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how to wash white clothes

Should you wash white clothes in hot or cold water?

If you've ever pulled a pink shirt out of the washing machine when a white one went in, you know that washing whites can get a bit complicated now and then.

By following basic sorting techniques, matching the right laundry products and water temperature to each load, you can make such spotty moments disappear. 

Here's how to wash white clothes safely from start to bright, clean finish.

Let the Fabric Type Determine the Wash Water Temperature

The type of fabric - not its color alone - will determine the wash water temperature. Here's how to wash white clothes by fabric type:

How to wash white clothes
  • Wash in hot water: seriously dirty or greasy white clothes, and sturdy fabrics (such as gardening or children's clothes)
  • Wash in warm water: 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 stuff
  • Wash in cold water: Delicate fabrics including washable silk, Spandex swimsuits, activewear and lingerie

But for the rinse cycle, cold water is excellent for all types and colors of loads.

An added benefit: A cold water rinse reduces the energy used per load by up to one-third, and minimizes wrinkling in synthetic and permanent-press fabrics.

When to Wash White Clothes in Hot Water

Generally speaking, whites, very dirty or greasy clothes and sturdy fabrics can be washed in hot water.  (A hot water wash is 130 degrees F. and above; 54 degrees C.)

Washing clothes in hot water is essential for heavily soiled clothes, or those prone to mold and mildew growth (such as towels and washcloths.)

Using bleach in laundry loads is key to removing stains on white clothes.

Add bleach if safe for the white fabric. The chlorine in bleach helps remove stains by converting soils into colorless, soluble particles that are easily removed by the laundry detergent, and then carried away in the wash water.

Bleach is also the best way to get white clothes white again and helps remove stubborn, older stains.

Choose Warm Water for Moderately Soiled White Clothes

Regular and sturdy fabrics, jeans, cotton, sturdy player, school uniforms, 100 percent manmade fibers, blends of natural and manmade fibers and moderately soiled stuff are best washed in warm water. (Warm water wash temperature is 90 degrees F.; 32 degrees C.)

The easiest way to do this is to choose the permanent press cycle. What is a permanent press wash cycle? 

It is a setting that will wash clothes in warm water, and rinse them in cold water, maintaining a mild agitation and spin. 

It's gentler than a regular cycle, making it an excellent choice for synthetic fibers like polyester, rayon, and knits.

Because it doesn't use hot water, a permanent press cycle will also reduce shrinking and color fading. 

When to Wash in Cold Water

Choose a cold water wash for delicate fabrics including washable silk, Spandex swimsuits, and activewear; and delicate lingerie.

Dry delicate white fabrics on the machine's low setting.

 Cold water 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.

Be sure to read the care label on delicate fabrics to check whether the manufacturer suggests machine washing.

If so, use the machine's gentle or delicate cycle. (Otherwise, you'll need to hand wash these fabrics.) 

Use a gentle laundry detergent without additives. Wash sheer whites in your machine's delicate or gentle cycle.

Dry white delicates in the machine on a low setting - or lay flat to dry. If possible, hang or place white delicates in the sun. It will help keep your delicates as white as possible.

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