8 Uses of Water in Industry to Know About

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Water isn’t only essential for our survival. It’s also the backbone of many industries – a lot more than you might assume.

Almost every stage of most production or manufacturing processes relies on water. Without water, many of the biggest manufacturing companies simply wouldn’t exist.

In this guide, we’ve shared 8 of the most common industrial water uses. We’ve also shared some key information on what happens to industrial wastewater.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Industrial water is water that’s used for various industrial and manufacturing processes.
  • Common uses of industrial water include producing food products and beverages, manufacturing chemicals, and producing electricity.
  • Wastewater from most industries is treated and discharged into the environment or a biological treatment plant.

🚰 What Is Industrial Water?

Industrial water is a water supply that’s delivered to industrial companies for various manufacturing processes.

There are several possible water needs for industrial water usage, including:

  • Product fabrication
  • Processing
  • Washing and diluting
  • Product storage or transportation
  • Cooling

Most products we use at home, from the foods we eat to the clothes we wear, have been made with water.

The volume of industrial water withdrawal depends on the industry in question. An industrial process like textile manufacturing has a high water consumption and uses more water resources than assembly processes that use low-to-no water.

Industrial water isn’t the same as wastewater, which occurs as a byproduct or a manufacturing or production process.

Different types of industrial water are needed for different purposes. For instance, the medical, food processing, and electronics manufacturing industries usually require deionized or distilled water, which is free from all its charged minerals or completely pure (depending on the treatment process used).

Industrial water treatment plant

📥 8 Industrial Uses Of Water

We’ve discussed 8 of the common industrial water uses below.

Making Foods And Beverages

To start with the obvious, water is an essential ingredient in a variety of food and beverage products. It’s used for cleaning, mixing, sanitizing, cooking, and blending during the manufacturing process, and it’s commonly used in product formulations.

Some of the industries that use water for food and beverage manufacturing purposes are dairy industries, soft drink companies, breweries, and meat producers.

Producing Textiles & Clothes

Another big source of industrial water withdrawal is the textile industry. Water plays an important role in the manufacturing of textiles, and is needed for cleaning, scouring, dyeing, bleaching, printing, and finishing.

Textile mills produce fabrics and garments with substantial amounts of water – and fresh water is also needed to produce certain clothing materials, like cotton. Producing just 1 kilogram of cotton requires around 10,000 liters of water. To put that into perspective, a cotton t-shirt requires around 2,700 liters of water to produce.

Chemical Manufacturing

Water is used for a variety of purposes in the chemical industry, including in fertilizers, dyes, plastics, petrochemicals, and other chemical manufacturing sectors.

Water takes on several different roles, depending on the processing method requires – it can be a diluent, solvent, or reactant in chemical reactions, and can be used in the formulation, synthesis, and purification of chemical products.

Using water in chemical manifacturing

Steel & Metal Production

The steel and metal industry uses water for lubrication, cooling, shaping, and cleaning processes.

For instance, water is used to cool and quench molten metals, protect equipment, and clean metal surfaces. It’s also used as a coolant for equipment and machinery used in metalworking operations. Most water in the steel and metal industry isn’t used, and is recycled back into rivers and other surface water sources – often cleaner than when extracted.

Pharmaceutical Processes

Water is one of the main ingredients used in the majority of pharmaceutical production processes.

Water is used to produce certain pharmaceutical products, purify ingredients for drug formulation, aid in synthesis, and clean and sterilize equipment. Potable water is needed for most pharmaceutical processes, and some manufacturers may purify their water on-site.

Agriculture

Any food and agriculture organization that grows and produces crops requires a large, consistent water supply.

Agricultural water consumption is on the increase, now accounting for over 70% of freshwater in the world. Water is needed for irrigation, crop sprinkling and frost protection, livestock watering, and pesticide and herbicide applications. Sustainable farming practices can be adopted to conserve water, but the reality is that agriculture is one of the top three industries that uses the most water every year.

Related: What is an Ag Well?

Agricultural irrigation systems

Paper And Pulp

Water is also used heavily in the paper and pulp production process.

Water is needed to separate fibers, dilute pulp and transport pulp slurries, wash and bleach pulp, and control water levels. Paper is made from trees, which consume vast amounts of water, contributing to the high volume of water used in the paper milling industry. A variety of paper products are made using water.

Automotive Processes

There are several automotive manufacturing processes that require water. An estimated 40,000 gallons of water are used to produce a single car.

Some of the common uses of water in the automotive industry include cleaning and degreasing automotive parts, surface treatment processes and painting, metal finishing, boiler feed, lubrication and cooling in machining operations, and as a coolant in the manufacture of engines.

Nuclear Power Plants

Water is essential in nuclear power stations. It’s used in extracting and processing uranium fuel, cooling operations (such as in cooling towers), steam generation and producing electricity, as well as controlling risks and wastes.

Large nuclear power plants may use up to 1 billion gallons of water every single day.

These are just a few examples of the various industrial uses of water. Different industries use different types and quantities of water, depending on the nature of their processes, the water availability, and any local regulations.

🔎 What Happens To Industrial Wastewater?

So, we know how industrial water is used, but what happens to the water that’s used in industrial processes?

The treatment and disposal of industrial wastewater depends on what the water has been used for and what it contains.

In many cases, the water is recycled and disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner. There are laws and local regulations in place that outline where wastewater can be discharged, and how this water should be treated before discharge.

In some parts of the world, wastewater from industrial processes may be sent straight back into a public drinking water supply, untreated.

Industrial wastewater

📝 Final Word

There are hundreds of industrial uses of water – far more than we could include in this single guide.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how water is used for various manufacturing processes, and just how much water it takes to make some of the products we take for granted.

Got any more specific questions about industrial water use? Check out our FAQ below.

❔ FAQ

What is the biggest use for water in industry?

There’s no data or research that tells us for certain what the biggest industrial use of water is. However, we do know which industries have a high water consumption, and fruit and vegetable farming is said to be the number 1 for having the highest water use. Other industrial processes that use a lot of water include the manufacturing of clothing and textiles, meat production, automotive manufacturing, and beverage production.

How much of the world’s water is used for industry?

An estimated 17 percent of total water withdrawals are used for industrial processes. The distribution of this water across industries depends on the types of processes used – some industries consume a lot more water than others.

What manufacturing uses the most water?

It’s thought that textile production is the manufacturing process that uses the most water. The fashion industry uses an estimated 79 billion cubic meters of freshwater per year, mainly due to the use of cotton, which has a high water demand. Producing a single pair of jeans uses around 7,000 liters of water.

Why does manufacturing use so much water?

The reason why manufacturing uses so much water is that many processes – far more than we realize – rely on water for proper operation. Some of the processes that require water include washing, cooling, fabricating, processing, diluting, and transporting a product. Water is also needed to produce foods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and paper products.

What businesses use water?

There are hundreds of businesses that use water, even beyond the obvious. Dairy industries, water companies, pulp and paper mills, textile manufacturers, sugar refineries and mills, fruit and vegetable farms, and aircraft and automotive industries all heavily use water.

What is the difference between commercial and industrial water use?

The difference between commercial and industrial water is that commercial water is used not to manufacture a product but to provide a service or sell a product, while industrial water is used in industrial and manufacturing processes.

Is industrial water the same as potable water?

No, industrial water isn’t the same as the potable water that’s distributed to our homes. Since the majority of industrial water withdrawals are for non-potable purposes, industrial water is only partially treated, rather than undergoing the more extensive treatment of municipal drinking water. Certain industrial facilities may need to treat their water in-house for certain purposes, such as for use in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

  • Jennifer Byrd
    Water Treatment Specialist

    For 20+ years, Jennifer has championed clean water. From navigating operations to leading sales, she's tackled diverse industry challenges. Now, at Redbird Water, she crafts personalized solutions for homes, businesses, and factories. A past Chamber President and industry advocate, Jennifer leverages her expertise in cutting-edge filtration and custom design to transform water concerns into crystal-clear solutions.

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