Washing Clothes in Cold Water Tips

By Terry Mehilos | Mar. 07, 2017 7:26 am PST

High Efficiency Kenmore Washer

Tips and tricks for cleaning even your dirtiest clothes using cold water.

Dirty clothes only really get clean in warm or hot water, right? Wrong!

That myth is all washed up. Technological advances made in both washing machines and detergents mean cold-water washing is now a highly effective option for cleaning your clothes, says Jeff McBride, a Sears washer expert. It’s better for your clothes as well as for the environment, he adds.

Here’s how it works, and how you can use cold water to get cleaner clothes.

How Does It Work?

New detergents, McBride says, have enzymes that can start working at 60 degrees. If the wash water is too warm — over 75 degrees — the detergent may actually become less effective.

Most of the new detergents work well in cold water, but there are some detergents made specifically for cold water. “These work really well on gym wear,” McBride says.

Some newer washing machine models will automatically add in some warmer water to help the detergent dissolve.

How to Kill Stains and Odors

Cold water works well on delicate fabrics and on clothes with dark or bright colors that might bleed.

“Always use cold water for protein stains, like blood or sweat,” McBride says. “Hot water can set them into the fabric and also might shrink or wrinkle the fabric.”

The secret to cleaning sweaty workout clothes made of synthetic materials? Do a pre-rinse.

“They tend to hold odor,” McBride explains. “Do a cool-water pre-rinse within 20 minutes of exercise, and it will help eliminate residual odor.”

For heavily soiled items, “Pre-wash them in cold water, and then wash them again in water that is 130 degrees or higher,” he suggests. “Then rinse them in cold. It will reduce wrinkling, save energy and won’t set stains.”

Cold-Water Washing = Energy Savings

About 90 percent of the energy used on washing clothes comes from heating the water, so you’ll help save money by washing in cold water, McBride says. “The average household can eliminate about 350 pounds of carbon dioxide and save about $40 a year.”

The only time you’re going to want to use hot water is if, for example, someone in the house is ill and contagious or for dirty cloth diapers. In that case, you may want to sanitize the laundry. Many new washers have a sanitizing cycle that raises the water temperature high enough and long enough to kill germs.

It’s time to throw cold water on the misconception that only hot water gets your clothes clean.

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