laundry temperature: hot, warm, or cold?

What laundry temperature is best? Do you wash stains in hot or cold water? Can I wash all my clothes in cold water?

Sure, the quickest way to get the job done is to wash everything in a single load with cold water. That way, you get it all done at once, and there's no color transfer between clothes, right? Well, sort of.

Washing laundry in cold water can  prevent color transfer. Unfortunately,  it won't get everything clean.

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

Why the Right Laundry Temperature Matters

How important is the laundry temperature you choose? The wash temperature directly affects the wrinkling of fabrics, the life span and color of your clothes, and the performance of your laundry detergent

Let your fabrics determine washing machine temperatures if the labels don't tell you:

  • Hot water:  Whites, very dirty or greasy clothes, and sturdy, colorfast fabrics that retain their dye;
  • Warm water: Light colors that won't run, regular and sturdy fabrics, towels,  jeans, cottons, sheets, sturdy playwear, school uniforms, 100 percent manmade fibers, blends of natural and manmade fibers,and moderately soiled clothes;
  • Cold water: Dark or bright colors that may run or fade, delicate fabrics including washable silk, spandex, active wear, and delicate lingerie. It will also minimize the shrinking of washable woolens.  (Always use cold water for clothes stained with blood, wine, or coffee. Warm  water could  set these stains.)

This detailed guide to choosing the correct laundry temperature for clothes can help sort things out.

When to Wash in Hot Water

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

Generally speaking, you should wash white clothes in hot water. Washing colors in hot water is also recommended if the clothes are really dirty or greasy , and they're made of sturdy, color-fast fabric. (Washing colors and white clothes is always a no-no.)

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. 

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

Delicate and coarse or sturdy fabrics should be separated to prevent abrasion and protect clothes from wear and tear. (Whites warrant the solo treatment no mater what the temperature.)

Washing Clothes in Warm Water

Warm water (90 degrees F.; 32 degrees C.) (or permanent press wash setting) minimizes color fading and wrinkling. It's what to wash light clothes in, as well as regular and sturdy fabrics, towels, jeans, 100 percent manmade fibers, and blends of natural and manmade fibers.

It's also appropriate for moderately dirty duds that don't the extra power of a hot water temperature wash.

When to Choose the Cold Wash Cycle

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

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, delicate fabrics including washable silk, Spandex swimsuits, and active wear; and delicate 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. Cooler water won't fully activate detergent, which means you'll need to use more to make up for the temperature difference to get your cold wash clothes clean.

If you use too little detergent (or the recommended amount for warm or hot water washes), clothes can become dully 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 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.

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