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Use cold water for laundry

Years ago, laundry detergents needed hot water to work. But that’s not true anymore. Cold water is just as effective – even more so in some cases. And when you use cold water for laundry, it saves on your gas or electricity bill.

Dryer with door open and clothes spilling out

Why you should use cold water for laundry

Cold water doesn’t shrink your clothes or fade colors. It saves you money on your water heating bills and it reduces your carbon footprint as you use less energy. It used to be true that hot water was necessary, and that’s why previous generations told us so.

But detergents and laundry machines have changed. Modern washers don’t even get as hot as washers from a few decades ago.

With today’s detergents and washing machines, hot water does not get clothes significantly cleaner than coldThere’s just rarely a need for hot water in the laundry. Even with homemade laundry detergent.

Tips for cold water washing:

  • Use the amount of detergent in the instructions on your detergent. Or less. Most people use too much.
  • Always use a liquid detergent. Powders may not dissolve completely in cold water.
  • Leave enough room in the wash for clothes to move around. That helps the detergent get everywhere it needs to do.

And if you want to save even more energy, don’t wash your clothes every time you wear them.


Sanitizing clothes

You may have heard that cold water won’t “sanitize” clothes. First, you don’t normally need to sanitize clothes. That should only be necessary if, say, there’s a contagion in your home or you’re washing cloth diapers.

And second, while it’s true that cold water won’t sanitize laundry, neither will the hot setting in a washer. To sanitize clothes, you need a washer with a “sanitize” setting.

Or you can use chlorine bleach on light loads. You can also sanitize by boiling laundry in a pot of water or use a no-bleach laundry sanitizer additive.

Getting out stains?

Cold water is generally better at getting out stains. Sometimes hot water actually sets stains – especially blood stains. Some people feel you need hot water to get out grease or oil, but for the occasional grease stain, hand-washing with Dawn is great. You can either pre-treat with it or completely wash the stained area in the sink before putting the garment in the washer with a regular load of clothes.

Don’t you need a special detergent?

You can use a specially formulated cold water detergent, but many people don’t. In some cases, the ingredients are the same in cold water and regular versions by the same brand, so it’s hard to see how it makes any difference. Just buy a good detergent.

How much can you save?

It depends, obviously, but you may save about $0.64 per load on your water heating bill. So if you do 150 loads per year, you would save about $96 per year. And then there’s the environmental savings: if everyone did this in a nation the size of the US, we would save around 30 million tons of CO2 per year.

But where I feel you really save money is on your clothes. I find clothes last longer with cold water washing.

  • Cold water preserves color better, and reduces fading.
  • Cold water is gentler on material, so clothes last longer.
  • Clothes don’t shrink so much when washed in cold water, which also helps them last longer.
  • I’ve had no problems tossing in my “hand wash only” clothing in cold on gentle cycles.
  • I’ve even washed some “dry clean only” silk blouses in cold on gentle cycles with great results.

When clothes last longer, you can buy new pieces less frequently, which saves you money. If you can avoid dry cleaning bills altogether, that’s a big savings right there – and a double benefit to the environment, since dry cleaning uses a lot of energy.

Additional laundry tips

  • Don’t automatically toss clothes into the hamper just because you’ve worn them. Hang them up and wear clothes again until they’re actually dirty, and you will save not only laundry loads (time and money) but also wear and tear on your clothes.
  • Only wash when you have a full load (but don’t overload your washer). Your washing machine is much more efficient with a full load than a partial one. Plus, you do fewer loads if you wait until you have enough clothes to do a full load, and that’s savings.
  • If you’re buying new appliances, choose a front loading Energy Star washer. (Energy Star really pays for itself in utility savings over time.)