6 Reasons to Cold-Water Wash—And 3 Not To

Putting clothing in a washing machine pencil sketch

Turn down the heat—in your washing machine, that is—when it works for clothes and for your routine.


Helping the environment and saving money, all from your laundry room? That's the promise of cold-water washing.

While those benefits are enticing, it's important to know when cold-water washing works. Here are some suggestions for how to decide between cold and hot washing.

  • When (and Why) Cold Water Washing Works

    By design, modern washers are well equipped to handle cold water. Not only are modern washers designed for cold water, but many detergents have enzymes that can start to work in temperatures as low as 60℉, and cold-water detergent also enhances results.

    • Cold water is fine for most clothes and other items that you can safely put in the washing machine. It can remove many stains from clothing, including grass on your kid's jeans or makeup smudges on a sweater.

    • Delicate fabrics (lace and silk) and dark, colorful fabrics actually do best in cold water.

    • Not all stains respond to warmer water. For example, blood and sweat can actually set into fabric in hot water. Also, hot water tends to shrink, fade, and wrinkle certain fabrics.

    • By not heating the water in your washing machine, you may reduce your energy costs with every load. An estimated 75 to 90 percent of all the energy your washer uses goes to warming up the water, so switching to colder water can lower your gas or electric bill.

    • Cold-water washing means clothing is less likely to shrink or fade and ruin clothes.

    • Cold water can also reduce wrinkles, which saves energy costs (and time) associated with ironing.

  • 3 Tips: When Cold Water May Not Work
    • Sometimes, though, warm or hot water works better based on the fabric or the need. Take fabric: Knits and synthetic fabrics (such as spandex, nylon, polyester, and rayon blends) are easier to wash in warm water.

    • If sanitizing is the goal—say you or someone in your family is sick—washing clothing and bedding in hot water can help stop the spread of germs.

    • Climate can pay a role, too. In cold-weather states, where tap water reaches 40℉ or lower in the winter, detergents may not perform well. In these areas, warm or hot water may be necessary to get clothes clean.

Pouring detergent in washing machine pencil sketch
  • Cold vs. Hot: The Label Is Always Right

    If you're unsure whether a particular item needs warm water, read the label:

    • Most labels show a laundry symbol that looks like a square tub with a wavy line for water

    • Inside this symbol, you will find either a number or dots. A number indicates the highest wash water temperature. Dots translate into the following water temperatures:
      • One dot stands for 30℃ or 90℉
      • Two for 40℃ or 105℉
      • Three for 50℃ or 120℉
      • Four for 60℃ or 140℉
      • Five for 70℃ or 160℉
      • Six for 95℃ or 200℉
  • The Cold Water Washing Verdict?

    Want to save money while helping the environment? Cold-water washing may be the best choice—but check the label and the stain first.

Pouring detergent in washing machine pencil sketch

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