Anyone who does their own laundry knows that there are a few inviolable rules you must always follow:
- Never mix darks with lights.
- Always clean out the lint screen.
- Wash in hot or warm water to get stains out.
Right? Maybe not. It turns out your mom may have led you astray when she taught you rule number three. Washing in cold water might actually be just as effective — and will save you some money.
Let’s start with some statistics about washing in cold water.
The average family washes about 300 loads of laundry each year. For every load of laundry, 90% of the energy used by the washer is for heating the water. By only washing in cold water, families can save up to $60 a year on energy costs alone.
Washing clothes in cold water also helps preserve the condition and appearance of your clothing. By washing in cold water, you don’t have to worry about damage to your clothes caused by washing in hot water such as the color fading or the fabric stretching.
So why does washing in cold water work as well or nearly as well? Without giving an entire chemistry lesson, here are the basics of what happens when you wash clothes:
- Detergent is made up of chemical chains and molecules; some that like water, others that absolutely hate water but love themselves and, most importantly, the stains on your clothes.
- With these opposing forces, the molecules band together, form a chain, and lift the stain out of the fabric. That’s what makes detergents so powerful.
- Older detergents work better in warm water, since thousands of these chemical reactions take place in a load of laundry, and warm water makes those reactions go faster.
- Today, companies have developed cold-water detergents that have shorter chains containing enzymes, causing shorter reactions in cold water, but that happen as quickly as they would in warm water.
- Read more about the chemistry and rather gross history of washing clothes here.
There are still some occasions when it’s wise to wash in warm water. If you have a sick child or dirty cloth diapers, use warm water to get rid of the germs (and the smell).
Cold-water washing has only just begun. Washing machine manufacturers are starting to build machines designed specifically for cold water. But even with so many machines available with the improved technology, only 38 perfect of Americans wash all of their laundry in cold water. Proctor has set a goal that 70 percent of all Americans will wash their clothes in cold water by the year 2020.