laundry temperature: hot, warm or cold?

How important is the right laundry temperature when washing clothes? Why not just wash everything in cold water and keep things simple on wash day?

The answer is as important to your wardrobe as it is to your wallet. The laundry temperature directly affects the performance of your laundry detergent, the wrinkling of clothes, and the lifespan of those clothes.

To lessen the toll wash-day takes on your clothes, it pays to spend an extra minute or two sorting each load by color by and wash water temperature needed.

Faded care tags, missing tags? No problem. This laundry refresher course will have you setting the wash water temperature for all your loads like a pro in no time. Your wallet will thank you.

Hot, Warm, or Cold? Why the Right Temperature Matters

Sure, the quickest way to do the laundry is to separate the whites, lights, and darks and then wash each load in cold water. 

But the time you save using the "everything in cold" routine (ostensibly to prevent color transfer) may not be worth the cost to your wardrobe.

Cold water doesn't clean some dirty fabrics nearly as well as warmer temperatures; it can leave them looking dingy and worn instead of bright and clean. 

And, you'll be back in the store looking for new chinos or Oxford shirts sooner than if you had taken a few moments to wash them the way the manufacturer suggests.

Look to the care label on your clothes for guidance to the optimal laundry temperature for the fabric. 

Today's international care labels often have symbols as well as, or instead of, words. Most are pretty self-explanatory. A cuplike icon with dots tells you the laundry temperature (one dot for cool/cold, three for hot). 

If the label is not legible, remember that hot water works well on ground-in and hard-to-remove dirt on sturdy fabrics. Still, few clothing care labels recommend regular hot-water washing.

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

Don't mix lights and darks, however, as hotter temperatures can cause some fabrics to bleed. And whites warrant the solo treatment regardless of wash water temperature.

What to Wash in Warm Water

Warm water minimizes color fading and wrinkling of clothes. A  warm water wash temperature is (90 degrees F.; 32 degrees C.). Or, simply choose the permanent press setting on your washing machine. Choose warm water for washing synthetic fibers, natural and synthetic blends, and moderately soiled fabrics.

When to Wash in Cold Water

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

Use cold water for lightly soiled clothes and those with blood, wine, or coffee stains (which may set if washed in warm or hot water), regardless of the fabric. 

When doing a cold-water wash, check clothes first for any visible stains and pretreat with a laundry stain remover before washing.

Laundry detergent doesn't clean heavily soiled areas as well in cold water. If you do lots of cold-water washes, consider using a cold water laundry detergent

Always Chill on the Rinse Water

For the rinse cycle, cold water is excellent for all types of loads. So use it! Another benefit: A cold-water rinse can reduce the energy used per load by up to one-third and minimize wrinkling in synthetic and permanent press fabrics.

Now that you know how to choose the right temperature for all your loads, wash-day blues are a thing of the past!

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