A pile of laundry detergent on a wooden tabletop and a semi-full scoop on top of the pile

You’ve taken the odd military shower now and again to reduce reliance on hot water, so why should your washing machine get to have all the hot water? You’re considering washing your laundry on cold and using cold-water detergent to boot. 

But is this really an energy-efficient choice?

In this guide, we’ll talk about switching to cold water for your wash cycles, including the specialized laundry detergent that goes with it. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be able to weigh the pros and cons of cold-water washing so you can decide if it’s worth it!

Does Coldwater Washing Reduce Energy Usage?

By reducing your washer water temperature to 60ºF, you can shave about $60 off your yearly utility bills. Cold-water detergent needs coldwater washing temperatures at least that cold to work its best. 

Everyone wants to save a couple of bucks on their utility bills, but for you, it goes deeper. You’re trying to create a greener household, one appliance and lifestyle change at a time, which is why you’ve been so focused on your washing machine as of late. 

When you wash your laundry on the hot cycle, the water that spews out of your washing machine isn’t as hot as you think—it’s only 75ºF. Yet turning down the temperature of the washer to only 60ºF – a 15-degree difference – is impactful. 

According to a post from Consumer Reports, by decreasing your washer’s hot-water temperature,  you could save as much as $60 per year on your utilities. 

Why is that?

A Smithsonian article notes that most of the energy usage of your washing machine – as much as 75% – is used solely on heating the water. The remaining 25% of the energy required goes into the spinning and washing that the machine does. 

When you use coldwater washing, you’re not doing much to cut out that 25% of energy usage. The washer has to spin, chug, and churn regardless of water temperature.

Considering that energy is the lesser amount used anyway, that’s okay. You’re more concerned about chipping away at that 75%, which you can by coldwater washing your clothes.

Of course, doing so consistently will require one change—using cold-water laundry detergent. 

What Is Cold-Water Detergent?

You have your detergent of choice for leaving your clothes fresh and smelling like daisies (or lavenders, roses, or whatever you prefer), but you should set it aside as you reduce your washing machine temperature.

A group of coldwater washing laundry detergents on a tabletop on top of a skirt

You need cold-water laundry detergent, a type of detergent that’s designed to work in colder temperatures. 

When the water is between 40-60ºF, the enzymes within the cold-water laundry detergent activate. This characteristic is an integral part of the efficiency of cold-water detergent, as the enzymes will clean your clothes and can even eliminate stains on your clothing. 

The cold-water detergent will be loaded with enzymes, as different kinds are designed for various types of stain removal.

For instance, pectinase removes fruit stains, mannanase food stains, and amylase stains from carbohydrates or starches. Likewise, protease can eradicate protein-based stains.

Cellulase isn’t a stain remover per se but is still an enzyme in cold-water detergent, and for good reason. It can break down any cotton fibers in your clothes so that trapped-in dirt is finally released.

Benefits of Cold-Water Laundry Detergent

In this section and the next, we’ll explore both the upsides and downsides of using cold-water detergent. Let’s begin with the advantages, as there certainly are many! 

It Can Be Used in Warm Water

As mentioned in the previous section, cold-water laundry detergent is the most effective in temperatures between 40-60ºF. However, that doesn’t mean warmer temperatures render the detergent ineffective. 

The enzymes won’t be as active, so you won’t get the full taste of the stain-removing power of cold-water detergent, but you can still use this detergent. 

Fewer Wrinkles

Laundry is a necessary evil, but one of the worst consequences of spinning your clothes in the washing machine is how your favorite garments often end up irretrievably wrinkled. You then have to spend a lot of time bent over the clothes iron, steaming and ironing your clothes back to perfection.

A homeowner ironing a basket of winkled clothes on an ironing board

While your washing machine will always cause some wrinkling, once you switch to using cold-water detergent, you’ll see that the number of wrinkles you have to contend with is much less than when washing on cold. 

Cold water lessens the rate of wrinkles, so your clothes are just that much more ready to wear straight out of the washing machine. 

Less Fading

Clothes can be expensive, which is why it’s all the more heartbreaking when your favorite shirt or pants begins to fade after a couple of washes. 

You stop wearing the garment as much to preserve it, and before you know it, it just sits in your closet or in your drawer, collecting dust. 

However, it’s not exclusively your washing machine that fades and ultimately ruins your favorite clothes. Instead, it’s the hot water that fills the washer each time you run a load through.

The rate of fading should diminish by reducing your reliance on hot water and coldwater washing your clothes with cold-water detergent. As a result, your clothing will last longer so you can enjoy them for years to come! 

Less Shrinkage, Too

You spend a lot of time in unflattering dressing rooms trying to ascertain a perfect fit, so it isn’t enjoyable when your washing machine stretches your clothes out of shape after one or two washes.

That scoop neck is now a loose U-neck, the close-fit is too baggy, and your clothes just don’t look right.

Again, you can’t exclusively blame your washing machine for this. The washer does contribute to shrinkage, but it’s the hot water in the washer more so than anything. 

Coldwater washing your clothes using cold-water detergent will preserve their original shape and size, so your clothes look as good as new for a long while.

A homeowner inspects a piece of clothing as she removes it from the heat pump dryer in her kitchen

Better for Our Planet

Although we’ve discussed this point at length, we want to clarify that coldwater washing your clothes rather than hot water cuts down on the bulk of your washer’s energy usage.

You’ll save money on your utility bills, which is a good feeling. But what feels even better is knowing that you’re doing your part for our planet. 

Some Stains Do Better When Washed Cold Instead of Hot 

When you stain your clothes, which is inevitable, you’ve probably always heard the conventional logic to wash using hot water.

While stains respond well enough to hot water, not all are quite as reactive. Sweat stains, which are very common, and blood stains, are two types of stains that respond much better to cold water than hot water. 

When you wash clothes with these stains using hot water, all you’re doing is causing the stains to set. Then it will be much harder and maybe even impossible to remove the stains. 

Drawbacks of Cold-Water Detergent

As promised, let’s examine the negative aspects of using cold-water laundry detergent for an unbiased analysis.

Regular Detergent Works Fine in Cold Water, Too 

Although cold-water detergent is touted as beneficial for coldwater washing, it’s not the only type of detergent for the job. You can use the standard types of detergent that you already have in your basement or laundry room. 

Granted, do you get the same degree of stain-removing power with regular detergent versus cold-water detergent? No, but the difference is negligible.

At the very least, you can deplete your current detergent supply before switching to a cold-water one—your clothes won’t be worse off for it. 

Too Cold Temps Makes Cold-Water Detergent Less Effective 

We established already that cold-water laundry detergent could work in warmer temperatures over 60ºF, but what about in colder temperatures lower than 40 degrees?

Not so much.

The enzymes do best in the temperature range of 40-60ºF, just to reiterate. Anything warmer than that and anything colder will lessen their efficiency.

If you live in a region where the temperatures are regularly cold, or if you get frigid winters, you might want to reconsider dropping the temperature of your washing machine. 

A homeowner adjusts the settings on his washing machine

At the very least, consider using regular detergent instead. 

Cold Water Doesn’t Sanitize as Well as Hot Water

When it comes to busting germs, running your washer on cold water isn’t going to cut it. 

Bacteria are still happily multiplying in temperatures of 40 degrees up to 140 degrees. It takes temperatures of around 140-165 degrees to halt bacterial progress and temps of up to 212 degrees to kill them.

If the conditions in your washing machine never get that warm, bacteria can linger on clothes. Unfortunately, cold-water detergent doesn’t help in this area. So even though the clothes will be clean, they will not be disinfected. 

Can You Wash All Your Clothes in Cold Water?

Nevertheless, you’re still considering decreasing your washer’s water temperature and switching to cold-water detergent. You may be asking: “do all fabric types respond better to cold water?”

Not necessarily. 

The more delicate the fabric, the better preserved it is in cold water. Think fabrics such as silk and lace. 

Rayon, polyester, nylon, and spandex blends do best in hot water, as they wash more easily the higher the water temperature. That’s not to say you cannot wash these fabrics in cold water, but it might not be better for them in the long run. 

Does Cold-Water Laundry Detergent Cost More Than Regular Detergent?

There’s also one more consideration as you mull over whether to use cold-water laundry detergent moving forward, and that’s the price. 

Like most things in life, laundry detergent isn’t cheap, per se, especially when you get into big brands like Tide. 

And cold-water detergent is marginally more expensive. 

Then again, that $60 you’ll save annually offsets the slightly higher costs of cold-water detergent, so it balances out in the end. 

Final Word – Should You Use Cold-Water Detergent?

Cold-water laundry detergent is a suitable laundering solution once you decrease your washing machine’s water temperature to 60ºF or lower. That’s because the detergent has enzymes that activate best in cold conditions. 

While we absolutely recommend coldwater washing your clothes, you don’t exclusively have to make a move to cold-water laundry detergent.

It’s not the best detergent choice if you live in cold regions—the enzymes within the detergent won’t be as active in temps colder than 40 degrees. In addition, cold-water laundry detergent isn’t recommended for particular fabric types and will never disinfect.

Our best advice? Keep some cold-water laundry detergent with your regular detergent, and use both when appropriate. 

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