Growing up, my mom always liked a helping hand with the laundry. It’s a never-ending, thankless task.

You think you’re caught up, and then WHAM! Where did that pile come from?!

This is especially true when you have kids. That helping hand my mom wanted wasn’t as ridiculous as I always thought it was.

When we were younger, we were responsible for separating the colors. One pile for whites, one for lights, and one for darks.

As we got older, we started doing some of our own laundry. One thing she always reiterated was the correct temperature to use.

Hot for whites. We wanted them to be whiter than the driven snow!

Warm for lights. Need to get those suckers clean.

Warm or cool for darks, depending on the situation. This one was always confusing to me. What situations?!

When I moved out on my own, my first thought was, “Pft. I’ll just throw all this crap together.” And of course, I washed all of it on cold. Gotta save on those utility bills!

You might be reading this and wondering, “Can I wash all of my clothes in cold water?” In most cases, yes! Save that money!

When Should I Wash All of My Clothes in Cold Water?

Let’s start at the beginning. Back at the dawn of time, when the dinosaurs roamed the eart-

I kid.

Back before all the high efficiency laundry detergent, the water used in a typical load of laundry needed to be warmer than a basic cold cycle. This was due to the fact that laundry detergent wasn’t nearly as effective at a lower temperature.

Thanks to developments in the formulas used in detergents we have today, this is no longer necessarily the case. The enzymes present to break down the dirt and grime in your clothes are much more effective at lower temperatures than they used to be.

Running a load of laundry on the cold cycle keeps the temperature between 60 and 80 degrees, depending on your location. This can definitely be lower if you are based in places where the temperature is lower on average, such as Maine or Alaska.

Most detergents nowadays work well above 60 degrees. That being said, you don’t necessarily want to wash ALL of your clothes on a cold cycle ALL of the time.

There are many situations where a cold cycle is recommended.

1 – Dark clothes

Washing in cold water is a great way to preserve the color of your clothes. Most dark clothes wash well in colder water due to this.

2 – Delicates

Hot water can damage delicates, such as lace or silk. If you are planning on machine-washing your items instead of hand-washing, consider using a cold cycle.

3 – Stains

Contrary to popular belief, hot water is not necessarily the best solution for a stain. A lot of stains can be set into fabrics by washing them in hot water.

You’ll want to avoid hot water when washing stains that are protein-based, which are caused by animal-based secretions or products (like blood or sweat), as the hot water will set these into the fabric.

4 – Items in which wrinkling and shrinking is a concern

Hot water tends to wrinkle and shrink clothes. If you have clothing where that could be a concern, washing in cold water may alleviate that.

5 – Lack of care label

If you’re getting ready to wash that new shirt or that new pair of pants and you’re missing a care label, don’t despair! The best course of action is to wash it on cold. 

When Shouldn’t I Use Cold Water to Wash My Clothes?

In contrast, there are a couple of situations where you really should be using hot water instead of cold in a laundry cycle.

1 – Sanitation

When you are washing items such as sheets, undergarments, or even regular clothes after a family sickness, sanitizing the items may be just as important as getting them clean. Laundry detergent does a great job of cleaning up the clothes, but there’s nothing like hot water to kill all of those nasty germs.

2 – Man-made materials

Another reason you may want to use hot or warm water instead of cold water is in washing a lot of man-made washable materials. These can include spandex, rayon blends, nylon, or polyester. You may not want to wash them on hot, these fabrics are much easier to wash on a warmer cycle.

3 – Powdered detergent

If you are using a powdered detergent, it may require a hotter temperature for the detergent to completely dissolve in the water. Using a colder cycle may cause streaks to be left on your clothes from undissolved detergent.

4 – Cheap detergent

If you are looking to save money elsewhere and are using a cheaper detergent, cold water may not be your friend. Some cheaper detergents don’t have the cleaning power needed to take care of the soil and grime at a lower temperature.

5 – Lower ground water temperatures

As I stated above, in places where the temperatures are lower on average, such as Maine and Alaska, you might have to wash your clothes on a warmer temperature. This is due to the fact that lower temperatures cause lower ground water temperatures. It can be quite a bit lower in these places!

Always Check the Label!

In most cases, an article of clothing, a sheet, or any other washable item will have a care label attached to it. As stated above, if the item is missing a label, you might want to wash it on a cold cycle to avoid any goofs.

If you do have a label, it is always best to reference it to see what the manufacturers recommend. There should be a symbol on the label for many different wash related things.

For temperature, you will see a bucket with water in it, with a number of dots in the middle. The dot corresponds to the highest temperature that this item can be washed in.

One dot 30 degrees C, or 86 degrees F

Two dots 40 degrees C, or 104 degrees F

Three dots 50 degrees C, or 122 degrees F

Four dots 60 degrees C, or 140 degrees F

Five dots 70 degrees C, or 158 degrees F

Six dots 95 degrees C, or 203 degrees F

Always refer to these symbols if you are unsure. You can wash the item in cooler water, but try not to go above this temperature!

Cold Water is Your Friend

All in all, cold water cycles are a benefit for you. Not only do they save you money (an estimated 75 to 90 percent of the energy your washer uses is for heating the water up!), but you can potentially give your clothing a longer life.

Make sure you refer back to your care labels, but in most cases, the benefits outweigh the risks.

Author

I have two Associate’s degrees, one in Medical Assisting and the other in Computer Technician, and I am roughly five classes from a bachelor’s degree. Though I never ended up working in the medical field, I have five and a half years of experience in IT. I recently became a stay-at-home mom to my two young boys, and I’m so excited to start this adventure with them! In my spare time, I love to bake and read pretty much anything I can get my hands on.

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