Determining the Right Water Temperature for Laundry

Laundry machine
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Most modern washing machines have a number of different settings and can wash clothes using a range of water temperatures. There are various reasons to use the temperature settings, from clothing materials, stain treatment, and more. For most clothing, the hotter the water, the cleaner the clothing will be, however it may be necessary to use other water temperatures. 

When to Use Hot Water

Most linens and white clothing are washed in hot water to remove germs and heavy soil. The high temperature is helpful in removing dirt and any contamination from the clothing. However, some clothes will not come out looking very nice if they are washed in hot water. Hot water tends to make some clothing shrink, wrinkle, and fade. Different colors may turn out splotchy after using hot water. Other fabrics are delicate and don't respond well to high temperatures.

When to Use Warm Water

For most people, the majority of their laundry is washed with warm water. Warm water is actually exactly what it sounds like, a mix of hot and cold. Some machines mix the hot and cold water 50-50, although many newer machines mix 60-40. Warm water is usually the best choice for permanent press materials and jeans. It allows good cleaning action without as much fading, wrinkling, and shrinking.

When to Use Cold Water

Cold water is usually used for delicate items or items with instructions to be washed in cold water. It's the best option for clothing that has bright colors which may run or fade at higher temperatures. If your cold water items are heavily soiled or dirty, you need to be especially diligent about pre-treating for stains. They may require a longer wash time or a pre-soak before washing to fully remove stains. 

water temperature
 Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

4 Tips for Washing Clothes

  1. Check the Tag Most items have a tag with specific washing instructions on it. The directions on the tag are recommended for the best results. When first washing a new item, check the tags and pull out items that have special instructions, especially if it is an item that you really want to take care of or is extremely delicate. 
  2. Check the Water Temperature on Your Washing Machine Before You Wash Checking the actual water temperature of your machine will give you a good baseline on how well it is functioning and if the temperature dials are accurate. Do do this, use a candy thermometer and gauge the water temperature of the cold, warm, and hot water settings. Hot water is most often 10 degrees colder when it arrives at your machine from when it leaves your hot water heater. In general, hot water is 130 F (54.4 C) or above. Warm water is between 110 and 90 F (43.3 to 32.2 C). Cold water is generally between 80 and 60 F (26.7 to 15 C). If cold water is below 60 F (15 C), clothes are unlikely to be cleaned very well. The temperature of your water can vary greatly depending on the weather outside, too. It's helpful to be aware of what is actually coming out of your hoses and into your washing machine.
  1. Pre-Treat Stains Pre-treating any stains will allow the clothing to get clean before washing in the machine. Take the time to pre-treat for stain removal before washing items and you have a much better chance of clothing coming out clean and stain-free. Check the tags or do a spot test in a hidden area before applying any stain treatment product.
  2. Use a Cold Water Soak Although washing with cold water isn't always the best for getting out stains, a cold water soak can be a lifesaver for certain types of fabrics that have a stain on them. Be patient. A soak can be anywhere from a few minutes to overnight. The tougher the stain, the longer the soak will need to be.