13:14 PM

Washer Water: Best Hot or Not?

My mother would not have dreamed of washing dirty laundry in cold water. How could anything worn in a day come clean without agitating in hot water? It was simply unimaginable.

Fast forward. That’s not the case with today’s machinery and cleaning products. Not only does washing in cold water get your clothes plenty clean; it saves energy and money on your power bill, too.

With advances in washing machines and laundry detergents, washing in hot water no longer has to be the norm. Cold water works just fine, according to Consumer Reports.

The evolution of washing machines from center agitator-models to front- and top-loading has brought about multiple changes. Newer models use less water, but they get clothes cleaner. And the water they do use doesn’t have to be hot to kill germs like when Mama used to wash; tougher detergents are crafted to do that.

To meet Department of Energy standards, washer and dryer manufacturers have lowered temperatures necessary for washing. And that’s great news because, according to Energy Star, heating the water used to wash clothes accounts for almost 90 percent of the energy needed to run the washer. The less hot water used, the less energy used—and more money saved.

So how, if the water’s cool, do the clothes get clean?

Manufacturers of laundry detergent had to catchup with the advances made by washing machine manufacturers. The folks at Procter & Gamble explain that traditional detergent enzymes could be “sluggish” in cold water, so they created a new mix that delivers clean loads of laundry in cold water. Consumer Reports vouches for the newer detergents, saying they have “gotten much better at putting enzymes to work in removing dirt and stains at lower water temperatures.” In fact, some of the newer detergents are less effective at higher temps, according to Consumer Reports.

The good news for homeowners is that laundry washed in cold water shrinks the power bill—but not the clothes.

Washing often in hot water causes clothes to shrink, fade and wrinkle. Washing in cold water is the gentler choice and can extend the life of your garments. That’s another way to win by washing in cold water: what you wear lasts longer, lengthening the time between shopping trips for new clothes.

Typically, washing in hot water is necessary only when clothes are seriously dirty, like when cleaning dirty cloth diapers or work clothes bearing dirt or grease. The toughest stains may require a special detergent, but for the most part, cold water is fine. Just be sure to use the correct amount and type of detergent and use your washing machine according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Despite the past decade’s tremendous advances in cold water washing, about 60 percent of Americans continue to wash their clothes in warm water, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

Make this the year you switch from hot to cold water washing. It’s not your Mama’s washer, or detergent, anymore.


Jackie Kennedy has worked with Georgia’s electric cooperatives for 23 years, producing newsletters, press releases and articles about the industry or energy-related matters. She is the author of People, Power, Progress: The Story of Jackson EMC, published in 2013. In her blog, she grapples with a variety of energy efficiency topics.