Cold water washing: does it really get clothes clean?

You may think that washing on the highest temperature setting is the only way you’ll get a thorough clean, but doing so may actually damage your garments and their colours, plus it’s also costing you more in energy. If you’re interested in washing your clothes at a lower temperature, read on to learn about how a cold wash can still give you great cleaning results when you use the right detergent, and see more about finding the right wash temperature for your laundry in our washing machine temperature guide.

Your guide to washing laundry in cold water

Why does the temperature of the water matter?

When removing stains and soiling from your garments, cleaning your laundry depends on four things:

Thermal energy. This comes from the temperature of the water, where cleaning is usually more effective on warm or hot water.

Your laundry detergent and how much you use. The ingredients in your laundry detergent and the dosing is also important when it comes to the chemical energy needed for cleaning.

The length of your wash cycle. When you set your cycle to wash over a longer time, this increases the effect of mechanical energy on your clothes, working to remove stains more effectively.

Cycle speed. The energy from the agitation your washing machine creates also contributes to cleaning your clothes and removing stains.

When you wash with cold water, you need to increase the input from one of the other areas that your wash cycle depends on (that’s not the water temperature), which is where a concentrated detergent, designed to work at low temperatures, becomes important. Ariel Gel is formulated with a unique, super-concentrated gel formula that activates to remove stains even in a cold wash.

Remember, washing with a warm water temperature − on cycles at 40°C or higher – is more suitable for heavy soiling, but can come with a few downsides:

  • It can cause colours to fade.

  • It can damage certain fabrics over time.

  • It can cause items to shrink in the laundry.

  • Is uses more energy and is less cost-effective.

Before you wash any garment, make sure you check the fabric care label to make sure that you’re washing your clothes on the right setting.

When to use a cold wash cycle?

If you’re not washing your bright colours and dark loads on a cold wash setting, you may want to start doing so. Washing your garments on temperatures as low 20°C or as 30°C will protect colours from running while minimising the risk of shrinkage. Since most quick wash cycles use the cold wash setting, this is also best for:

  • Refreshing clothes that are not too dirty, like your seasonal clothes you want to freshen up.

  • Lightly soiled every day clothes.

  • When you need a garment in an emergency for the next day. However if your garments are highly soiled or need stains or malodour removing, should be washed at warm temperatures for effective results, but if you are in a hurry, then increase the dose of your detergent to compensate for the short wash or cold wash cycle.

Many avoid selecting the cold wash cycle on their washing machine, either out of habit or because they’re worried their garments won’t come out clean. However, innovations in washing machine technology and washing detergents, like All-in-1 PODS ®, which have been specifically designed with cold washes in mind, mean that a cold wash cycle is more than up to the challenge of everyday washing. Aside from keeping those colours bright and the size they’re meant to be, cold washes also use less energy and help save you money.

To debunk common misconceptions about washing in cold water, we have launched a campaign where we show you how you can reduce your laundry’s environmental impact. We encourage you to join the #washcoldchallenge, pledge that you’ll use cold wash, and help us protect our planet.

What temperature kills bacteria in the washing machine?

When it comes to washing heavily soiled garments, towels, or bedding, you will need to wash at a higher temperature, ideally above 40°C or even above 60°C. Higher temperatures kill off germs and remove mould more effectively. But, remember, if you’re only washing lightly soiled garments, then you won’t need to turn the dial up to warm or hot temperatures.

Washing on cold temperatures

Your washing machine will have the option to wash on cold water, which can be as low as 20°C, but most machines set their cold water settings on 30°C. One of the main benefits of choosing a wash temperature of 30°C is that on average you can save 57% on running costs, when compared washing at 40°C. While this saving on energy and money is huge, the lower temperature's cleaning power is only marginally reduced. Using a washing detergent designed specifically for cold washes, like Ariel Gel, works to remove stains even in a cold wash, meaning you can care for your clothes, save energy, and see brilliant cleaning all at once, If you have a garment with stain, then pre-treat the garment before washing, so you get better stain removal results.

What temperature to wash delicates at?

While some washing machine temperature settings go as low as 20°C, most cold washes start at 30°C. A setting of 30°C is usually recommended for washing delicate clothes when combined with a delicate cycle, and not on quick wash. This means low temperatures can be used with items like wool and silk when set to a delicate or hand wash cycle. You can also wash colours at 30°C. You’ll see the best laundry results if you use a detergent that’s specifically designed for cooler washes.

What to wash on cold?

When you shouldn’t wash on cold temperatures

Cool washes at 30°C or lower are good for delicate fabrics, but if you need to wash garments that are more durable, like cotton or lightly soiled bed linen, you may want to use a warm wash temperature setting instead for more effective results. 40°C is a popular temperature setting that can be used for most everyday items, when you need to remove tougher stains, and when you’re washing heavily-soiled garments. For example, the best temperature to wash towels is 40°C or higher.

What to wash on warm?

Learn more about washing at the right temperature and washing machine setting in our guide on how to wash different fabrics.

There are always exceptions, therefore always check the wash label for the right temperature to wash your clothes.

*Based on a 60 minute cycle at 30°C, when compared to a 60 minute cycle at 40°C.