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Earth Month Tip: Wash your clothes in cold water

2014 April 30

Washing your clothes in cold water is an easy way to save energy and prevent carbon pollution. Hot water heating accounts for about 90 percent of the energy your machine uses to wash clothes — only 10 percent goes to electricity used by the washer motor.

Depending on the clothes and local water quality (hardness), many homeowners can effectively do laundry exclusively with cold water, using cold water laundry detergents. Switching to cold water can save the average household as much as $40 annually.

Much like running the dishwasher with only a full load [link to dishwasher post], washing clothing in full loads can save more than 3,400 gallons of water each year!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Electra27 permalink
    April 30, 2014

    Also change the lint filter frequently to get a better drying cycle.

  2. daysoftheyear permalink
    May 3, 2014

    EPA’s Home Energy Yardstick provides a simple assessment of your home’s annual energy use compared to similar homes

  3. Anonymous permalink
    May 13, 2014

    Agreed, but what about energy used in the dryer when using cold water only vs. warm water as rinse step.

  4. JoyceCristal permalink
    January 29, 2015

    Cold water washing is also the gentlest choice for your clothes, extending their life.

  5. Tom Broge permalink
    March 13, 2015

    What an embarrassment to intelligent people, and to think you guys writing this nonsense are actually paid with taxpayer money! Wash with cold water, and you leave nearly ALL of the bacteria and biologic material in your clothes. You might as well wash them in the Ganges River. And rinse them in cold, and you leave a significant portion of the detergent in the clothes — and that is NOT good for clothes, nor for cleanliness.

    Cold water is substantially more viscous than hot water, something few people recognize, and even if the detergents worked well at cold temperatures (they don’t) and could attach to dirt particles, the water with the dirt and detergent doesn’t move through the fabrics at cold temperatures. In practical terms, cold water can easily have 2x the viscosity of hot water, which in the spin cycle alone can mean that, more-or-less, half the water is removed in a cold water spin than in a hot water spin. The problem is much greater than that, of course, because the detergent-thickened water amplifies this viscosity problem, and if you have particularly cold water, you could be “washing” with a mixture that never even gets into the fibers of your clothes, but only into the spaces between them. What that means, essentially, is that you would do as well cleaning your clothes with a brush.

    Don’t believe me? Take a towel or something, that was rinsed in just cold water, and rinse it in warm or hot water — and look at the rinse water. That is the detergent your cold-water rinse let behind.

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