Sunday Wash: Is Hot Clothes Washing A Waste Of Power?

Admit it. There are a bunch of you out there who still wash your clothes in hot water. Don't worry, I'm with you. But this just in: Stop. Use cold. Washing with hot wastes money, energy, and is bad for the environment.

First, being poor means I don't exactly have the means to separate my precious delicates from the rest of my laundry. That's incidental. I would if I could, trust me. I have an addiction, you guys. I like separating and knowing on some base level that my favourite pair of boxers is especially clean. And the truth is that, yes, in a perfect world hot water is better at getting things clean. It's physics.

But f**k physics. For one, the expense and environmental toll inherent in any load of laundry outweighs the benefit of separating your clothes out for a nominally cleaner set of undies. According to the New York Times:

About three-quarters of the energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions from washing a load of laundry come from heating the water - a practice that, scientists say, is often wasteful and unnecessary.

For another, the industry is starting to catch up. Different companies, Tide's Procter and Gamble included, have come out with a number of cold water alternatives that wash your clothes more than satisfactorily and they're only improving. And many manufacturers are working on high-efficiency machines that better utilise cold water. Really, the greatest obstacle to us saving money is... us.

So give it a try. Save your money. If you're so worried about it, you can wash your clothes with a cup of mouthwash (seriously). But it's the right thing to do. [NYT]


    Ok, mouth wash is much more expensive than soap powder! As for separating,.. meh, the only time I separate is when I or my wife buys something that might lose die and ruin the other clothes. When they start selling this new fangled cold water soap that doesn't clog up the clothes with unused powder I'll start using it. The best thing to do, 'hot or cold', is to use only half the amount you would normally use. Plus I like the fact that the clothes are softer and less scratchy using warm water, not hot! #]

    What a load of crap! I have kids (5 of them) who all come home from school filthy. Cold washing DOES NOT clean the clothes as well as hot. What's better for the environment: washing once in hot or 2 or 3 times in cold? We use cold washes for lightly soiled stuff, but hot water is still vital in getting stuff clean. Do you wash your dishes in cold water?

      I don't think dishes and clothes are quite the same. You don't eat off your clothes. I wash clothes in cold water and have done for years. Of course, most of my wash is t-shirts.

    have to agree with Tristan on this.. Hot simply washes better, I’ve tried cold washes only in the past and they simply do not clean cloths as well you seem to need a bit of heat to clean properly.

    It's a fact that 99% of washing powders need the heat from hot water to activate the surfactants and degreasers within powder, and liquid detergents. It is about physics, so unless you have a way of adding high pressure jets inside the washing machine using cold water, you won't get the same results. Is this another attempt to guilt people into following the "sky is falling" principle?

      I wonder where that "fact that 99% of washing powders need the heat..." comes from.

      I've washed clothes in cold water for a decade just fine. Soaking and/or stain removers take care of most dirt. I have not encountered a detergent that specifically stated on the box that hot water is needed, but I'd just mix it with a cup of hot water before chucking it in.

      For disinfectant, use a capful of eucalyptus oil.

      No one has mentioned too that hot water is very harsh on fabrics. It shrinks and shortens the lifespan of cotton and wrecks delicate embroidery and finer textiles like wool and silk.

    I've washed in cold water for years. Is this an American thing? Australian detergents are all for cold water. And we get a lot hotter down under!

    Personally, i would never use hot water to wash clothes, unless i had really, really dirt infused clothes - like what a mechanic would wear.

    I use half the amount of powder the manufacturers of the detergent recommend and only use cold water. Our clothes are always fresh and clean smelling.

    Besides, in the day and age of people crying about their electricity bills why wouldn't you do this?


      There's a lot of very disturbing comments in this thread, it's as if most people haven't read the box lately and realise that most detergents are 'cold water' nowadays.

      I always use about half the recommended amount of powder and use the soak cycle for towels and such to make sure those little enzyme fellas get time to do their job.

      Have only washed in hot water maybe a dozen times in 30 years, usually when the powder residue inevitably builds up in some nook and/or cranny... does anyone know why there's anything insoluble in a laundry powder?

      A few hours out in the fresh air and sunshine should take care of anything that survives that, without resorting to the sterility hysteria which has overtaken society - we don't need to be able to operate off our kitchen benches or eat out of our underpants, people.

    Solar hot water is a good solution for the 'hot or warm water only' crew.

    You can't get clean and white whites without hot 95 oC water. Especially when it comes to towels, you need that heat to kill off things, simply having detergent in there in cold water won't do it.

      you don't really need 95c, but hanging them out in the sun does it better and it is cheaper

      You can get clean & white whites using something like Napisan and a dash of Eucalyptus oil in a cold wash.

    are you crazy who washes clothes at 95c. I always wash my clothes at 30c. I have no problem at all, no one tells me that my clothes is dirty..

    My old Fisher & Paykel has a Cold+ setting that adds hot water if the cold water is under 22(I think) degrees to bring it up to just warm enough to activate the detergent. Put it on a slow soak and I've never had trouble with stains.

    I use cold 99.9% of the time, my clothes are always fresh and clean. That includes my white tshirts, dirty undies, and bathroom towels.
    The only time i use hot is if i think an especially dirty bath towel needs a good wash, and that's pretty rare. I actually feel the hot water will damage my clothes more than cold would anyway.

    Just to clarify - yes in my household we use the cold wash - but only on light to mildly dirty clothes (usually the parents). But when it comes to putting on babies and kids washing with the food and spew and dirt and muck, no amount of napisan or pre-soaking will get them as clean in a hot wash as they will get in cold. The point of the article is that hot washing wastes money and energy and we should stop doing it AT ALL. My point is that when you do washing with sufficiently dirty clothing, hot washing is the only way to get them properly clean. And yes, hygiene in clothes is important just as it is with dishes. Don't stop using hot water to wash your clothes, just use your brain to choose hot or cold accordingly.

    no amount of napisan or pre-soaking will get them as clean in a *COLD wash as they will get in *HOT.

    TTFFBTKU error (typed too fast for brain to keep up)

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