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Pros and Cons of Washing
Your Clothes in Hot Water

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November 23, 2016

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Ah, the washing machine. Arguably one of the great inventions of our era, this device has freed up hours of time and energy. But even now, some questions remain. Namely, is washing clothes in hot water always the way to go? Or is all that heat doing your favorite shirt more harm than good?

Today, we’re breaking down the pros and cons of the hot-water debate. Here’s how to wash clothes with the proper water temperature.

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Washing Clothes In Cold Water vs. Hot Water

Pro: Hot Water Gets the Job Done

Hot water is the best option for clothes that have been lived-in—workout pants, socks, and boxers, for starters. It’s not the most gentle temperature, but it powers through dirt and odors. Hot water has the most cleaning power because it speeds up the chemical reaction of the detergent. This means decreased wash times and less detergent. If you want to guarantee your clothes will smell clean and fresh the next day, wash them in hot water.

Pro: Hot Water Kills Germs

Flu bug going around your child’s school? Just got off an airplane? Washing clothes in hot water is a great defense against germs, bacteria, and viruses. To kill germs and allergens, you must wash in temperatures of 140 F or more, so toss the potentially infected bed linens and clothing into a hot wash and let the water do what it does best—kill germs!

But setting your hot water tank at 140 F can be dangerous, especially if you have children. A safer option would be to use a washer with a sanitizing setting. If your washer has a sanitize cycle that meets NSF standards, it will kill 99.9 percent of bacteria, viruses, and allergens.

If the water in your washer doesn’t get hot enough to kill germs, you can use white vinegar. When combined with your regular laundry soap or baking soda, white vinegar disinfects your laundry and gets it fresh and clean.

Pro: Hot Water Molecules Move Fast

Hot water will remove water soluble stains like tomato sauce, wine, and blood more quickly.
The faster the water molecules are moving, the greater the chance they will blast themselves into the fabric to loosen and remove dirt, grease, and stains.

That all sounds great. Unfortunately, all that cleaning energy comes at a cost.

Con: Hot Water is Environmentally Unfriendly

Over the last decade or so, we’ve grown increasingly concerned about the environment. A lot of the energy used to wash a load of laundry is funneled directly into heating the water—the latest studies suggest up to a third of the energy needed to wash a load goes into producing the heat.

That energy is produced via electricity, which is largely produced by fossil fuels—and when the power plant works harder to feed your laundry machines, more and more byproducts are released into the earth’s atmosphere. Consider how much laundry you do per week, and then think about how it will spike your power bill and affect the environment!

Con: Hot Water Can Damage or Discolor Clothing

The next time you’re doing laundry, consider what kind of clothing you’re washing. Hot water can cause bright colors to run and fade, and can shrink certain types of fabric. Hot water can also damage certain synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, and vinyl. The heat breaks down the fibers and can ruin the fabric.

Con: Hot Water Can Damage Delicate Fabrics

It’s often recommended to use cold water for delicate fabrics, such as anything made with lace, wool, or silk. Hot water can set stains on delicate fabrics and can cause them to shrink, fade, and permanently wrinkle. These fabrics are sensitive to temperature and cleaning solutions, so use a detergent made for delicates. If you don’t hand-wash these items, consider running them through a cold wash on the gentle cycle instead.

Do You Wash Whites in Hot or Cold Water?

You can wash whites in hot or cold water. Cold water will do the job for most of your laundry, but it won’t do any sanitizing. Sanitizing clothes and other laundry with your washer’s hot setting is necessary in certain situations, such as if someone in your home is ill, or you use cloth diapers.

Hot or Cold Water for Stains?

Should you use hot or cold water to remove stains? While hot water can often kill more bacteria, cold water is often best to get out stains. Fresh, stain-free laundry isn’t just about water temperature, of course. Not only do you have to know whether to use hot or cold water for stains, you have to consider the color of the fabric and type of stain. For the best results, you’ll want to pretreat stains using safe, natural cleaners you probably already have on hand.

For stains on whites, lemon or lime juice has a natural bleaching action that works on everything from underarm stains to rust stains. For colors, white vinegar is safer to use than bleach, doesn’t stain fabrics, and leaves your clothes smelling fresh. Along with pretreating, use these tips for removing stains from your clothes and which water temperature to use:

  • For coffee, wine or juice stains, dab the stain with a paper towel to get out the excess liquid, then wash in cold water.
  • For most food stains, like ketchup, mustard and jelly, scrape off the excess goop, then wash in cold water.
  • For blood stains, soaking the fabric in cold water then washing in cold water gets the blotch out.
  • For sweat stains, wash in cold water. Hot water can discolor clothing when mixed with the oil.
  • For chocolate stains, soak in cold water first to cut the grease, then rub with detergent and wash in hot water.

The best place to start when you’re debating between washing laundry in hot or cold water is to read the label. You’ll find the best care instructions to keep your laundry looking newer longer.

And if you don’t feel like folding those linens after all that washing and drying, you can count on The Maids to finish the job. Not only do our house cleaning professionals change linens, we also scrub hard kitchen floors, disinfect tubs, and clean the windows. Give yourself a break. Call 1-800-THE-MAIDS today for a free price quote.

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