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For years, we’ve been told to wash laundry in hot water. It won’t kill germs otherwise, it won’t get clean otherwise… well, science has caught up with the housewives.
The water in our laundry machines do not get anywhere near hot enough to kill germs or bacteria. Most humans can stand water around 110 degrees which I would guess is about as good as it gets for the home washing machine as I’ve never had a problem touching the hot water.
In order for it to even start killing anything, water has to be 120 degrees and to sanitize you need 212 degrees (boiling point.)
The dryer will do a better job at killing the germs and what have you so why waste the hot water?
How and Why You Should Wash Your Laundry in Cold Water
90% of energy used for washing laundry is just for heating the water. It’s estimated that if you washed just 4 out of 5 loads of your laundry in cold water instead of hot, you would save 72 pounds of CO2 emissions in one month. That’s a lot of tax on the environment that you could avoid.
Washing laundry in hot water costs a lot more! Did you know that if you just washed just 80% of your laundry in cold water that you can save between $60-100 in one year!
Cold Water Detergents
Laundry detergent has come a long way. There are now detergents out there that work in cold water, cleaning your clothes just as good as detergent in hot water.
Clothes Last Longer
Washing clothes in hot water destroys them faster then if you washed in cold. If you wash in cold water you will increase the lifespan of your clothes and preserve color better.
Once I learned all this, I decided to give washing in cold water a try.
Within a week, I could see that washing in cold water works great. My clothes come out just as clean. After getting comfortable with washing my clothes, towels, and sheets in cold water, I decided to take the plunge.
If you truly want to test your believe in cold water washing, then cloth diapers is the way to do it. Let’s face it, there’s not a piece of clothing that will gross people out as much as cloth diapers.
There’s something about cloth diapers that makes people feel the need to use rubber gloves and all the disinfectant in the world.
However, when you realize that hot water from the laundry machine will actually do nothing to kill bacteria and germs then there’s really no reason not to give cloth diapers in cold water a try.
So I did.
And you know what? My cloth diapers are perfectly fine!
They come out looking and smelling just as clean when I wash them with cold water as when I used to wash them in hot.
I will never again wash my diapers or any other laundry in hot water again. Instead I will do my part to save the earth and save myself quite a bit of money too by turning the washing machine knob to COLD!
(Note: I have found that once my babies get around that 6-9 month mark, their cloth diapers do need a warm wash… not hot; just warm)
Oh, my goodness, you are inspiring me to give this a try. I am so ick-phobic when it comes to all the bodily fluids sluicing onto our clothes on a daily basis, but … if you say so … I will run my own experiment. Thanks for the nudge! Do you have a preferred detergent?
So cool! (ha!) I mostly use warm or cold water (mainly b/c I can't be bothered separating colors haha and I don't want them to run). But I did always have that niggling question: is this OK? Thanks for answering it!
I have always used only cold water. I did a lot of research when I was first married and found out that it really didn't do anything different. It also makes it easier to teach other people how to do the laundry.
Whoa. What detergent do you use? For 2 years I've been faithfully washing with hot water and it didn't matter?! I'm trying this out next diaper load!
Really?! No hot for cloth?? I'm shocked! My hubby and I just discussed, and we're going to do this too – thank you!! You may have just saved me lots of money 🙂
I live in Montana and our water is soooo cold. If I don't put some warm water in the washer first, the detergent will not dissolve. It truly won't. My mom lives in South Texas and is able to wash everything in cold. I can say this, however, I don't have to wash the entire load in warm water, just have to use enough to dissolve the soap before the clothes go in.
My cloth diapers are the only things I still wash in hot water. I have a high-efficiency machine, so I think for our situation, it's more about getting *enough* water in the load rather than getting the water hot enough to actually sanitize. I'll give it a go, though–thanks for writing this!
Glad I can nudge you guys in the cold direction. 🙂
I use Biokleen all temp. liquid detergent.
Rachel – you bring up an interesting point about detergent not dissolving…do you use powdered detergent? I would think that liquid would not have a problem dissolving in super cold water. I'm in WA and our water is pretty cold too. 😉
Love this post (goes well with my own experiment)! We wash everything in cold except for the diapers. In our area our water is so hard that unless we soften it, there's a definite build-up on clothing. On our regular day to day stuff, that's cool. But on the diapers it's not so much. So I do still put those on a "hot" wash, just to get some water softener into them. (And I don't like adding water softener to cold water because then it feels icky when I wash my hands! Plus it's super more expensive.) But you have me thinking… I wonder if there's something I could add TO a cold load of diapers that would do the same job as salt in the hot water tank… Hmmm… I'll have to do some investigating! Thanks for your post!
Thank you! We live in an apartment complex and washing in hot is 50 cents more! I'm going to save a bundle. Although I'm sad I've been wasting my money for so long…
I always have used cold, never saw the need to pay more for hot. I use any free liquid detergent and never had a problem. On the occasion I do use powder I will turn the hot on for a second pour the detergent in and then turn back to cold so it will dissolve and not leave residue! I never feel that my clothes are any cleaner when I use the hot (like on whites I have tried hot).
OK. I never even thought about it. But I'm convinced! I shall start washing my clothes in cold water from now on. 🙂
So funny that you posted the diapers and such in cold water. My grandmother used to tell me when I was on my period and my panties got blood on them to wash in cold since it took the stains out while washing in hot made the stains stay. Its very true.
This is awesome! I had no idea. The hot water here is definitely way too hot to touch, but the old style washing machine is rough enough on my stuff without adding damaging hot water to the mix. I'll definitely give this a try!
At (Amy @ Anktangle) – Not sure if you have tried this but I have an HE front loader and I am able to add a bucket of water for the additional it needs? I read it some where and tried it, it works!
Wow so interesting! I did not know a lot of the stats you posted. We wash everything but our cloth diapers in cold…I'm so glad to hear your experiment worked on the diapers. Definitely going to try this ASAP! Thanks!
I find this really interesting, because I've been doing our washing in increasingly hotter and hotter water (up to 90C which is 194F) because our washing has an odd – and unpleasant – smell when I use 'eco' washing methods… I'll try a cold wash on nappies, and admit that the thought isn't all that appealing… so might add some vinegar to the water or something… Hmmm.. lots to think about. I love that in a post. Thanks!
I do use a powdered detergent (I make my own). We have wonderful water up here in Montana :), but it is so cold and our well water is hard as well. The powdered detergent seems to work just fine so long as I let it dissolve.
Thomasin…we have hard water as well. I put vinegar in every load and it helps a ton! We also put vinegar in every dishwasher load. Keeps the dishes sparkling! 🙂
I've already started washing my laundry in cold only. I haven't noticed any cleanliness difference so far, but I did get to thinking… wouldn't hot water break up dirt better? I know we're not supposed to wash our hands in cold water because they don't get as clean, so… does the same apply to our laundry? Does it just depend on what sort of dirt you have in your laundry? Or is laundry soap just THAT good these days?
Hot water may break up dirt better which is why I do recommend an all-tempurature detergent however, it's also possible that any detergent will do; but I haven't tried that yet. As for hands, it's actually a false claim that we much wash our hands in hot water. It's been shown that water tempurature does not make a significant difference when washing hands. Here's a study on that : http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1471-5740.2002.00043.x/abstract;jsessionid=8E2E032418020027C3BE544189657742.d02t01?systemMessage=Wiley+Online+Library+will+be+disrupted+14+Jan+from+10-12+GMT+for+monthly+maintenance
I'm forwarding this to my dh! 🙂 Thanks for doing the research. We'll have to try out the cold for diapers and see if we save some $$!
We did this experiment with our Girl Scout troop (but I can see where it doesn't really prove anything): Sprinkle girls' hands with glitter. Have 1 wash with cold water only. Another wash hands with cold water and soap. Another wash with warm water and soap.
Then they compare to see who's hands are the cleanest. The warm water and soap is the cleanest… but honestly now I have no idea why!
I just started CDing today and since you've convinced me I can wash anything & everything in cold, I actually just washed my diapers in with some towels and socks… in cold water! I'm currently using All Free & Clear, which I hope is alright. The diapers came out fine, as did the rest of the laundry!
I believe warm water is better at removing oils (from your hands at least) so that's probably why the glitter experiment worked.
It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. This one I will try. I've always washed my towels and sheets in hot water and almost everything else in warm. I guess it's because that's the what my mother did. Maybe sometimes Mother doesn't know best!
good to know. we're going from coin laundry (where it doesn't cost more to wash in hot) to our own (yeah!) machines soon and i'll be using cold water now.
I have been washing all of my clothes in cold for many years and reserving the hot water for my rags. I will now just wash them like all the rest.Thanks
I keep coming back to this. I feel good washing in cold until… my soap isn't strong enough to get bacon grease out of my unpaper towels. Any suggestions? For now I've started washing them in hot. That seems to get most of it out.
Hmm well it's possible that tough jobs like unpaper towels would need warm water… are you using an all temperature laundry liquid? I wonder if adding vinegar to the wash cycle would help cut the grease…
Also thank you for linking it to the Earth Day Blog Carnival!
Thank you for this article! I live in Okinawa, Japan and my washing machine ONLY runs on cold water and it is also hard water. I was encouraged about starting to cloth diaper after reading this especially. Many people have told me that I can only wash my diapers properly using hot water. My main question is this…I currently use ALL Free & Clear detergent on my clothing and it has worked well for me. Would that work on my diapers well or do you think I should get a separate detergent for my diapers? Thanks for any tips or thoughts!
I think you should be ok with ALL free & clear. I've heard others use it for cloth diapers (granted they probably wash on hot/warm). If you can wash your clothes with it on cold then you will probably be fine. If it doesn't seem to work then you just need to switch to a detergent that is specifically for washing in cold/all temperatures.
Another thanks from Japan (Kanagawa). My own mother, who cloth diapered all her babies, told me I couldn't do it since we don't' have hot water to our washing machine. I'm due in a few weeks, and all set to try cloth anyway. It's nice to see that other people have had great success with washing cloth diapers with only cold water and sun. It works for all our other laundry, so I always thought it would be OK on diapers too.
I'm sorry I just don't believe this at all. Maybe it's true for most people, but for lots of people with alleges and sensitivities, hot water is the only thing that removes bad stuff from clothing. It's anecdotal of course, but my three sisters have kids and they were always sick. My kids are never sick. My partner's family owns the local cleaners and dyers, and they once told me always to wash in hot water, so I did. I noticed that my sisters used cold water only for their laundry. So I suggested they start using hot. Boom, their families aren't chronically sick anymore, and two of the kids with asthma don't' have attacks anymore.
I have tried this cold water only approach–I have a very high end efficient washer/dryer–and the difference is night and day. I read these articles about how cold water is the way to go, and honestly, I just don't know what you people are thinking.
Respectfully, I'm keeping to hot.
Yes, I suppose for this with issues to things such as dust mites, you'd want to use warm or hot water as obviously cold water won't kill dust mites. However, cold water is sufficient for most people.
I came across your post from Mama Jorje's carnival submission. I also wash my clothes primarily in cold water, only every once in a while doing a hot wash "just to make sure." I'm curious about your experience with cloth – a year later, do you have any issues? Do you primarily use microfiber or natural fiber inserts? Would love to chat more!
Yes, I still wash our cloth diapers in cold although I do wash on warm if it's been a long time between washes or if we've been using oil. I used organic cotton mostly… when the baby gets older and a heavier wetter than i added a microfiber booster at night.
There's not much out there with diaper laundry in cold water…can you tell me your laundry routine???
You are correct. It's not common to wash cloth diapers in cold! What I did when washing in cold…. Wash on cold with normal amount of detergent, add an extra rinse. Dry. 🙂 Now that usually only works till 6-9 months. Once they get to be heavier wetters, I usually have to switch to washing on warm…. One water saving tip that I just learned though… is that the extra rinse is not necessary!!! Our washers are efficient enough now that it's just not needed. That is on warm water though, I'm not sure if it's still as effective on cold water… so NOW my cloth diaper routine is, wash on warm with normal amount of detergent and then dry! Just like my regular laundry (except I do my regular laundry on cold).