Should I Wash Clothes In Hot Or Cold Water?
As a kid, I remember mom washing our clothes in hot water. I can picture the steam coming from the machine as she carefully arranged the load around the pouring water. In my mind, the steam symbolized clean. But with energy usage and environmental friendliness at the forefront of our national consciousness, the use of cold water might actually be the better (and more efficient) option. Cold water, after all, takes less energy to heat, and tends to be gentler on the wear of clothing. With these conflicting views, we investigated the difference between washing clothes in hot and cold water.
The Case for Cold
Advocates of cold water laundry cleaning have many fine points for using the cold cycle. The most obvious argument is the wear and tear of hot water on your clothing. Repeated hot washes can dull your clothing over time. Plus, the hotter the water you use, the more chance that the dye in the clothing will bleed on the other clothing in the load; we’ve all been victim to a red-stock, pink-load debacle one time or another.
From an environmentally cautious standpoint, hot water uses a lot of electricity. Reducing hot water use can help you save money (as much as $100 / year) and protect the environment.
The Case for Hot
Washers use three primary methods to clean clothing: physical energy (caused by agitation), chemical energy (caused by detergent), and thermal energy (caused by heat). Heat is very effective at breaking down dirt and oil, as well as killing bacteria. The same forces that cause dye to melt and bleed applies to grime. If you want to eliminate grime, heat and detergent work well together to achieve this goal. (#SpoilerAlert: Tide’s coldwater detergent cleans just as well in colder temperatures, keep reading…)
Choosing The Right Temperature For Your Laundry
First and foremost, always check labels and look at the manufacturer recommendations for the item of clothing you are washing. If they recommend cold water, its probably because the dye bleeds or the fabric is thin. For towels and sheets, hot water is usually recommend because it is more effective at removing bacteria and oils secreted through the skin.
More generally, however, we recommend doing a bit a research to optimize your load temperature. Laundry detergent works best when used in water that is above 65° F. Lower temperatures will inhibit the enzymes in detergent, which aid in the cleaning process. For this reason, you’ll want to ensure your water temperature is above 65° F for effective cleaning.
Test and Optimize Your Water Temperature
If you are really concerned about energy usage, and you don’t want to spend a bunch of time adjusting your water temperature, use a product like Tide’s Coldwater Clean detergent. This detergent is designed to clean well in cold temperatures (making the arguments about cold vs hot cycles mute). According to Consumer Reports, “[Tide’s Coldwater Clean detergent] lived up to the promise, vanquishing blood, chocolate ice cream, grass, and other tough stains…”
Don’t want to use the special detergents? Try using these water tests to optimize your water temperatures.
Optimize Your Cold Load: When running a cold wash, your water should be between 65 and 85° F. Test your water temperature using a cooking thermometer. If the water temperature is too low, select warm water for part of the fill cycle to create a higher average temperature.
Optimize Your Hot Load: A Hot wash should be above 85° F. If water temperature tests below recommended levels, switch to a hotter setting for part of the fill cycle or pour in some hot water from the tap.
Finally, as a general rule of thumb, select the cold rinse setting for all load cycles. This will help save energy and will not have a negative impact of the cleaning effectiveness.