Why Laundering With Hot Water Is Bad For Your Clothes & The Planet
Hot water is often the default setting for most laundry cycles, and many people believe it's the only way to ensure a thorough cleanse. But some experts are now saying those hot water cycles can be damaging for your clothes and the environment—and in fact, may not even be necessary.
What are the drawbacks of washing clothes with hot water?
"When selecting a warm or hot wash, 75% of all energy required for the load will go toward heating the water," explain Theresa and Corinna Williams, co-founders of the eco-friendly laundromat Celsious. Therefore, reducing energy used per load can decrease your energy bill and your closet's carbon footprint. It may also allow you to get more wear out of your clothes.
One study published in the journal Dyes and Pigments in June 2020 found that washing with cold water can increase the longevity of fabric. After comparing 85-minute hot water cycles (104 degrees Fahrenheit) to 30-minute cool cycles (77 degrees Fahrenheit), researchers found clothes on the cool cycle maintained a more vibrant color and lost fewer microfibers.
Microfibers are released from clothes during each wash, and they "account for more than a third of all plastic reaching the ocean," Richard Blackburn, Ph.D., a researcher in the study, explains of the significance of these findings. "But microfibers from cotton and other natural sources are found in even greater numbers in the sea."
So when is it OK to use hot water?
"We recommend hot washes only for heavily soiled items due to illness or very gross stains," the Williams sisters said. In those instances, hot water can kill allergens and bacteria. To save on energy, consider making these washes shorter than your usual ones. Or, if the garments you want to wash with hot water are delicate, consider hand-washing them instead.
Preserving the quality of your clothing through cold washes can save you money on shopping and keep clothing from ending up in a landfill, making it a win-win for you and the planet.
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Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.