Split-screen image of a washing machine at left and a tankless water heater at right

I recently noticed my washer takes longer to complete the wash cycle, even though I set the time to 25 minutes.

It happened a few times, and I sought to find out why. I discovered the heating element had stopped working, and it adjusted the time when the water didn’t reach the set temperature. 

This article will discuss instances when the washing machine keeps working when the water is broken.

We’ll also touch on situations where it will not work and signs of a broken water heater.

Do Washing Machines Work With a Broken Water Heater?

Washing machines will work with a broken water heater, depending on the problem and if you have an in-built heating element or are using your home’s water heater. You can then use cold water to do the washing.

However, if the heater is clogged, it won’t release water, so your washer won’t work.

Screenshot from a video showing how to turn off the hot water valve on your washing machine
As long as the water is still flowing, even if cold, your washing machine should work!

How to Wash Clothes Without Hot Water

When you’ve been doing your laundry with hot water, you’ll naturally be thrown off balance when the water heater stops working.

So do you stop washing, or do you continue? Fortunately, most washing machines, clothes, and detergents work with cold water.

If you change the setting to the cold cycle and use cold-water detergent, your washing machine can wash without hot water.

If your washer is set to the hot water cycle, it will keep waiting for water to reach the right temperature. The process will take too long or stop and give an error code.

You can wash your clothes with cold water if water flows into your washing machine.

Fortunately, most fabrics can go through the cold cycle without issues. However, you must confirm this by looking at the labels before loading your washing machine. 

Tide Ultra Concentrated Coldwater Detergent is easy to dispense, smells great, and removes stains. It also dissolves effortlessly and is cost-effective for use with cold water loads. 

Signs of a Broken Water Heater in Washing Machines

Older models of washing machines are usually connected to the home water heater for hot or warm water cycles. However, some have an in-built heating element that heats the water in the washing machine. 

A homeowner with a screwdriver adjusting the water heating element inside the top of his washing machine.

If your washing machine is connected to your home’s water heater, it is easy to tell if it is broken. You just need to open the other faucets in the house to confirm if you have hot water flowing. If not, you know the problem is with the heater, not your washing machine.

Washing machines with in-built water heaters communicate in different ways to let you know there is a problem.

Some signs of a broken water heater in washing machines include the following:

  • The washer stops mid-cycle – when it does, it is usually because the water is not heating to the set temperature.
  • Flickering wash lights
  • An error code – modern washing machine manuals list error codes and what they mean. If your washer displays an error code mid-wash, check and confirm if the code is due to a broken water heater. For example, Samsung washers show HE1 or HE2, while Whirlpool’s E01 to E12 are heater error codes.  
  • The wash cycle will keep running beyond the set time – this lengthened running time is because the washer “hopes” the water will get to the right temperature, so if it gets to the set time and the water is still cold, it will readjust the time.

Some people erroneously believe that the water is not warm or hot if the washing machine door is not warm to the touch. However, this is not always the case and is not a sign of a faulty water heater. 

If your washer usually gets warm during the hot or warm wash cycle,  you have reason to be concerned when it is cold.

However, if it usually remains cool, use the signs above to determine if the heater is faulty. 

You can also connect your washing machine to an external water heater if the heating element in the washer is broken.

We’ve discussed heat pump water heaters and how to install them in this article, so please read it if you need to. 

This YouTube video offers tips on identifying a faulty water heater in washing machines:

Screenshot from a YouTube video offering tips on identifying a faulty water heater in washing machines
Courtesy of eSpares

A Guide to the Cold Water Wash Cycle

When you are used to washing clothes with hot water, it is natural to question whether cold water works as efficiently.

Hot water has advantages, making it the ideal option for wash cycles. However, the cold water cycle also has its advantages.

Here’s a chart contrasting the benefits and drawbacks of hot and cold wash cycles:

Hot Water CycleKills germs
Removes stains and dirt faster
Speeds up the chemical reaction
in detergents
Shrinks and wrinkles some fabrics, like lace, wool, and polyester
Discolors some clothes
Higher energy bills
Cold Water CycleRemoves blood, grass, and sweat stains easily
Doesn’t stain or fade fabric easily
Saves energy
Ideal for delicate fabrics
Clothes last longer
Detergents aren’t as effective as with hot water
Doesn’t sanitize clothes

You can overcome the challenges of the cold wash cycle by doing the following:

  • Using cold water liquid detergent – avoid using powder detergent because liquid detergent will dissolve better in water.
  • Check the enzymes in the detergent and ensure they target most of the stains in your clothes – for example, protease works on protein-based stains, while cellulase removes dirt in cotton fibers. If food-based stains are a problem, choose a detergent with a mannanase enzyme. 
  • Presoak clothes that are heavily stained
  • Use more detergent when washing with cold water. 
  • Avoid overloading the washer to allow the detergent to penetrate the clothes. 
Closeup on the open door of a heat pump dryer and some towels halfway-loaded

Cold water detergent works well in water temperatures of 60-80° F (16°C – 27°C). A lower temperature will not break down the enzymes in washing detergents. Therefore, scheduling your washing time on a warm day or when the air temperature is favorable is best. 

Drawbacks of Using a Washing Machine Without Hot Water

While washing machines function with various water temperatures, using one with a broken water heater poses certain challenges. 

Hot water plays a crucial role in the washing process. For instance, it aids in the removal of tough stains, killing bacteria, and enhancing the effectiveness of laundry detergents.

Let’s explore the drawbacks of using a washing machine without hot water.

  • Ineffective stain removal: Hot water is particularly effective in breaking down and removing stubborn stains from clothes. Without it, the washing machine relies solely on the mechanical action of the agitator or drum, along with the detergent. This may result in less efficient stain removal.
  • Low cleaning power: Hot water enhances the cleaning power of laundry detergents by helping to dissolve them more effectively. When washing without hot water, the detergent may not fully activate or dissolve, leading to suboptimal cleaning results.
  • Limited disinfection: Hot water is essential for disinfecting laundry by killing bacteria and germs that may be present on clothing. Washing at lower temperatures might not effectively eliminate all microbes.
  • Extended wash times: Hot water often aids in the breakdown of soils and stains, allowing for shorter wash cycles. Without it, the washing machine may need to run longer cycles to achieve comparable results.
  • Energy inefficiency: While washing machines can still function with cold or lukewarm water, the lack of hot water may lead to energy inefficiency. In some cases, the appliance might attempt to compensate for the absence of hot water by running longer cycles. 


Washing machines can still work when the water heater is broken. However, before you continue with the cold cycle, you should ensure you have the suitable detergent and that you sort the load. 

Cold water works best with dark colors. However, it can also remove stains on whites if you run the cycle longer than when washing with warm or hot water.

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