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Laundry Basics: Choosing Water Temperature

This week is Back to Laundry Basics at Mama’s Laundry Talk.  If you were never taught the proper way to wash laundry or if you just need a refresher, this week is for you!

Laundry Basics

The next subject we’ll tackle: Choosing the Best Water Temperature

Using the right water temperature can have a huge effect on the outcome of your clothes.  Keep in mind that the three factors involved in getting laundry clean are: agitation in the wash cycle, detergent, and water temperature.  How clean your clothes are depends on each of these three aspects.

Temperature Settings on a Top Loader

(Please forgive the bright flash in the middle of this picture.  I knew nothing about taking pictures at the time…)

So how do you know which water temperature is best for which items of clothes?

The hotter the water, the better the cleaning potential.

Now I didn’t say it was the most energy-efficient…but it will give your clothes the best wash.

The goal is to choose the hottest water that the fabric can withstand without fading, shrinking, or being damaged in some way (like sequins falling off).

Hot(ter) water definitely has its pros: it sanitizes and kills germs better, it dissolves detergents more efficiently, kills dust mites, helps remove built-up grime so clothes look brighter and less dingy.

And Hot Water has its cons as well:  it can cause shrinking and fading in some fabrics, hot water can set in some types of stains (blood and other protein-based stains), it’s expensive.

All of that said, how then do you choose the water temperature for each load?

This is a great little guide, assuming that the fabric and dyes are appropriate and the fibers are strong enough to withstand washing:

Use cool water for:
- Items washed on the delicate cycle, such as pantyhose, lingerie, washable silk, wools.
- Items with a delicate construction, such as an antique fabric, or a lacy fabric
- Any item that you think is going to bleed or the dye will run
- Items that have a protein stain, such as a blood stain, dairy-based stains or bodily fluids
- Items that aren’t exceptionally dirty – those that are just lightly soiled

Use warm water for:
- Dark colors
- Items washed on permanent-press (synthetic materials, etc)
- Items that are moderately soiled

Use hot water for:
- Bath Towels, sheets and all other bedding
- Kitchen Towels, dish rags, pot holders
- Heavily soiled items (sweaty work-out clothes, etc)
- Items of sturdy fabric, such as white cotton t-shirts or underwear
- All cloth diapers
- Cleaning rags and cloths
- Any item that is stained with grease or oils

What about Cold Water?

Honestly, I don’t know the last time I washed a garment in cold water.  I believe it is best used for the rinse cycle.  Keep in mind that ‘cold’ water is considered 75 degrees or below.  And that, my friends is some chilly water.  I don’t think it can be effective in dissolving detergent and laundry boosters and getting clothes adequately clean.

If you do choose to use cold water in the wash cycle, make sure to use an ample amount of detergent and to use a longer wash cycle.  By increasing the other two parts of the washing triangle, you might can skimp by with cold water.

All Water Temperatures are Not Created Equal

A ‘warm’ water setting on a top-loader and on a front-loader are not going to be apples and apples.  A top-loader uses water from your home’s hot water heater.  So if your hot water heater maxes out at 120 degrees, then that is the hottest your water in your top-loader will get.

If you have a front-loader, it probably has its own built-in water heater and the maximum temperature it reaches is set by the manufacturer.

Interestingly enough, manufacturers do not disclose the gallons of water their machines use or the temperature settings the machine defaults to.  So there is no data readily available on what the temperature settings are on the newest model washing machines.  Again, I find that fascinating that they don’t readily disclose that information.

A Few Notes About Water Temperature

There are several detergents on the market formulated specifically for Cold Water.  And yes, I am sure they do a better job in cold water than your average detergent.  However, all detergents are enhanced by warmer water.

I know there are many of you out there who won’t wash in anything but cold water for money saving reasons.  If this works for you, then by all means continue washing your laundry as you have been!  No doubt, there is a huge cost savings for washing in cool/cold water most of the time.  Do what is best for your family!

Back to Basics Laundry Series:

I am pleased to link this post to WFMW over at We are THAT Family.  Washing laundry the proper way definitely works for me!

Comments

  1. Thanks for the info. My mom always taught me to wash darks/blacks in cold so they don’t fade fast. Anyone do that also??? Everything else in your article I pretty much do already.

    • mamalaundry says:

      Linda, about the darks: If they are pretty soiled and dirty I wash them on warm. If they are just the average type of dirty, I wash them on cool.

      It’s definitely true: cooler water will prevent fading in several types of dyes and fabrics. Your mama was right!!

      -Lauren

  2. I was hoping you’d do a post on water temperature! I washed everything in cold water up until very recently when I realized that my laundry just wasn’t getting clean. I was “playing it safe” with cold water, hoping to avoid shrinkage, fading, and setting in of stains. More recently, though, I have started washing almost everything in warm water. Only if there is a never-been-washed garment that I think might bleed do I use cold water. I have to ask, though, if something is washed in cold water the very first time it is laundered and then in warm water the next, could the color still bleed? Or, does the first washing–even if in cold water–take care of future bleeding issues?? Also, at what temperature does a stain become set in? Is warm water safe for clothing with protein-based stains?

    Thanks for sharing your laundry know-how! I am loving your blog!

    Angela

    • mamalaundry says:

      Angela, thanks for your encouraging words!

      I think your experience is pretty typical with washing clothes consistently in cold water (although I am certain there are many that will disagree with me!). I’m sure you’ve seen a difference once you’ve gone through several weeks of washing on warm. Warm water just naturally gets clothes cleaner.

      As far as the dyes bleeding, oh yes they can definitely bleed after being washed many times! I would try a Shout Color Catcher. Those little things work like magic (and no, I have no affiliation with them – just a good product!). If you are worried about bleeding dyes, you can throw one of those in and feel more safe about it bleeding on your other clothes in the load.

      I would not wash an item with a known stain on hot – I’d wash on warm and then hang dry to see if the stain came out. Depending on the stain, I’d treat and then wash again on warm. Hot water can potentially set it in. Unless it is grease or oil, which needs a warmer/hot wash to get the grease out (plus Dawn dish soap).

      Warm water IS safe for protein-based stains, but I definitely wouldn’t use hot. Again, it would probably set it in. The key to protein based stains is putting cold water on them as quickly as you find them. The quicker you can get cold water on it, the easier it will be to remove.

      Hope that helps! Thanks for being such a faithful reader! ;)

      -Lauren

  3. Interesting!! Don’t think I’ve ever tried anything but hot…and I am sure this is why my dark clothes don’t stay that way long. Thanks for the info!

    (WFMW)

  4. Hi, I LOVE your site and so glad that I came across it. My mom always did our laundry growing up, and never showed me the correct (so to speak) way of doing it. :) So here I am 36 and wondering if I am actually doing it “right”. Good to know that there isn’t an exact way to do it, that people do do a few things different and to find what works best for me. I noticed in your sorting page you mentioned reds with other darks, but in one of your pics you have all your reds together in the washer. My mother in law washes her reds/browns together. My husband says we can wash the reds with the darks now cause there is no more bleading. Just curious if you really do wash all your reds seperate. Thanks again or all your great info!!

    • mamalaundry says:

      Do I wash all of my reds together? Usually, no. I know that those specific items are color-fast and won’t bleed so I tend to wash them with other darks…but those items that are really dark. I don’t wash reds or deep purples with light clothes, because they can pick up those dark hues and look old.

      If I happen to have a mountain of clothes to wash, I’ll separate out the reds and purples and blacks if they’ll make a full load.

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