Choosing hot or cold water for laundry, or something in between

Laundry is a fairly simple thing. You sort your clothes into neat little (or big) laundry piles of dark colors, light colors, whites and others and toss them into the washing machine. Then you begin to choose among your washer’s temperature choices: hot, warm or cold. Do the choices on what temperature to wash clothes at leave you perplexed?

And, does the choice you make matter? The short answer is yes!

How to pick the best temperature for washing clothes

Depending on the types of clothes, the fabrics and the colors determine the washing machine temperature. Before you start your load, read the label on your clothing. It’s simple, but incredibly important because that’s the easiest way to figure out what temperature will be most friendly to your clothes.

One trick to make sure the water in your washing machine is truly cold, warm or hot is to check your water with a candy thermometer as it comes out of your machine. Hot water is typically about 130 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer. Between 90 and 110 degrees is considered warm water. And water temperature between 60 and 80 degrees is cold. If your cold water is below 60, it’s likely too cool to wash your clothing well.

Having the right washing machine temperature will help your detergent work more efficiently and keep your clothes lasting longer. Here are a few important tips to help you choose what temperature to wash clothes at.

Washing clothes in hot water

If you have heavily soiled clothes, hot water will be the best at getting out dirt than any other temperature. And it works for most items, but not all. Care instructions for washing white clothes will often tell you to use hot water, especially when dealing with undergarments and linens. Why? Because hot water is needed to effectively disinfect dish towels, washcloths, bedding and diapers.

But make sure you keep your whites together and your light colors separated from darks, otherwise you could end up with colors bleeding into each other.

Washing clothes in warm water

For most laundry, the best temperature for washing clothes is warm. Warm water is the go-to temp for washing colored clothes. And that’s going to be true in many cases, no matter the fabric type or how light or dark the clothing is. A mix of both hot and cold water is a good balance of cleaning power and reducing shrinking, wrinkling and fading. You can wash natural fibers like cotton (including denim) as well as synthetics.

Washing clothes in cold water

“Cold” water is not really cold, because washers add a little hot water so it’s warm enough to properly dissolve detergent. If you have clothes with bright, bold colors, washing in cold water will help keep colors from running and also prevent those colorful hues from fading like they could at warmer temperatures. Items made from washable wool should also be cleaned in cold water to reduce shrinkage. But if you have really dirty clothes, you may need to soak them first or set a longer wash cycle in order for your washer to clean them well.

What about the rinse?

To get all the soap out of your clothes, cold water is ideal. Not only is it perfectly safe for all kinds of laundry no matter what wash temperature you use, it reduces wrinkling in sturdier fabrics and—as an added bonus—it can cut your energy usage by not having to heat the water.

Want to go green? Go cold.

If you want to save energy and your clothes don’t need serious cleaning, cold water will work just fine for everyday loads. Most modern detergents are designed to work well in cold water, and you’ll end up saving money on your energy costs.