Is It Better to Wash Clothes in Cold or Warm Water?


While there are usually three temperature gauges on washing machines, most people don’t take the time to learn which is best to use. Most people likely just throw it in warm and just move on with their lives. But what happens if you wash clothes in cold water instead of warm? If you want your clothes to be the cleanest and last the longest, choosing the right water temp is essential.

It’s better to use cold water to wash delicate fabrics like silk or wool and dark clothes that you don’t want to fade. Use warm water for spandex, polyester, jeans, or nylon. Hot water is best for anything made of cotton. To optimize your washing, sort the different fabrics into separate loads.

If you want to just use one temperature only, go with warm water, it’s the best “one size fits all” temperature.

Laundry Water Temperature Chart:

Water TemperatureFabric
Cold (60°- 80° F)Silk, Wool, Brights, Darks, Delicates
Warm (90° – 110° F)Spandex, Polyester, Denim, Nylon
Hot (130° F or Higher)Cotton, Whites, Heavily Soiled Clothes

Note: If you want to be as eco-friendly as possible, using cold water the majority of the time is perfectly fine. With advancements in laundry detergents, they can clean just about anything well, even in cold water.

The reality is that the right temperature to use depends on many factors and circumstances. Below is a detailed guide of when cold, warm, or hot water is needed.

Water Temperature Guide (When to Use Hot, Warm, or Cold Water)

Thankfully, now, we have some effective detergents offered by the market that work wonders in cold and hot water. However, a detergent may help with the stain and grease problem, but the issues with shrinking fabric, fading color, budget, and environment remain.

Here is the info you need to have the cleanest fabric on the block.

First Check the Care Labels

First, it’s crucial to read the garment’s care label neatly sewn at the back or side. The little white care label contains the information and recommendations of the best ways to wash that specific piece of clothing or fabric. You can discover the best water temperature and the washing machine program settings for the best results. Yes, it can be a tiring process, but it’s worth it in the end.

Then Sort the Laundry

Different fabrics require different washing temperatures. The best way to save money, electricity, and water and still get the best results is by sorting your dirty laundry into piles that coordinate in color and washing recommendations on the care label.

Using Hot Water for Laundry

You need to use hot water of about 130° when you are dealing with cotton clothes and materials. Usually, bedsheets, undergarments, socks, and bath or kitchen towels are cotton. These garments require extra hygiene and sanitation control as they are close to your naked body.

Hot water is best used for white and light-colored clothes, while bright-colored or black fabrics can fade in color in hot water. Another problem with hot water is that it can shrink some textile materials.

If you are unsure, use warm water.

Does Hot Water Clean Better Than Cold?

If you don’t use a laundry detergent, hot water is better at cleaning than cold water. However, the new detergents use enzymes in their formula, making them efficient in removing dirt particles even in cold water.

Hot water molecules possess more kinetic energy as they move faster due to high heat. It’s the reason why people used to place garments in boiled water to get rid of stains and dirt.

Interesting Fact: Most consumers still believe that nothing has changed and that only hot water can produce clean fabrics. It is a misconception. Manufacturers produce modern laundry detergents that would remove and cut through the soil and dirt even in cold water.

Using Warm Water for Laundry

Warm water is a more eco-friendly version than hot water, yet it’s still capable of removing germs, bacteria, dirt, and stains. Use warm water between 90° to 110° F for such fabrics as spandex, polyester, jeans, and nylon. You can use this water range for lightly soiled garments that don’t require as much sanitizing as greasy and oily clothing.

Using warm water is a more environmentally-friendly version of laundry washing. Due to small plastic particles shed from fabric when washed in hot water, hot water causes microfiber pollution. These microfibers pass through the water filters and end up in our drinking water systems and the oceans. The underwater living organisms mistake these tiny particles for food and consume them. From that moment on, the whole natural eco-system is at risk.

Warm water saves our eco-system and uses less energy, but it’s not as good at killing the mold and bacteria on the garments. The bright or black colors of the fabric can also fade when washed in warm water.

Using Cold Water for Laundry

Use cold water, about 60°- 80° F, for delicate fabrics, such as silk and wool. The benefits of washing in cold water include bright and dark color preservation and no shrinking of cloth. Also, using cold water has cost and energy-saving properties and possesses no harm to the environment.

However, detergents are less efficient in cold water, so you will have to purchase a more expensive one to get rid of a stain.

Does Washing Clothes in Cold Water Kill Germs?

The cold water temperature does not kill germs or bacteria. However, sanitation is needed only for extremely soiled clothes that contain harmful bacteria. If you work in a hospital or are looking after small children or sick patients, this is the case when you need to kill germs and bacteria on your garments.

Modern detergents can kill some of the germs in cold water, but even they won’t work in cold water temperature. The best way to kill germs and bacteria is by using hot boiling water to wash your clothes.

Occasionally “Clean” the Washing Machine

Even if you prefer to wash most of your laundry in cold water temperature, you still need to run a hot water cycle once in a while. The hot water will help with the detergent residue left on the walls of a washing machine.

We have covered the precautions that you should consider before setting up the washing temperature. Now, let’s look at some specific situations and fabrics. Whether you prefer a hot or cold water washing regime, there are times when a correct temperature is your only way of getting clean clothes that do not affect your health and safety.

Should I Wash Greasy Clothes in Hot or Cold?

Eating fast food and working with oils can result in greasy stains on clothes. The best way to treat a grease stain is to wash it immediately with cold water and soap, and only then wash it in hot water in a washing machine. Hot water will discolor the fabric stained with oil, so it’s vital to remove as much grease as possible before washing it in hot water.

Older greasy stains will be difficult to wash because if places in cold water, it won’t be powerful enough to remove it, while hot water will most likely discolor it. First, rinse the new greasy stain with detergent or soap in cold water or soak for 30 minutes in cold water with enzyme-based detergent. Then, wash in hot water.

Does the Dryer Kill Bacteria?

The modern washing machines do no heat up the water to the boiling point, so it’s the dryers that are more effective at killing harmful microorganisms. The dryers use high heat for about half an hour, which is enough time to get rid of infections and viruses accumulated in your laundry.

However, you have to use the highest heat setting in the dryer to kill the germs and bacteria. Dryers that have energy-saving settings use lower heat that won’t get the job done.

Bottom Line

Unlike old times, when our ancestors washed clothes in boiling water in a pot, we now have numerous different types of washing machines, detergents, and fabrics. The new technologies and innovations give us more possibilities, but that also means there is no longer one right temperature setting for all.

Personally, we wash most of our clothes in warm water but still do 2-way sorting. The softer whiter stuff gets cold, the darker, dirtier, and hardier fabrics get warm. This has worked for years and is an easier alternative to sorting 3-ways.

I hope this article has been helpful. Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Jelly Grandma

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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