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What Water Temperature Should I Use for My Laundry?

August 12, 2019

Doing laundry is not exactly fun—for most of us anyway. If anything, it’s one of those tasks that you just want to finish as soon as possible. Don’t just stuff your dirty clothes into the washing machine and call it a day, though. As it turns out, there’s a specific set of instructions that you want to follow (unless you want your garments to be damaged, of course). For instance, it matters what type of detergent you use. That’s right, these products are not made equal—that is, some are formulated with specific fabrics in mind (e.g. ACTIVE detergent is meant for washing activewear).

There are other things that you want to consider as well such as the washing method (should you put it in the washer or wash it by hand?) and the drying method (can you put it in the dryer?). You also want to consider what kind of products are compatible with your clothes—for example, you should never use fabric softener on workout clothes as it ruins the finish.

Last but not least, you want to keep in mind the water temperature. Believe it or not but it can actually make or break your garment; the last thing that you want to do is to blindly choose a setting.

The Importance of Water Temperature for Washing Clothes

importance of water temperatuer

Hot water is great for killing bacteria, however, it can also be harmful to certain types of fabric. At the same time, cold water may not get your clothes as clean—though it’ll save you money on your energy bill. Not sure what temperature setting to use? Simply follow the label instructions on the item (most will specify the temperature at which an item should be washed)—that’s the best way to ensure that it will return its shape, condition, and color for as long as possible. Not only that, but it will determine the performance of the detergent (i.e. some may not be as effective at certain temperatures). In addition to that, the temperature setting can have an impact on the level of wrinkling and creasing.

When to Use Hot Water For Your Laundry

Anything above 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54 Celsius) is considered to be “hot water.” Just because it has the ability to damage fabrics doesn’t mean that you should avoid it altogether. In fact, some garments should be washed with heat. As long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions, you shouldn’t run into any problems.

When should you use hot water?

Hot water is not only effective for cleaning, but it disinfects and deodorizes as well (especially if you pair it with the right washing products). With that said, it should only be used on items that are made from strong fibers such as cotton and linen (you can also use it on some durable synthetics such as polyester). Even then, you want to reserve it for garments that are excessively dirty or odorous. Better safe than sorry, right? When in doubt, use warm or cold water instead.

Will hot water shrink your clothes?

Yes, hot water—or more specifically the heat of the water—can cause certain fabrics to shrink. Take polymer fibers, for instance—they are stretched out when made into clothes. When exposed to heat, the tension will be released, which will return them to their natural, shorter state. Cotton and wool are also prone to shrinking as they tend to absorb quite a bit of water (i.e. they will be exposed to more heat).

does hot water shrink clothes

Will hot water cause the colors to fade?

Contrary to popular belief, hot water is not related to color loss. Instead, it has more to do with the dryer—or more specifically, the tumbling and high heat of the dryer. Normal wear and tear can cause the dyes to fade over time as well.

Note: Washing your clothes with hot water can actually make the colors more vibrant. How does this work? It removes dirt and fuzz from the surface of the fabric, which can make the colors seem faded and less vibrant.

What fabrics can you wash with hot water?

Cotton and linen can be washed with hot water as long as they’re preshrunk (i.e. ones that have already been washed so that additional washings will not lead to significant shrinking). Durable synthetics such as polyester can also be washed on a hot setting. With that said, it’s best to err on the side of caution—after all, it’s hard to tell just how durable a garment is until you expose it to heat. Even for items that are compatible, it’s best to alternate between cold and hot washes—that way, you’ll minimize the risk of damage.

Clothes aside, towels should also be washed with hot water. After all, you’ll be using them to wipe your skin. Considering that, it only makes sense to sanitize them with heat! Similarly, you want to use hot water if you’re trying to disinfect your bed sheets.

When Should I Wash My Clothes With Warm Water?

We know the properties of hot water, but what about warm water? How effective is it for washing dirty clothes? The answer—quite. As it turns out, it packs a good amount of cleaning power. As if that wasn’t great enough, it’s not too aggressive on fabrics either. What this means is that it’s ideal for cotton and linen items that are somewhat soiled (hot water is still the go-to- for excessively dirty items).

washing clothes with warm water

Generally speaking, a water temperature of 90 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (32 to 43 degrees Celsius) is considered to be “warm water.”

Will warm water shrink your clothes?

As it is, warm water can cause certain garments to shrink. Unlike hot water, however, the process will be more gradual—that is, the shrinking will likely happen over multiple washes.  Remember, each fabric has its own maximum shrinkage capacity. In other words, hot and warm water will have the same effect over time—it’s just a matter of when it will happen.

What items should you wash with warm water?

Warm water should be used for man-made fibers such as polyester, rayon, nylon, and spandex. Other fabrics such as cotton and linen can also be washed with a warm wash cycle as long as they’re lightly soiled. Do note, however, that warm water will not be as effective at sanitizing as hot water.

Is warm water capable of killing germs?

Yes, warm water can kill germs, although it’s not as powerful as hot water.

What Clothes Should Be Washed With Cold Water?

Cold water cycles are typically between 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 27 degrees Celsius). If anything, it’s the setting that you will be using the most when you’re doing the laundry. After all, it’s safe to use on most if not all items. There’s another benefit as well—you won’t have to use as much energy, which will lower your energy bill. Keep in mind, however, that cold water is not the best choice if you want a thorough cleaning.

using a cold water cycle

Is it true that cold water can be used on all clothing?

Yes, you won’t have to worry about damaging your garments with cold water. Keep in mind, however, it should only be used on items that don’t require intense cleaning (i.e. lightly soiled). It’s not as effective as hot or warm water when it comes to lifting stains. As a matter of fact, your garments might end up looking dingy over time!

What kind of fabrics should be washed with cold water?

Cold water can be used to wash almost any type of fabric. However, there are certain garments that you want to wash with a cold cycle. Take swimsuits and bras, for instance—you always want to wash these types of delicate items with cold water as hot water can damage the elastic. It’s also a good idea to wash bright-colored and dark clothes with cold water as they will last longer.

Is cold water capable of killing germs?

As it is, cold water is not capable of killing germs. If your goal is to sanitize, you’re better off using hot or warm water. It is, however, capable of removing oils and debris when paired up with detergent.

Picking the Right Water Temperature On Your Washing Machine

Depending on your washer, it might set the water temperature automatically based on the cycle that you’ve chosen. In cases like this, you’ll want to override it manually—after all, you can’t trust that the selected temperature will be appropriate for your clothes. As the instructions differ from machine to machine, you’ll want to refer to the manual on how to do this.

choosing water temperature

Most machines, however, will let you set the temperature manually.

Laundry Detergents and Water Temperature

Nowadays, most if not all laundry detergents can be used with any water temperature. With that said, results can vary. For instance, some products will work better in cold water than others. At the same time, keep in mind that some detergents are not strong enough to clean your clothes properly in cold water. Given this, you might want to do some research as to which product will be best for your garments.

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