The impact of hand washing in developing countries outweighs that of modern machinery in the west, a new report has found.

Household goods and health and wellbeing giant Reckitt Benckiser has vowed to switch the onus of its sustainability strategy more towards saving water in developing countries, after a report showed the impact of hand washing in countries such as India far outweighed that of modern machinery in the west.

Figures in its sustainability report (PDF), released today, show consumer use of products such as bar and liquid soaps had a much bigger impact on water supplies, even though they accounted for far less actual usage.

Automatic laundry care accounted for an overall water impact of 14%, whereas hand washing, using bar and liquid soaps, accounted for a massive 41% of the overall water impact of its products.

While automatic laundry care accounted for nearly a third of consumer water use associated with RB’s products in 2012, the impact of the category after taking into account where supplies were scarce was much smaller, the report says.

India was responsible for 14% of the water use associated with RB products but that impact doubled after taking into account water shortages, with the impact even more marked in countries in the Middle East despite its much smaller presence.

“Water is one of the key areas for RB. It’s an increasingly critical issue for health and hygiene, especially in emerging markets and when consumers use our products,” said RB CEO Rakesh Kapoor.

In September the company, behind brands such as Clearasil and Durex, promised to reduce both its carbon emissions and water use by a third by 2020.