Why You Might Be Washing Your Clothes All Wrong

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When it comes to the best way to wash clothes, most of us probably think we know what we’re doing. But according to some insight from the experts over at Consumer Reports, the laundry rules have changed.

The Importance of Water Temperature for Washing Clothes

With all the different options for detergents and machines available today, many people have forgotten how water temperature impacts the effectiveness of washing clothes.

According to Consumer Reports experts, washing in cold water is a much more effective option than it used to be.

Traditionally, detergents required higher water temperatures in order for them to be most effective. But that’s no longer the case. Detergents are made differently today, in a way that allows them to be more effective at lower temperatures.

Today, “detergents are formulated with enzymes that kick into action even at 60 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Pat Slaven, a chemical engineer and detergent tester for Consumer Reports

Cold Water Works Just Fine for Most Laundry

So what does that mean exactly? You can wash your clothes on a cold cycle and the detergent will do its job and clean your clothes just fine.

The only exception is for people who live in areas where tap water is typically colder — places like Maine and Alaska, where tap water can run at temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re one of those people, experts say it’s better to have a newer machine that automatically adds some hot water to your cold cycle, or your detergent won’t dissolve properly.

Removing Stains on the Cold Water Cycle

If you’re trying to remove a stain, cold water is still a better option, according to the experts. Once the water temperature reaches above 75 degrees, detergents become less effective, and the heat can actually help stains set into the clothing. Hotter water can also damage some fabrics and colors.

When You Still Need to Use Hot Water

Cold water will clean dirty clothes just fine, but it won’t sanitize them. Sanitizing clothes and other items is necessary in certain situations — for example, if someone in your home is sick and potentially contagious or if you use reusable diapers.

In order to properly sanitize sheets, clothes and items like cloth diapers, you need to use very, very hot water.


How to Properly Sanitize Laundry:

  • If your washer has a sanitizing cycle, that will work. Washers with this setting use a built-in heater to raise the water temperature high enough, and for long enough, to sanitize.
  • Chlorine bleach: This will work, but it can wipe out a fabric’s color, so you can’t use chlorine bleach on everything. And while non-chlorine bleach won’t ruin colors, it will not sanitize.
  • Other options: Consumer Reports experts say you can also sanitize items by placing them in a boiling pot of water or by ironing them.

Final Thought

According to Consumer Reports experts, “As long as you’re using a decent detergent and a decent machine, almost anything washed in water at 65 degrees Fahrenheit is fine.”

Keep this in mind the next time you’re doing a load of laundry and you’ll be saving energy — and saving energy means saving money!

Do you have other tips to save money when it comes to doing household chores? Let us know in the comments below!

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