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100 Day Challenge #68: Switch your default from hot to cold water when doing laundry

It seems like people's preferred washing temperature tends to be what we call a generational status quo that's never questioned. Your mom taught you how to wash your laundry before you went to college and that's how you've continued to wash it your entire life. Maybe you were taught to wash colors with cold and whites with hot. Or maybe you were even told that all clothes should be washed in warm water so you can actually get them clean. It's fascinating to see how strongly people feel about their washing methods, especially when it comes to the temperature setting!


We'll admit that we fell down the rabbit hole on this blog and completely nerded out on a 34 page report by The Sustainability Consortium called “Technical Brief: Benefits of Using Cold Water for Everyday Laundry in the U.S.” We highly recommend it if you EVER have a question about laundry temperatures, but the good news is that we're giving you the highlights so you don't have to read it! One of the sections we found most interesting was their survey of people's washing habits and perception of the correct washing temperature. Here are some interesting snippets:

  • According to a 2015 study by the American Cleaning Institute most people believe cold water should be used for colors and hot water should be used for whites. (That’s what we were always taught.)

  • The average household is doing 5-6 loads of laundry each week.

  • 45% of that laundry is washed in cold water, 35% in warm water, and 20% in hot water.

  • 13% of the people say they never wash in cold water.

  • Most people believed the best way to remove odors, stains and soils was with hot water. They also believe cold water does not clean as well, does not kill germs and whites will become dingy.


With perceptions out of the way, here are the facts about washing with cold water

  • It uses only 10% of the energy needed to run a hot wash. Did you know that 90% percent of the energy used in washing clothes goes toward heating the water? The other 10% goes to power your machine. According to TreeHugger, it turns out that pressing the hot/warm button (instead of the cold/cold button) on your washing machine has the same impact as driving about 9 miles in a car or producing, transporting and storing a six pack of beer. We thought those were fun visuals!

  • It's just as effective for everyday wear. Unless your clothes are heavily stained, soiled, or need some serious disinfecting (more on that further down), then washing with cold water is just as effective at getting your everyday clothes clean and ready to wear again.

  • Helps your clothes last longer. Several studies have determined that cold water cycles performed best at reducing color fade and garment shrinkage, and improving fabric smoothness retention. In particular, delicate fabrics (lace and silk) and dark, colorful fabrics do best in cold water.

  • Saves you a little money. Washing clothes with cold water can also help you save a little money over time. A household may save anywhere from $60 to over $200 a year by using cold water to wash and rinse instead of hot or warm water.


Even though switching to cold water may seem like a small and even insignificant change, it's a perfect example of how little things add up. According to the Sustainability Consortium report, if every household in the U.S. changed just one load a week from hot to cold, this would be equivalent to not driving 5.5 billion miles or the amount of carbon captured by 2.2 million acres of forest!


Hot water washes still have their place

Although we're saying that cold water should be your default when doing laundry, we definitely think hot water washes have their place and should be used when the situation calls for it. Here are a couple of scenarios where our research has shown that hot water is superior.

  • Sanitizing clothes when someone in the house is sick. Cleaning and sanitizing are different, and if someone in the house is sick, you want to take the extra precautious step and wash sheets, towels, and clothes they've been wearing with hot water to stop the spread of germs.

  • Removing stains or cleaning heavily soiled clothes. Studies have shown that in most cases, warm water washes do a better job at removing stains and thoroughly cleaning clothes when they're extremely dirty. If you've spent a day out in the garden or dropped your dinner in your lap, then warm water is probably the way to go.

We loved this graphic from the Sustainability Consortium report. It really sums things up!


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