How to choose the correct temperature of the washing machine

northUnlike loading the dishwasher, washing machine temperature is a controversial topic. Some people use only cold water. Others rely on high temperatures for the dirtiest laundry loads. But choosing the right washing machine temperature is an art, and it has a big impact on the longevity of your clothes.

“I love using all my different temperature settings,” says Katie Jennings, manager of technical consumer information at Seventh Generation. To know when to keep it cool and when to turn up the heat, Jennings says to pay attention to care instructions, soil level and how much you care about an item.

But before those items hit your washing machine, Jennings says try to get a decent number of uses. “For the environment, it’s best not to do laundry until it’s really dirty,” she says. “Obviously, your kids’ clothes are really dirty, but if you’re sitting in your office and you haven’t spilled anything, that pants and shirt combination probably has life.”

Cold water

While there is a time and place for warmer settings, Jennings says you’ll want to use cold water for most of your loads. “Cold water especially helps protect your colors,” she says. “It’s gentler, it’s much better for the environment. And most detergents are formulated to be just as effective in cold water.”

Note: Two items that should always be washed cold are your delicates and your denim.

“Any kind of delicate clothing or lingerie, all of that should be done in a cool or cold environment,” she says. When it comes to denim, she washes it sparingly, inside out and cold “absolutely all the time, because you want to keep that color.” Jennings recommends choosing a gentle cycle so the machine’s drum doesn’t spin too fast. “I tend to make lower spins on things that really matter to me.” Lastly, you should just air dry your denim.

Although you may be tempted to wash your sweaty leggings and sports bras in hot water, Jennings says that’s a big no-no for items with spandex. “Those are better on the cooler settings. They’ll hold their elasticity over time,” she says. If she notices an odor, she says it’s better to rinse them twice with cooler water than rinse them once with warmer water.

warm to hot water

For bright whites, Jennings says hot water is your friend as long as the fabric can handle it. “Hot water will help if your whites are a little dirty,” she says. “You can use it with cotton, or if you have a particularly tough set of stains, but it’s tougher for your fabric type. Warm to hot water is also great for removing stains, for example if you eat barbecue on a T-shirt white.

If you have a sanitize feature on your washing machine, it will provide super hot water that is great for killing germs and dirt.

“The disinfection function is really fascinating, especially given our time. There is this particular group of washing machines on the market and the [National Science Foundation], which is a third-party accreditor, and they have validated the sanitizing feature to actually correlate with germ removal. So you wouldn’t want to do that for every laundry load, but let’s say your kid is at school and you want to sanitize their clothes at the end of the day, or the bedding and sheets that I send to daycare, I often use the disinfection function because my daughter has been sleeping all week. And then just the temperature of the hot water kills some of the germs. You don’t need any special additives or anything.”

Please note the care instructions

And no matter what the circumstances, always pay attention to the manufacturer’s care instructions and keep that in mind when wearing your clothes. Even if you get super sweaty and smelly while wearing a linen dress, chances are the sanitize feature will shrink that item. Cold water is usually enough to get your clothes clean, and anything warmer brings an added bonus.

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