Is it better to wash clothes in cold or hot water?

Cold water is better for your wallet, your clothes, and the planet. But hot water still has its place for tough stains.

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Should I use hot water?

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When is cold water best?

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Get ready to gain confidence in your washer's temperature dial and stop second-guessing yourself on laundry day.

Should I wash my clothes in hot water?

While there are some legit reasons to wash clothes in hot H2O, it can also do more harm than good if you're not careful. Let's look at the pros and cons of using hot water for laundry so you can decide when it’s worth turning up the heat.

Advantages of washing clothes in hot water

Washing in hot water can be like giving your clothes a deep cleaning steam session. The heat helps to:

  • Loosen up greasy oily or food stains so they don’t stick around. 
  • Melt away sticky residues so they don’t cling to fabric.
  • Release ground-in dirt and gunk stuck in fabric fibers.
  • Sanitize clothes by killing more bacteria, viruses, dust mites, and other ick-inducing microbes. 
  • Soften tough, set-in stains like grass or mud so they lift away.
  • Easily dissolve detergents and laundry products to activate their cleaning power.
  • Sanitize bed linens by killing dust mites, bacteria, and other microbes that can build up on sheets and pillowcases.

So when you’ve got super dirty, heavily soiled clothes, heat can help you overcome stains.

Disadvantages of washing clothes in hot water

Just like your overeager friend, hot water can go too far and cause some damage. Too much heat over time can:

  • Cause fading of bright, vibrant colors like reds, blues, and greens. The high heat breaks down the dyes.
  • Lead to shrinking of cotton and other fabrics. Heat damages the clothing fibers so they tighten up.
  • Wear down fabrics like wool and linen, making them look older.
  • Damage delicate silks, lace, and other dainty fabrics not meant for high heat.
  • Damage synthetic fabrics, like nylon, polyester, and vinyl.
  • Increase wrinkling and wreak havoc on pressed clothes.

Hot water requires more energy to generate, leading to higher electricity bills. So save the hot cycle for only occasional use on very dirty clothes. For most loads, lower temps get clothes clean without all the harm.

When should I use hot water?

Hot water works laundry magic on tough dirt, grease, and grime—but only for the right fabrics.

If you're washing any of these heavy-duty items, hot water is your friend:

  • Towels. From body oils to soap scum, towels get gripped by gross residues. Hot water washing breaks them down.
  • Sheets. A hot wash sanitizes and removes embedded skin cells, lotions, and body oils from sheets.
  • Cloth diapers. The high heat cleans messy diapers thoroughly and stops the spread of germs for your baby's health.
  • Work clothes. Dirty, soiled uniforms and shop rags come out fresher from a steaming hot wash.
  • Whites. Restore whites to their bright glory and remove stains with a hot water blast.
  • Sports gear. Muddy or sweat-soaked athletic wear clothes need a hot wash to loosen stuck-on gunk.
  • Jeans. Set-in stains on heavy denim come out better with hot water dissolving the dirt away.
  • Greasy items. Hot water melts oily food stains from t-shirts, kids' clothes, and aprons with ease.

Should I wash my clothes in cold water?

Cold water may seem counterintuitive for getting clothes clean, but dropping the temperature is better for your clothes, wallet, and the Earth. Let's dive into the benefits of cold water washing as well, as when it falls short.

Advantages of washing clothes in cold water

Washing in cold water is a win-win for your clothes and your wallet because it:

  • Saves up to 90% on energy since no water heating is required. 
  • Helps fabrics retain color over time. 
  • Is gentler on fabrics so clothes hold their shape and last longer. 
  • Allows you to wash delicates, silks, wool, and more without worry.
  • Reduces wrinkling so there's less ironing needed afterward.
  • Gets eco-friendly detergents to activate and lift away light to medium dirt.
  • Helps colorful fabrics maintain their bright hues.

Washing in cold water also reduces wash times. With less time needed to heat up the water, cold water cycles are often much shorter. This allows you to finish laundry chores faster.

Disadvantages of washing clothes in cold water

While cold washing works great for lightly soiled everyday clothes, the lower temperature means it:

  • May need presoaking or pretreatment to tackle some stubborn stains.
  • Takes longer wash cycles to lift away heavy dirt and odors.
  • May require multiple rinses to get rid of residues.
  • Does not sanitize clothes or kill germs and bacteria as hot water does.
  • Struggles with breaking down heavy soils like grease or mud.

So cold wash cycles won't cut it for intense cleaning needs. But it works well for most average laundry loads, saving energy and your wardrobe. Pretty cool right?

When should I use cold water?

Lower temperatures are ideal for delicate fabrics and light to moderately soiled loads.

If you're laundering any of these items, opt for a cool, gentle cycle:

  • Brights. Cold water helps bright colors like reds, blues, and purples maintain their vivid hues.
  • Delicates. Silks, satins, lace, and other dainty fabrics stay beautiful if you use a cold water setting.
  • Casual clothes. Lightly worn shirts, pants, and dresses without stains can be washed cold.
  • Jeans. Unless splattered with mud or grease, jeans, and most casual fabrics do fine in cold.
  • Workout wear. Cold water keeps stretchy workout gear from losing shape or wearing out too fast.
  • Prints and patterns. Vibrant prints on pajamas, blouses, and kids' clothes stay crisp when you wash them using cold cycles.
  • No-iron fabrics. Skip the hot water that causes wrinkling and washing colder reduces the ironing!

What other factors should I consider?

While temperature plays a key role in cleaning power and fabric care, several other factors should also inform your choice. As you decide when to turn up the heat or chill out in the cold, keep these key considerations in mind.

  • Fabric care instructions. Following clothing labels for recommended wash temperatures is always a good idea to avoid damage.
  • Load size. Smaller loads may allow you to use colder water, while larger loads with more items may need warmer water to get clothes clean.
  • Soil level. Heavily soiled laundry may require hot water to sufficiently clean, while lightly soiled clothes can be washed in cold.
  • Wash frequency. Washing clothes more often means soils have less time to set, requiring less heat for removal. Infrequent washing may need hotter temperatures.
  • Type of detergent. Formulas designed for cool water activate well in lower temperatures while others need heat to work best.
  • Water quality. Hard water that contains minerals works best with hot water while soft water can activate detergents easily in cold.
  • Stain types. Greasy, oily stains and dried, set-in stains typically require hot water. Fresh stains can often come clean in cold.
  • Machine function. Some washing machines use built-in heaters to boost cold water temperatures, increasing cleaning power. Check your machine.
  • Energy costs. Cold cycles can provide big energy savings over time, especially useful for high-efficiency HE machines.

Consider these additional variables beyond just water temperature to make the smartest laundry choices. Keep all these impacts in mind and you will get optimal laundry results over the long run.

Which laundry detergent is the best?

The best laundry detergent is efficient in both cold and hot water. It should rock at getting your clothes clean and be eco-friendly.

The best laundry detergent should be convenient, effective, and affordable. 

And guess what? Smart Sheep detergent strips happen to check all the boxes. Our laundry strips are formulated with powerful cleaning agents that effectively remove stains, dirt, and odors from your clothes, ensuring a pristine clean with every wash. Plus, they are suitable for both regular and high-efficiency (HE) washing machines, ensuring exceptional performance across various laundry appliances.

Detergent strips

Cold or hot water FAQ

Does hot water clean clothes more?

Hot water provides more intense cleaning power for clothes than cold water. The heat helps dissolve and activate laundry detergent better. It also helps loosen up stained residues and lift away dirt from fabric fibers.

For lightly to moderately soiled items, cold water can clean just as effectively while saving energy and preserving your clothes. But when clothes are very heavily soiled with mud, grease, oils, etc, turn up that hot water and let the grime melt away!

Do I wash dark colored clothes in cold or hot water?

Always opt for cold water when washing dark clothing items! Hot water can cause fading, color loss, and bleeding with items like black pants or dark blue shirts. The heat damages the dyes. But a nice cool wash will keep those deep, vivid colors looking vibrant and beautiful. Cold water is gentle, so your dark-colored fabric maintains its rich colors and looks great for longer.

Will clothes shrink in cold water?

Clothes should not shrink when washed in cold water. It's the heat during hot water cycles or drying that causes cotton and other fabrics to tighten and shrink. As long as you use cold or warm water, not hot, the fibers won't get damaged and constrict.

Some clothes may have been improperly pre-shrunk by manufacturers. In those cases, the fabric still could shrink a bit in cold washes over time. But in general, cold water is safe for preventing those dreaded shrunken sweaters and pants!

What is the best temperature to wash clothes?

For most light to moderately dirty laundry loads, a cold wash is best. Using cooler temperatures saves energy and money on your utility bills. It also helps fabrics hold color and avoid damage from heat. 

Garment care instructions should be always followed. For whites, towels, very soiled clothes, or items needing disinfection, hot water washes often work best.

When in doubt, warm water is a happy medium that offers solid cleaning for many average loads of laundry. 

Is it OK to wash towels in cold water?

It's better to wash towels in hot water instead of cold most of the time. The heat helps remove built-up residues from body oils, soap film, and dead skin cells that cling to towels. Hot water gives a more thorough, disinfecting wash for this item we use on our skin daily. 

How do you keep black clothes black?

To keep black clothing looking deep, dark black you should wash it with cold water. This way you will prevent fading. Here are additional tips you should follow:

  1. Use a detergent without bleach or brighteners that can damage black dyes.
  2. Avoid over-drying clothes, since heat also fades black shades.
  3. Line dry when possible.
  4. Wash black fabrics inside-out so abrasion during the wash doesn't wear the color out prematurely.
  5. Don't wash dark items with lighter colors that could bleed onto them. 

What is the healthiest way to wash clothes?

The healthiest laundry method to wash clothes is by using cold water and an environmentally-friendly detergent, like Smart Sheep laundry detergent strips. This helps remove dirt, bacteria, chemicals, and odors from fabrics rather than letting them build up.

Line or air-drying your clothes when possible to avoid drying residues. Also, thoroughly clean the washing machine monthly to keep smelly bacteria and mold from growing within it.

What are the 7 steps in washing clothes?

The 7 key steps for washing clothes properly are:

  1. Sort. Separate by clothing colors, delicates, and soil level. Always check the fabric care label.
  2. Inspect. Check for stains and pretreat it with a Smart Sheep stain stick if needed.
  3. Load. Put clothes into the laundry machine evenly without overcrowding.
  4. Add detergent. Use the right amount recommended for your load size.
  5. Select washing cycle. Choose regular, permanent press, or delicate based on fabric.
  6. Set temperature setting. Pick hot for bleachables and very dirty, cold for colors and delicate items.
  7. Dry and remove. Move clothes promptly from the washer to the dryer or clothesline after the cycle ends. Buy Smart Sheep wool dryer balls to make your entire washing process eco-friendly.

Further reading

Homemade stain removal for white clothes

Should I use liquid detergents or laundry detergent strips?

Why is the dryer making my clothes smell burnt?

What are some natural alternatives to dryer sheets?

What is the best laundry detergent for sensitive skin?

How can I keep my sheets from balling up in the dryer?

How do I recharge my wool dryer balls?

How can I add essential oils to dryer balls?

Why do wool dryer balls make me itchy?

Should I put a safety pin on my wool dryer balls?

Should I use golf balls in the dryer?