Skip to content
Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Cold Water Laundry Results

By Dr. Laundry February 1, 2008

In my last post, I discussed basics cold water laundry facts. Today, let’s talk about some performance and end-result differences you’re likely to encounter and some tips on how to deal with washing in cold water.

COLD WATER LAUNDRY RESULTS and TIPS


Things Dissolve SLOWER in Cold Water

The biggest dissolving issue is with powders, but liquids also are slower to disperse. It is very important that you insure products are dissolved/dispersed before adding clothes. Telltale signs that you were unsuccessful will include white specs/smears with powders and blue/gray spotting with liquids. If this happens, immediately rinse with warm water, wring out the excess, and then dry as usual. Neglect these signs and your clothes could appear duller.


  • Tips:

    • As the washer fills always add laundry products and give them time to dissolve before adding clothes. You might try either swishing the agitator or start with hot water for the first 2-3 inches, then add the laundry products, swish the agitator before switching to the cold water setting.

    • Don’t over pack the washer and use at least the recommended amount of each product.

    • Look for cold water versions of your laundry products. They have been specially formulated to provide better cold water performance and may have special ingredients and/or be thinner for better dissolving/dispersing.


Stains and Soils are MUCH Harder to Remove in Cold Water

The key component to getting clean clothes is your choice of detergent. They contain ingredients such as surfactants, enzymes and builders to attack, dissolve and suspend the stains and soils on your clothes. Laboratory cleaning studies show that better cleaning happens in hotter water. Cleaning decreases from hot to warm to cool to cold. Since cold water can be 70ºF down to 35ºF in winter, this will have a dramatic impact on your stain and soil removal. Technical wisdom says that stain removal will drop an order of magnitude for each 10ºF so expected winter performance can vary widely. If the detergent performance is going to drop, how can you make up for it?


  • Tips:

    • Actively look for stains and soils on clothes before they go in the washer.

    • Since greasy/oily stains are best removed in hot water, you will need to pretreat these with liquid detergent or stain and soil remover BEFORE washing. Follow directions on the back label for best results.

    • Really muddy items will also need extra help. Consider doing a warm water presoaking for 30 minutes or longer BEFORE washing. Always discard the presoak solution before starting to wash.

    • ALWAYS check for success at the end of the wash cycle. Retreat the item if needed. Drying some greasy/oily stains will set the stain making subsequent removal more difficult/impossible to remove.


Colder water may lead to more residual germs on your clothes

I have written on this subject several times in the past. Clothes can carry germs into the washer and these can survive in less stressful conditions like warm/cool water. If they are not controlled, they will transfer to other clothes in the same wash and you can “help” spread them when you transfer clothes from washer to dryer. Remember the dryer heat is also not enough to eliminate these problems.


  • Tips:

    • A good way to deal with this problem is the use of a disinfecting liquid bleach. Consider doing your white load first using liquid bleach to remove any left-over germs from prior washings; kind of like mouthwash for your washer.

    • Consider washing heavily soiled items, diapers or bedding in hot water with liquid bleach to help keep germs in check.





Choices, choices, choices

So now you have the facts and some tips to help you decide when/if cold water washing is appropriate for you. I certainly think it has a place and should be a part of your laundry regime. However, given some of the potential pitfalls, you might want to pick and choose when to use it. It is true that most of adult garments don’t get as dirty as they did for our parents or grandparents and a lot of these may be colored so that cool/cold water washing is ok. During the winter, I would be more cautious with heavily soiled kids clothes, baby clothes and bedding and do these in warmer water. In late spring or summer it may be ok to switch to cool water since the incoming cold water has warmed up.

Next time I will talk about some new additions to our Clorox line for cold water.