Washing Clothes in Cold Water

Get clothes just as clean and save big.

Washing Clothes in Cold Water - Washing MachineI'm not saying wash everything in cold water. But the evidence is convincing that for most items cold water works just as well as warm or hot. The benefit is in the huge amount of energy saved by washing in cold. By washing in cold water, you'll also preserve the color of many garments, since fewer dye molecules will wash away.

It's estimated that 90% of the energy used to wash clothes is in heating the water. While I'm unsure of the original source of this often-repeated number, heating water does consume considerable energy. Water heating represents an average of 14% of total household energy use (source: EnergyStar).

The electricity used by the washing machine to wash a load of laundry isn't too bad, actually. On my machine it takes about 0.25 KWH for a large load. That's about three cents a load. Heating the water for laundry is where the cost is.

Will My Clothes Get Clean In Cold Water?

Your clothes will get just as clean in cold water, especially since many manufacturers are providing detergents designed for cold water clothes washing. It's unlikely that the water coming out of your water heater will be able to kill all bacteria. If you really want to disinfect, you have to use water that's at least 180 degrees, hotter than we can tolerate on our skin.

When to Wash in Warm or Hot

  • Greasy or oily clothes. Note that warm or hot water can set other stains permanently.
  • Some people like to wash sheets and towels in warm or hot water if dust mites are a problem.

Washing Laundry in Cold Water: Tips

  • For really dirty clothes (e.g., ground-in dirt, spilled food, or other potential stains), allow the laundry to soak for 30 minutes prior to washing.
  • Choose a detergent designed for cold water (very common).
  • Wait until you have a full load to wash (true for warm/hot water too).

What about front loading washing machines?

Front loaders use much less water and energy. Estimated savings are 35-75% less water and 20-50% less energy. And the clothes will be just as clean. A front loading washing machine is a wise investment since it uses much less water. This is especially true for people who frequently wash in warm or hot water.

Washing clothes in cold water is something that you can start doing right now to save energy and money. Best of all, it doesn't require you to do anything or make any compromises.

Additional Resources:
Use drying racks to save another $50 to $150 per year on laundry.
Here's a calculator to figure out how much you can save washing in cold water.
See the HomeEnergyChecklist.org for more tips to help you save money.