What Temp to Wash Your Clothes

Since the introduction of electric washers to the daily life of most Americans, the question of proper material care has been pondered by nearly every laundry-doer. Of course, you want to get your clothes as clean as possible, but you want to avoid damaging them in the process. The answers to proper fabric care rests mostly in the temperature of the water. Water temperature can affect the effectiveness of detergent, how likely dirt will be removed and can even cause a stain to set. Does hot always mean clean? Is cold water good for anything?

No fear. We’ve got some guidance and tips to help you navigate this common laundry conundrum.

When to Use Cold Water
You have probably heard the classic belief that hot water removed dirt and got things cleaner than cold or warm water – and in some cases that may be true. Modern detergents, however, have shifted the temperature curve downward to begin working their magic as low as (60°F). According to Speed Queen, anything below (60°F) can prevent your detergent from providing a proper clean.
Cold water is the preferred choice to prevent color bleed. Also, choosing cold water can make your clothes last longer by reducing wrinkling, reducing fading and preventing shrinking – all while saving energy! Furthermore, cold water is much more effective at removing stains than previously given credit for. Coffee, tea and numerous other beverages including soda, wine, and beer, as well as protein-based stains like blood or dairy, can be treated best with cold water.
Takeaway – Use cold water for a powerful, yet gentle clean that’s also environmentally friendly.

When to Use Warm Water
Not only does using a warm cycle save quite a bit of energy over hot, it also excels at cleaning man-made fibers (like spandex, polyester and nylon), knits and denim safely — without risking the harmful damaging effects of using a hot-water cycle like fading and shrinking. The warm cycle often uses water (around (90°F), which can begin to decrease the effectiveness of some detergents due to the heat.
For those of you in cold weather states, the warm cycle can be a godsend. If you are doing laundry in the colder months, especially in those winter-weather prone states, your tap water may at times be too cold (60°F) to properly activate detergents to their full effectiveness during a “cold” cycle. In this case, warm water would be the ideal cleaning option.
Takeaway – Use warm water for synthetics and denim. It can also help activate detergent in cold weather states.

When to Use Hot Water
The “hotter is better” school of laundry isn’t always incorrect. For the brightest whites, hot water paired with a brightener found in many pods can be an essential part of your toolkit. It is worth noting that generally, anytime you’re treating household illness or attempting to disinfect an article, laundering in hot water is your best friend. Hot water cycles, which typically run at 130°F or above, can sanitize the nasty things quite well — like vomit, feces, and urine. Hot water is also exceptional at loosening and rinsing away dirt, grass, oily stains and sweat stains.
Unfortunately, the reality is that hot water also can be quite harsh on fabrics, as well as set some types of stains into the material (mainly protein stains). So be sure to check our Stain Removal resource before treating a stain with hot water – and, as always, be sure to read your clothing care tags before proceeding with any washing to avoid shrinking, fading or permanent damage to a garment.
Takeaway – Use hot water sparingly, for whites and heavily soiled items. Use with care, as it can be damaging.

For more laundry tips, check our library!