Cold, Warm, or Hot?

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!

You Don’t Need Hot Water to Get Clothes Clean

When it comes to how you wash your clothes, you probably learned growing up that laundry should be sorted by color and washed at different temperatures. But according to experts from Consumer Reports, the traditional rules of laundry have changed.

Washing machine energy efficiency has improved dramatically over the past decade, and ENERGY STAR- rated washers are designed to minimize the need for hot water. In addition, detergents are now formulated differently, allowing them to be more effective at cooler temperatures. Just what does this mean for you?

Cold water does the trick

According to Consumer Reports, for regular cycles, you no longer have to use hot water to get clothes clean. Even though newer machines use less water, they are much better at cleaning than machines made 15 years ago or longer. By using the cold cycle instead of hot or warm, you’re helping the environment by saving energy.

Even if you’re trying to remove a stain, cold water is still a better option as detergents actually become less effective once the water temperature reaches above 75 degrees. This means a hot-water cycle can actually help stains set into clothing, and may damage fabrics and colors. If your clothes are heavily soiled, a better alternative is to select the “Heavy Soil” option for longer washing times and multiple rinses. For brighter colors, try cold water with a bleach alternative. An added bonus – cold water reduces wrinkling and can make your clothes last longer, as heat breaks down dyes in clothes and can cause shrinkage.

Of course, there are still some uses for a hot-water cycle, as cold water doesn’t sanitize fabric. When a family member is sick and potentially contagious, it’s recommended to soak bed linens and towels in hot water mixed with chlorine bleach to reduce bacteria. The same goes for cleaning dirty cloth diapers.

As an ENERGY STAR partner, WASH Multifamily Laundry Systems is committed to conservation. That’s why we outfit our laundry rooms with high-efficiency machines that are specially designed to get clothes clean with cold water and reduce water usage.

Washer Water Temperature Guide

How do you know the best temperature for your wash load? Before you touch that dial or select that button, consider this:

When to Use Hot Water – For whites, typically dirty clothes and diapers, use hot water (130°F or above). Hot water is best to remove germs and heavy soil. However, hot water can shrink, fade and damage some fabrics, so be sure to read your clothing labels before selecting the hot option.

When to Use Warm Water – For man-made fibers, knits and jeans, use warm water (90°F). Most of your clothes can be washed in warm water. It offers good cleaning without significant fading or shrinking.

When to Use Cold Water – For dark or bright colors that bleed or delicate fabrics, use cold water (80°F). Cold water also saves energy, so it is a good choice if you want to be eco-friendly. If you choose cold water, you may need to pre-treat or pre-soak your clothes if your laundry items are heavily soiled.

Also, it’s important to note that the lower the temperature of the water, the more detergent you need. If the temperature of the water is below 60°F, no soap or detergent performs well. But don’t make the water too hot. Washing heavily soiled articles with hot water can set stains. For heavily soiled clothes, prewash them in cool water, then wash them again in water that is 130°F or higher. The rinse water can always be cold without any harmful effects on the wash load. If you rinse the fabric in cold water, it will reduce wrinkling, save energy and it won’t set stains.