Washing your clothes in hot water (defined as higher than 130 degrees Fahrenheit or 54 degrees Celcius)is a great way to kill bacteria, viruses, and other germs. However, it comes with a price. Not only will hot water cause the fabric to break down more quickly but it’ll also add to your utility bill. To give you an idea, the average hot or warm water cycle costs 68 cents while using cold water for laundry only costs four cents—that makes it 17 times more expensive!
What’s more, is that it can also harm the environment. This happens when you’re washing clothes made of synthetic fibers such as activewear (e.g. leggings, tanks, sports bras). Every time you wash them in hot water, they will shed tiny plastic particles aka microfibers, which can eventually end up in the ocean or our drinking water supply.
To put things into perspective, the average household in the U.S. and Canada releases more than 530 million microfibers into the waterways each year, just by washing their clothes.
As you can imagine, it’s a big issue as our wastewater systems aren’t capable of filtering out all of these plastic particles. As a result, they end up in the oceans, where they have the potential to harm aquatic life. For example, it’s not uncommon for fish to mistake these small plastic fibers for food and that, over time, can affect the ecosystem.
When Is It Best To Use Cold Water For Laundry?
Fortunately, there’s a super easy way to prevent those problems—by using cold water. According to one study, the amount of microfibers that are released during a cold wash cycle are significantly less compared to using hot water cycles.
That’s not all, cold water is also less likely to damage your clothes, meaning that they’ll stay new for longer. For instance, cold water can keep the colors from fading. Not only that but it can also help prevent the fabrics from shrinking.
If anything, this is especially true for high-quality apparel. Certain fabrics are also more resistant to shedding. For instance, knitted materials are generally more resilient than fleece.
Cold water also uses less energy per load, which will save you money in the long run. More specifically, it can save you up to $66 per year, according to Energy Star. While it might not seem like much, it can quickly add up.
6 Reasons Why You Should Use Cold Water for Laundry
Cold water, by definition, refers to a water temperature between 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (15 to 26 degrees Celcius). Generally speaking, anything below 60 will not be effective at washing your clothes.
Anyway, here are a few reasons why you should switch to using cold water for laundry.
1. Cold Water Helps Prevent Stains
Mishaps happen. The wine that you’re drinking can easily spill on your shirt and the cooking oil that you’re using can easily splatter onto your shirt.
In cases like that, it’s best to spot-treat the stain with detergent and cold water. Once you’ve removed the stain, you can launder the item as normal with your other clothes using a cold water cycle.
You never want to use hot water, whether you’re spot treating or putting the garment in the wash, as the heat can cause the stain to set in permanently. For instance, in the case of protein-based stains (e.g. blood), it’ll cause the proteins to break up and become tightly interwoven in the fibers of the fabric, which will make them nearly impossible to remove.
In some cases, it can also cause the stain to spread to other areas.
2. Prevent Colors From Bleeding With Cold Water
Hot water can open up the fibers in the fabric and that can cause it to release the dyes. This is especially true for delicate fibers. When in doubt, check the care label. If you see warnings such as “wash before wearing” or “color may wash off”, chances are, the colors can run.
Cold water, on the other hand, tends to keep the fibers closed so color bleeding won’t be much of an issue.
Sorting your clothes by color before throwing them in the wash will also prevent the colors from running. More specifically, you want to separate dark from light colors and wash them in different loads.
Tip: You can test whether or not the colors are prone to bleeding by dampening an inconspicuous spot and blotting it with a white cloth.
3. Washing With Cold Water Helps Your Clothes Last Longer
Warm or hot water can melt certain fibers. Take nylon, for example, it can warp or deform if exposed to high temperatures. Other fabrics such as polyester and spandex have a low thermal resistance and do not resist heat well. Certain materials can also shrink.
That’s why cold water is recommended for synthetic and semi-synthetic textiles, such as those used in activewear and workout clothes.
4. Cold Water Washing Can Save You Time
As a general rule, you always want to check a garment’s care tag before washing. It’ll give you all of the care instructions that you need, including whether or not the fabric is washable, as well as the preferred temperatures for the wash cycle.
While most clothes are washable nowadays and can withstand moderate temperatures, some delicates such as swimwear and lingerie, should always be hand washed in cold water. If you wash them with hot water in the washer, you can easily damage the fibers.
Having said that, you can bypass all the steps and just wash your clothes in cold water if you don’t have time to read the proper instructions—it’s a safe bet most of the time (more on this at the bottom of the post).
5. Using Cold Water Cycles Can Prevent Creases and Wrinkles
Tired of having your clothes come out of the washer wrinkled and creased? One way to prevent this is by using a gentle or delicate cycle on cold water.
The cooler temperature will make it less likely for clothes to develop lines and ridges. Not only that but most fibers also keep their shape better in cold water, meaning they’re less likely to become wrinkled. This is especially true for wrinkle-prone fabrics such as linen and cotton.
Tip: Make sure you’re not overfilling the washer with clothes and that you’ve chosen the correct load size (your clothes need space to move around inside the machine). Washing too many things at once can lead to creases and wrinkles even if you’re using cold water.
6. Washing With Cold Water Saves Water and Energy
Cold-water washing uses much less water than hot-water wash cycles. For one thing, they’re generally a lot shorter (the water has to be heated for hot water washes and that takes time).
They also use a lot less energy. For hot-water washing, up to 90 percent of the total energy goes toward heating the water whereas this isn’t an issue at all with cold water. By switching to cold water, you’ll also help eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.
According to one study, every household that switches to cold-water washing can eliminate up to 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year.
When Should You Use Hot Water for Laundry – 3 Reasons For Hot-Water Washing
While cold-water washing has its benefits, there are some situations where hot water is a better choice. We’ll be going over them in detail below.
1. Use Hot Water When It’s Flu Season or Someone Is Sick
Does washing clothes in cold water kill germs? The answer is no. While it’ll wash away some bacteria, it won’t get rid of everything. For that, you’ll want to wash your clothes in hot water (higher than 140 degrees Fahrenheit). Some washing machines also have a sanitizing setting, which is designed to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria, viruses, and allergens.
For example, if someone in the house is sick with the flu, you’ll want to wash everything, including clothing and bed linens, in hot water to prevent the virus from spreading. It’s also a good idea to wash your clothes with hot water if you’ve been on a flight to get rid of all those airplane germs.
Tip: If you have an older washing machine that doesn’t get hot enough to kill off bacteria and viruses, you can use white vinegar. It’s mildly acidic and will disinfect your laundry, especially if used in combination with laundry detergent or baking soda. That way, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
2. Hot Water is Best For Dealing With Bed Bug Infestation
These elusive pests can be found almost anywhere. However, they’re usually brought into the home from other places where humans sleep such as hostels, motels, and hotels. Not only that but they can also hitch a ride on backpacks, purses, luggage, or any other item that’s placed on an upholstered surface.
And if you’ve dealt with them before, you’ll know that they are notoriously difficult to get rid of.
One way to control an infestation is to wash all affected clothes and linens with the hottest possible water setting (ideally 140 degrees Fahrenheit or 60 degrees Celius – any lower and it won’t kill the eggs) in the washing machine and dryer.
Make sure everything is sealed properly in plastic bags before you wash them. Anything that can’t be washed should be thrown away or put in the dryer for 30 minutes at the highest possible heat setting.
3. Dish Towels, Wash Cloths and Diapers Are Best Washed With Hot Water
Dishcloths and kitchen towels should always be washed in hot water, ideally on a heavy-duty or regular cycle (the delicate setting won’t provide enough agitation to get them clean). The hot water will help get rid of any germs that are on the towels and let’s face it- they’re going to be dirty since you use them to wipe countertops and wash dirty dishes.
The same goes for cloth diapers. In fact, you never want to wash them with cold water as it isn’t adequate enough to kill bacteria. You want to use a minimum water temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celcius) or the hottest water setting on your machine- only then will you be able to kill the germs in your baby’s soiling and stains.
Once the initial hot-water wash cycle is finished, you can run an additional cold-water cycle in the final rinse. That’ll help get rid of any leftover detergent that might on the diapers. That way, you won’t be exposing your baby’s skin to any potential chemicals.
Tip: Hot water will be slightly damaging to the elastic but they should be able to tolerate continuous washing.
Best Laundry Detergents for Cold-Water Washing
Some laundry detergents, such as ACTIVE detergent, are specially formulated with enzymes and surfactants and are exceptionally effective at low temperatures (as low as 60 degrees Fahrenheit or 15 degrees Celcius).
The way they work, the enzymes will actively break down stains and gunk, which will allow the surfactants to work their magic. Some common enzymes included in cold water detergents include amylase, protease, mannanase, and cellulase.