A Heated Debate: Hot Water vs. Cold Water for Laundry

One of the main ingredients for a clean load of laundry is water, but over the years, the debate over water temperature has quietly raged on. Some say that hot water gets clothes cleaner, while others support cold water for its energy-saving qualities. Let’s take a closer look to see which temperature is best.

A Cold War

Cold water offers the obvious environmental benefits, significantly lowering the energy required to wash your clothes and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide produced, but it changes some aspects of how you do your laundry.

The four parts that go into a clean load of laundry are water, time, mechanical action, and the detergent. With warm water, these four aspects are generally pretty even. However, decreasing one factor means increasing the others.

Cold water requires you to use a more concentrated detergent and run your machine longer. In terms of drying, if you use a dryer instead of a wooden clothes drying rack or clothesline, your dryer will have to run longer to dry your clothes. Cold water weighs more, so natural fabrics soak up more of it. Heat is also one of the factors necessary for dry clothes, and it takes longer to heat up cold clothes than hot.

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So hot water is the solution, right?

A Hot Mess

About 90 percent of the energy used in the average washing machine is for heating the water. Aside from that massive energy waste, hot water is tougher on clothes, putting undue wear and tear on clothes and causing colors to fade faster. Hot water also contributes to clothing shrinkage. Hot water also causes certain protein stains, like blood and sweat, to set deeper into fabric fibers.

The common belief is that hot water is better at cleaning and disinfecting clothes, but even at its highest heat, your washing machine cannot kill all of the bacteria in your clothes. To get completely disinfected clothes, your best bet is to use bleach or hang your clothes on a wall mount drying rack to expose them to some good ole UV rays.

The Verdict

For normal, everyday loads, stick with cold water. The advances in washing machine technology coupled with natural detergents intended for cold water use mean you’ll be saving the environment without sacrificing your clothes’ cleanliness. For added benefit, hang dry using a clothesline or clothes drying rack. Increase the temperature to just slightly warm if you need to take care of badly stained clothing.

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