used to bleach, treat and color fabrics.

Synthetic dyes are made up of chemical compounds that can be harmful to humans, especially those who work in their production. Some of the chemicals found in synthetic dyes are mercury, lead, chromium, copper, sodium chloride, toluene, and benzene. Exposure to large doses of these substances can be toxic and can have severe effects in the human body.

Roughly 60-70% of all dyes that are responsible for creating bright hues contain Azo, a known carcinogen, that is dangerous to the health of humans, marine life, and our environment.

There are 72 toxic chemicals in China’s water supply that originate solely from textile dyeing - 30 of these chemicals cannot be removed.

Rivers around Tirupur with red and purple dye waste runoff.

The rivers around Tirupur are often red or purple with runoff from nearby factories, such as those in the Netaji Apparel Park, that are the city’s economic engine.

Toxins commonly found in dyes

Glyphosate Herbicide in cotton growing Cotton textiles Carcinogenic; potentially
linked to autism
Chlorine bleach Whitening and stain removal Natural fiber/cotton
processing (like denim)
Asthma and respiratory
Formaldehyde Mainly used for
wrinkle-free; also shrinkage;
carrier for dyes/prints
Natural fabrics like
cotton, or anything
that’s been dyed
or printed
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCS) Solvents used in all parts
of textile supply chain,
particularly for printing
Finished textiles,
especially printed
(natural and synthetic)
Off-gassing, which is a huge
issue for workers. VOCs
cause developmental and
reproductive system
damage, skin/eye irritation,
and liver and respiratory
problems. Some VOCs are
Per- and Poly-Fluorinated Chemicals (PFCs) Primarily used to create stain resistance and/or repel water Finished textiles,
especially printed
(natural and synthetic,
especially uniforms and
outdoor clothing)
bio-accumulative (builds up
in bloodstream),
persistent, and toxic in the
Brominated Flame Retardants Used to stop clothes from
Required on children’s
Neurotoxins, endocrine
disruptors, carcinogens,
Ammonia Provides shrink resistance Natural fabrics Absorbed into lungs;
can burn eye, nose, throat
Heavy Metals For dyeing; chromium VI is
used in leather tanning and
antimony is used to make
Finished textiles,
especially dyed
and/or printed
(natural and synthetic)
Highly toxic; can cause
DNA/reproductive issues,
damage blood cells, kidney, liver;
environmental damage
Phalates/Plastisol Used in printing Printing inks/processes Endocrine disruptors
Azo For dyeing; an estimated 60 - 70% of synthetic dyes contain azo Finished textiles,
especially dyed
and/or printed
(natural and synthetic)
Carcinogenic; some forms linked to bladder cancer; severe environmental damage, especially on marine life

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