Many of us were taught that washing clothes in warm or hot water was the only way to get them clean and get rid of stains. It turns out, however, washing them in cold water is just as effective and – bonus! — saves money.
According to a 2019 American Cleaning Institute survey, 52 percent of Americans are now using cold water for their main wash cycle. Only 14 percent tend to use hot water, and 32 percent warm water. Cold water washing is definitely on the rise. For example, in 2005, the New York Times reported just 30 percent of loads were done in cold water.
One factor is that washers have evolved and are much better at cleaning than those produced over 15 years and more ago. Due to U.S. government requirements, newer models are more water and energy efficient, with wash temperatures set lower, and a wider range of options provided for specific laundry needs. The average wash temperature has fallen about 20 degrees over the last two decades to meet new efficiency standards.
The most efficient washers today are Energy Star certified — Energy Star is a program promoting energy efficiency run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Dept. of Energy — and they use around 45 percent less water and 25 percent less energy than non-certified machines.
These energy-saving requirements meant laundry detergents also had to improve to be effective at the lower temperatures. Tide Coldwater was the first cold water detergent to be introduced in 2005, and since then other detergent manufacturers have launched their own cold-water brands.
Today, because of the chemical advancements in detergent formulation, most modern detergents are effective regardless of the temperature. However, for washing in lower temperatures, such as 60°F, the cold-water detergents still do the best job, and are a better choice for most cold-water wash settings. Liquid detergent is recommended, though, because powdered formulas may not properly dissolve in cold water.
What to Wash in Cold Water
Cold water is generally regarded as being between 60 and 80 degrees F. According to Consumer Reports experts, almost anything washed in this temperature range is fine as long as you have a good detergent and machine.
- Bright, colorful fabrics. Cold water prevents colors from running and minimizes shrinkage.
- Delicates, such as lace, washable silk, pantyhose, wools, or antique fabric. Place your delicates in a mesh washing bag and use the machine’s gentle cycle and lowest spin cycle.Synthetic fabrics, such as nylon, spandex, polyester, rayon blends, wool/synthetic mixtures, and wool/polyester blends.
- White cotton, underwear, sheets, pillow cases, towels — in fact, most clothes and other items you can safely put in a washing machine.
- Heavily soiled clothing. Do a pre-wash cycle with cold water, and a “heavy soil” cycle for longer washing and multiple rinses.
- Work-out or exercise clothing, whether made of cotton or synthetic materials (hot water can damage the elasticity of the fabric and set sweat stains). Because these items can retain odors, soak them in half a cup of white vinegar mixed with cold water for at least an hour before washing. This breaks down the sweat stains and removes odors. Alternatively, you can do a machine pre-rinse, which is especially good for synthetic materials.
- Cold water is excellent for the rinse cycle for all types of loads.
What to Wash in Warm or Hot Water
- In some cold-weather states, the winter temperature of the water entering a house, and used in washing machines for cold washes, drops below 40°F. Detergents may not perform well at these temperatures, and in certain geographical areas it may be necessary to use warm or hot water to get clothes clean in the winter.
However, if you’re in this situation, upgrading to a newer machine with automatic temperature control (ATC) will solve this problem. The ATC feature will automatically add some hot water to the cold cycle.
- Items that need sanitizing (for instance, if someone in the house is ill with a contagious disease, or for dirty cloth diapers). A normal hot water cycle isn’t hot enough to disinfect — you have to have a machine with a sanitizing cycle, which uses a built-in heater to raise the temperature high enough and long enough to kill germs. During the sanitizing cycle water is heated to a temperature of at least 165°F. You can also sanitize clothes by putting them in a dryer at a hot setting for 45 minutes.
Follow the Label
It’s always best to follow the sewn-in care instructions on the label for any clothing or other washable items. For water temperature, the labels in the American care labeling system show a tub with a wavy line representing water. Inside this tub you’ll either find a number or dots. The number represents the highest water temperature you should be using.
Dots represent the following temperatures:
- 1 dot for 30°C or 65°F-85°F
- 2 dots for 40°C or 105°F
- 3 dots for 50°C or 120°F
- 4 dots for 60°C or 140°F
- 5 dots for 70°C or 160°F
- 6 dots for 95°C or 200°F
Further Benefits of Cold-Water Washing
- Saves Money. Since 90 percent of the energy needed to run a washer is used for heating water, running cold water wash and rinse cycles results in significant savings. According to Consumer Reports, a household saves anywhere from $60 to over $200 a year (the average American family does about 300 loads of laundry a year — Energy Star). The National Resources Defense Council states that even using the “warm” setting cuts the energy use in half.
- Clothes Last Longer. There’s less fading and shrinking, and clothing items keep their shape longer when washed in cold water.
- Less Wrinkling. Makes ironing easier and faster.
- Helps the Environment. By decreasing the energy needed to heat water, the use of cold water wash and rinse cycles reduces carbon emissions. The average family, by doing laundry in cold water for a year, is therefore saving greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to driving about 1,000 miles.
- Best for getting out stains. Cold water washing removes many stains, including chocolate, mud, ice cream, blood, sweat, red wine, grass, tea, ring around the collar, and makeup smudges, regardless of the fabric. Hotter temperatures can actually help set stains into clothing. It’s best to pre-treat and soak stains in cold water before washing.
Whatever settings you use for your wash, the one thing you cannot do without is a properly operating washing machine. For repairs and maintenance to all of your major appliances, call the pros at C&W Appliance Service at (214) 358-1496 or (855) 358-1496 or send us an online service request.