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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Washing Whites in Hawaii

By Dr. Laundry March 10, 2009

Q. I live in Hawaii, and use a cup of Clorox® Regular-Bleach1, 1/2 cup of baking soda and hot water when washing whites (it’s usually a large wash load). It looks whiter and brighter. Is laundry soap necessary? Recently, my friend told me that cold water and Clorox works better. Is this true?

A. Interesting concoction that you’ve created. I like the hot water (best cleaning), Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 (for it’s whitening, stain/soil removal and disinfecting), and maybe the baking soda adds a little alkalinity. For good cleaning properties, I would like to see some surfactants, which are a key component of detergents. These are needed to help solubilize the grease/oil from stains and help keep the dirt/stains suspended in the wash water, preventing them from re-depositing back onto the cleaned clothes. So I guess I would weigh-in on the side for using some laundry detergent. Also, you might be able to cut back to the 3/4 cup recommended usage for Clorox® Regular-Bleach1, which might help save a little money.

As for the cold water usage, I doubt that it works better than your hot water. Our lab testing shows that cleaning and stain removal performance decreases as we go from hot to warm to cold. I have previously stated that defining exactly cold water is difficult, since it is determined by the incoming water source. In the U.S., during January or February, that temperature in Chicago may be 40°F or less while in Hawaii it may be 75°F. I know that clothes washed in 40°F will NOT be as clean as those washed in 75°F, and using Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 can NOT make up for that difference in detergent cleaning. Luckily for you, however, in Hawaii there is much less difference between a cold wash using detergent and Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 and a hot wash using detergent and Clorox® Regular-Bleach. In some cases with low soil levels, you might not be able to tell the difference. Using Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 to disinfect will be equally effective.

So overall, I would say consider adding the detergent to replace the baking soda, and try switching to a warm wash and see if you can see a drop in performance. I just can’t get myself to use really cold water to wash the items that are likely to contain body soil (like underwear, towels and bedding) since I want them as clean as possible.