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Are Your Clothes at Risk Washing at the Wrong Temperature?

by Olly Mason

Not to alarm you, but accidentally washing your favorite article of clothing in the wrong water temperature can cause them to shrink, stretch, fade, and have a shorter lifespan overall. Talk about a major wardrobe malfunction.

Thankfully, your washer was developed to help keep your favorite garments wearable for as long as possible, and like all appliances, new innovations are constantly being created to help deliver better results. However, those results depend largely on whether you know how to operate your washer correctly—and that includes learning the right wash temperatures. 

Shot from inside washer of woman screaming with hands on head

The Risk of Using the Wrong Wash Temperature

First, know what’s at stake. While a single stretched tank or discolored shirt might be an annoying inconvenience, it’s not end of the world. But when your clothes are constantly coming out of washes warped, faded, and shrunken, it can become a costly thing to have to replace.

With trends such as the slow fashion movement pressing the issue of sustainability, consumers are become more and more aware of wasteful practices, and selecting the wrong wash temperature—which can damage clothes, forcing them to need to be replaced—could be a contributor. 

By selecting the right wash temperature, you are doing double service: You’re helping your wallet and helping the Earth out.

Father and son smile while they unload clothes from a front-loading washer

Check the Label

The best way to know the right water temperature for a load is to simply check the label. Wait—we know! Reading laundry labels feels like trying to decode a wall of hieroglyphics, but luckily, there are multiple ways of finding the info you need, like this easy laundry symbol guide.

For even more convenience, consider printing out the guide and hanging it in an area that’s easy to access in your laundry area. If at any time you have doubts, check the board and wash with confidence.

Image of a standard wash label

Know Your Wash Temperatures

If only adulting were more like Goldilocks, then testing which wash temperature is too hot, too cold, and just right would feel like less tedious. The truth is, the average washer might just call it safe and wash with cold water, which might work most of the time. Of course, each wash temperature comes with its own unique advantages and disadvantages, such as the following.

Cold Wash Cycles

Before we mention anything else, we have to vouch for cold-water washes when it comes to energy efficiency. The average washing machine uses up to 90 percent of its energy just to heat up water. That means washing clothes in cold water can save you some serious bucks over time, and that beats finding random dollars in your pockets any day.

Cold-temp wash pros:

  • Keeps clothes from fading
  • Prevents stretching
  • Easy on delicates such as linen and lace

Cold-temp wash cons:

  • Not as effective at eliminating germs as warm or hot water
  • Harder time dissolving powder detergent

Warm Wash Cycles

Did you know denim is best washed in warm water? While hot water and hot drying could potentially shrink jeans, warm-water washes provide just enough heat to lift soils and messes better than cold water. Of course, there are always exceptions.

Warm-temp wash pros:

  • Best on man-made fabrics, including knits and denim
  • Good for bright colors
  • Best for clothes with permanent-press recommendation

Warm-temp wash cons:

  • Can set certain stains, such as blood or sweat
  • Can shrink natural fabrics, including cotton, wool, and linen

Hot Wash Cycles

No other wash temperature kills bacteria as effectively as a hot wash. At the same rate, hot-temp washes will shrink certain fabrics and bleed colors.

Hot-temp wash pros:

  • Best for heavily soiled items, like towels and bedding
  • Best at sanitizing clothes

Hot-temp wash cons:

  • Most costly
  • Can cause colors to fade
  • Can be tough on delicates

woman smiles as she takes clothes out of front-loading washer

Final Tips

Now that you know a little bit more about the benefits of washing clothes at the right temperature, you can go ahead and pocket these tidbits, too.

  • Water from tap is vulnerable to the elements, making it hotter in the summer and colder in the winter. Washers with automatic temperature control automatically sense and adjust the temperatures so the water is the correct degree.
  • The colder the wash water, the more detergent you need for a proper wash. 
  • Selecting a cold-temp rinse cycle works for all washes, and is more cost-effective

Loads of Savings

While knowledge is priceless, a washer that keeps your little black dresses or favorite band tee in your closet and out the donate pile is equally as valuable. If your current washer’s performance is awash, it might be time to upgrade! Shop our selection of laundry appliances today to discover the latest washers with performance that meets your standards!