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Ask Dr. Laundry

Cold Water Laundry Challenges

By Dr. Laundry January 30, 2008

Last time I talked about some of the basics behind cold water usage. Today, I want to focus on the challenges that washing in cold water presents to the consumer. With a little better understanding, you should be better prepared to make the plunge into cold water laundering.

Many people are looking for ways to cut energy costs, save dollars and help the environment. Also, many companies have their eye on these trends and are developing products that can help consumers meet these needs. So I thought I would do a series of blogs on the Cold Water phenomena starting with a little background.

BASIC COLD WATER LAUNDRY FACTS

To get good laundry results in cold water, you might want to spend more time in the preparing and planning phase. Remember with decreasing wash temperature, your detergent’s cleaning and stain removal performance will drop off rather quickly. So here are some of my recommendations:


  • Sort as usual – whites, lights and dark colors at a minimum.

  • Use a good quality detergent and at least the recommended amounts on the label. Consider one specially formulated for cold water. They have made some formula adjustments that are geared to giving you better performance in cold water. Use a little extra detergent to help start overcoming the performance drop in water temperature. Also, use a liquid since they will dissolve and disperse better/easier than powders. Undissolved powder can leave streaks on darker colors.

  • Start using other high quality additives to help boost the detergent’s performance. Consider liquid bleach, color safe bleach, pre-treat or stain and soil removers.

  • Do NOT overload the washer. Letting the clothes move freely will allow the maximum mechanical energy from the agitator.

  • Search for stained and extra dirty items before you wash. Pretreating (apply product/rub into stain/let set 5+ minutes before washing) these problems is a jumpstart on improving removal. It is also extremely important for greasy/oily stains which are much harder to solubilize/dissolve in cold water.

  • Extra muddy/dirty items? Try presoaking these before washing using a good powdered detergent or color safe bleach which has extra builders to help lift off the mud and dirt. I like to do this in a separate bucket or sink. If that doesn’t work, then start the washer, fill to maybe ¼ level and then turn off the water. Now, add the powdered product and swish it around to be sure it’s fully dissolved. Finally add the soiled clothes and make sure they are submerged in the presoak liquid. Let them stand 30 min to 1 hour for dark colors and longer for light colors and whites. Drain the presoak water and then launder as usual.

  • Always check items for success in stain and soil removal at the end of the wash BEFORE they are dried. The heat of the dryer can set some stains making them much more difficult or impossible to remove next time.


Next time I will talk about some expected performance changes from washing in cool and cold water.