laundry temperature: hot, warm, or cold?

What laundry temperature is best for your wash loads? Hot, warm, or cold?

Should you wash stains in hot or cold water? Why can't you wash everything in cold water to keep wash day simple?

Washing laundry in cold water can prevent color transfer; this much is true. Unfortunately, cold water won't get every item in your load clean.

That's because different fabrics - cotton, sheer blouses, and grungy play clothes, for example - require different water temperatures to get them clean.

These tips for choosing the right laundry temperature for your loads will help ensure all your clothes get clean safely.

Why the Right Laundry Temperature Matters

The wash water temperature directly affects the wrinkling of fabrics, the life span, and the color of your clothes, and the performance of your laundry detergent

Let your fabrics determine the wash water temperature if the labels on your clothes don't specify, or are no longer legible:

Generally speaking whites, and very dirty or greasy clothes that are sturdy and colorfast (fabrics that retain their dye) can be washed in hot water.

Bright colors that won't run, towels, jeans, cotton, sheets, sturdy playwear, school uniforms, 100 percent manmade fibers, blends of natural and manmade fibers, and moderately soiled duds should be washed in warm water.

Dark or bright colors that may run or fade, delicate fabrics including washable silk, Spandex swimsuits, and activewear; and fine lingerie should be washed in cold water.

Cold water will also minimize the shrinking of washable woolens. It's also okay for lightly soiled clothes.

Always use cold water for clothes stained with blood, wine, or coffee. Warm water could set these stains.

When to Wash in Hot Water

A hot wash (domestic hot water temperature is 130 degrees F. or above; 54 degrees C. or above) works well on ground-in and hard-to-remove dirt on sturdy fabrics. 

Use it to clean seriously soiled sturdy garments (gardening or children's clothing), and to regularly disinfect dish towels, washcloths, bath towels, bedding, and pillowcases. 

Wash grungy white clothes in hot water if the fabric is sturdy.

Washing colors in hot water is best if the clothes are dirty or greasy, and they're made of sturdy, colorfast fabric. (Washing colors and white clothes together, however, is always a no-no.)

Light and dark fabrics should be separated as hot water may cause these clothes to bleed.

When to Wash Clothes in Warm Water

A  warm water wash temperature (90 degrees F.; 32 degrees C.; or the permanent  press setting on your washing machine) minimizes color fading and the wrinkling of clothes of regular weight and sturdy fabrics. 

It's the right temperature to wash light color clothes in, as well as towels, jeans, 100 percent manmade fibers, and blends of natural and manmade fibers with light to moderate soil levels.

When to Wash in Cold Water

Washing clothes in cold water (80 degrees F.; 27 degrees C.) will protect most dark or bright-colored clothing from running and minimizes shrinkage.

Use the cold wash cycle for lightly soiled fabrics and clothes with blood, wine or coffee stains, dark or bright colors that may run or fade, and delicate fabrics including washable silk, swimsuits, activewear; and fine lingerie. It's also okay for lightly soiled clothes.

If you're going to do a cold water wash, check first for stains and treat the area with a laundry stain pretreater, and increase the amount of detergent to one-and-one-half to two times the recommended amount.

Does washing clothes in cold water get them clean? Yes - if you make sure to up the detergent amount you're using to one- to one-and-a-half times the recommended amount. 

This is because detergent is formulated for, and fully activated in, warm water. Colder water won't fully activate detergent, which means you'll need to use more to make up for the temperature difference to get clothes washed in cold water clean.

If you use too little detergent, clothes can become dull and dingy, white items may turn gray or yellowed, body soils are left on cuffs and collars, and lint isn't held in the water until it is rinsed away. Instead, it's redeposited on clothes.

If you do lots of cold water washes, consider using a laundry detergent designed to work in all water temperatures.That way you can go back to using the recommended amount - and know your cold-water washes will get clean.

Always Chill on the Rinse Cycle

For the rinse temperature, the cold wash cycle is excellent for all types of of loads. So use it! Another benefit: A cold water rinse saves energy per load by up to one-third, and helps minimize wrinkling in synthetic and sturdier fabrics.

So now you know how to choose the right laundry temperature to get your clothes clean. Hopefully, the wash-day blues will be a thing of the past.

› Laundry Temperature: Hot, Warm, or Cold?