Stephen Steinberg | July 25, 2017
In general, when deciding whether to use cold, warm or hot water to wash your laundry, the safest bet is to refer to the instructions on the label.
With that being said, depending on the specific circumstances of each load of laundry, you may want to adjust the water temperature to better meet your needs.
Here are our general rules of thumb when deciding whether to use cold, warm or hot water when washing your laundry:
Use The Lowest Temperature Possible
In general, the hotter the water temperature the cleaner your clothes will be. However that does not mean you want to always use the hottest setting possible. In fact the opposite is true-- you should use the lowest temperature possible that will allow you to clean your laundry properly.
There are two reasons for this.
First, hot water comes with risks. It accelerates fabric deterioration, increases chances of clothes shrinking and allows colors to run and fade. Obviously these are all things you want to avoid.
Second, it’s cheaper. Heating your water accounts for over 90% of the energy used when running your washing machine. A hot/warm cycle will cost roughly $0.68 per load, while a cold/cold cycle will cost only $0.04 per load. If you can get away with using cold water washes by using a cold-water detergent, you stand to save a lot of money.
Hot Water (130°+ F): Heavily Soiled Whites, Towels, Diapers & Bed Sheets
In most situations, a hot water wash is not only overkill when it comes to water temperature, but it is not even the ideal option due to its risks and high operating costs.
Hot water washes should be reserved for only the most heavily soiled towels, bed sheets and diapers. It can also be cautiously used on heavily soiled white clothes, but check with the labeling first and be aware of shrinkage risks.
While you may equate hot water with the most effective cleaning, it can actually set protein-based and fruit-based stains such as blood, wine and coffee stains. For items with those specific stains you’ll want to wash at least once in a cold cycle first before attempting any sort of warm or hot wash. For fat-based stains like butter or oil, hot water is extremely effective.
Hot water also encourages colors to run and fade, so you’ll want to avoid hot water washes with any sort of colored garments.
Warm Water (90° F): Jerseys, Whites, Towels & Bed Sheets
Warm water washes are perfect for washing sports jerseys, towels, bed sheets and most white garments that are dirty but not incredibly soiled.
The warm water temperature can still cause colors to fade and bleed, so you’ll want to be careful with non-white items. It can also set protein-based and fruit-based stains such as blood, wine and coffee so you’ll want to first run items with those stains through a cold-water wash prior to any warm-water washes. Although not as significant of a risk as with hot water, fabric shrinkage and deterioration is still a slight risk with warm water that you should be aware of, especially for clothing that recommend cold-water washes.
By using a laundry detergent formulated for cold-water, you can get the benefits of a warm-water wash with the cost-savings and decreased risks of a cold-water wash.
Cold Water (<80° F): Protein & fruit stains, everyday laundry & gym clothes
Cold-water washes should be your default setting unless other particular circumstances warrant a hotter temperature.
Cold water is the most cost-effective and eco-friendly option as it will use around 90% less energy than a hot water wash. Newer detergents that fully-activate in lower temperatures mean you don’t have to sacrifice cleaning quality.
Cold-water will not set any stains, so for most stained items you’ll want to at least run the items through a cold-water wash first before attempting a hotter temperature to finish the job if necessary. Cold-water washes will also reduce or eliminate the risk of colors running and fading, allowing your clothes to last much longer. The risk of fabric deterioration and shrinkage is also reduced or eliminated with cold-water washes, which is why cold water washes are recommended for gym clothes.
Always default to a cold-water wash unless you’re dealing with a particular situation noted above that may warrant a hotter water temperature. Historically, hotter temperatures yielded much better cleaning results even when taking into account the risks involved, however newer detergents have made cold-water washes just as effective.
By using a cold-water detergent with a cold-water wash, you can save money with lower water heating and electricity costs as well as allowing your clothes to last longer!