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What Temperature to Wash Clothes?

I sometimes find it nerve-wracking to wash new clothing since I’m always worried I’ll wash it at the wrong temperature and damage the fabric. The water temperature you use when you wash clothes greatly impacts how well they will last over time. Using the wrong settings can quickly ruin even the nicest of garments.

The right temperature for your clothing will depend on the type and color of the fabric, how stained it is, and whether it needs to be sanitized. Hot water can provide the best cleaning by lifting stains and killing off bacteria. However, too high of temperatures can damage fabric by causing it to shrink, fade, or even break down over time.

Knowing what temperature to wash clothes at doesn’t have to be a struggle. Keep reading and I’ll break down for you exactly when to use each wash temperature, as well as considerations to keep in mind based on the color and type of clothing you are cleaning. Your laundry will be finished before you know it!

What Temperature to Wash Clothes

Does Water Temperature Matter When You Wash Your Clothes?

Yes! The temperature you use to wash your clothes can not only impact how clean they get but can also affect how well they last over time.

Hotter temperatures provide a better clean by removing stains and sanitizing fabric. However, too high of a temperature and certain fabrics can be damaged beyond repair. They can shrink, melt, fade, or even release dyes in the wash that will bleed into your other fabrics.

On the whole, you should always take special care to wash your clothing at the correct setting. You can determine what is best for your clothes by looking at their tags. Manufacturers will always tell you the proper temperature to use on their garments.

What Happens If You Wash Clothes at the Wrong Temperature?

For most clothing made from natural fibers, a single wash at the wrong temperature won’t cause too much damage. Too hot of a cycle can lead to the fabric dye bleeding or fading, which will certainly affect the look of your clothing. It can also lead to shrinking and a breakdown of the fibers over time.

However, these effects aren’t always instant. If you accidentally wash your clothing at the wrong temperature once, it will probably be okay. But you should always avoid mishaps like this entirely by checking the tags on your clothing before you put them in the wash.

You especially want to be careful with any fabrics made from synthetic fibers. Even one wash at the wrong temperature can cause major damage to these types of fibers. They are much less forgiving than clothes made from natural fibers and may melt or break down entirely at the wrong wash temperature.

What Temperature To Wash Clothes

Does Water Temperature Matter

The temperature of your wash will directly affect how clean your clothes become and whether or not they sustain any damage. Because of this, you need to know when to use cold water vs. warm water vs. hot water for your laundry.

When to Use Cold Water

Cold water is useful for most washes since it won’t damage your clothing. It is excellent to use on clothing that you are worried will shrink or bleed in hotter temperatures. It is also safe for delicate fabrics since it won’t wear out the fibers.

Most cold water washes fall in a temperature range between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This low temperature won’t necessarily sanitize your laundry, but it will remove dirt from everyday wear. It can be used on stained clothing; just remember that you may need to do a pretreatment or soak the fabric before washing to lift any particularly difficult spots.

Cold water is recommended for synthetic fabrics that do not handle heat well. This is especially true of fabrics like polyester, which can easily break down when heated too much. This makes cold water safe across the board while also having the added perk of helping reduce wrinkles on your clothes.

When to Use Warm Water

Warm water is a good in-between setting since it will have many benefits of hot water without causing as much damage. Most warm water cycles fall in a temperature range of between 90 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn’t much hotter than many hot summer days. If your clothes are worn in the summer heat, they can probably handle a warm water wash.

Warm water is particularly useful when you want some sanitization in your wash cycle. It is also helpful for lifting stains since it does boost the reactions of your laundry detergent. It is also a good choice to use on colored clothing that you are concerned will fade or bleed.

Keep in mind that warm water can still cause some shrinking, fading, or other damage, so you’ll always want to check the tags on your clothes before you use this setting. But on the whole, warm water is safe for most clothing.

When to Use Hot Water

Hot water is best whenever you need to thoroughly clean and sanitize clothing. The higher temperature of the water will kill germs, bacteria, and even insects that might be clinging to the fabric. It can be used to tackle the most difficult residues left on clothing, except blood and sweat.

Most hot water cycles reach temperatures of more than 130 degrees Fahrenheit. This hot temperature helps to speed up the reaction of any laundry detergents or stain removers you use. It makes it particularly useful for any clothes that have been heavily soiled since it will quickly lift any dirt or stains.

The downside to this heat is that it can cause colors to bleed or fade. It can also cause damage to the fibers of your clothing over time. You’ll only want to use this water temperature on clothing that can withstand this heat level. You can check this by looking at the tags.

How to Pick the Right Wash Temperature for:

How to Pick the Right Wash Temperature

White Clothes

You will often hear the recommendation that you should wash your white clothes in hot water. Hot water does help to brighten white clothes since it better removes stains that can leave them looking dingy. However, this is only necessary if you feel that the clothes are heavily stained or need to be sanitized.

Otherwise, you may want to stick to warm water for your white clothes. Warm water will still help lift stains while generally being gentler on the fabric. Warm water tends to cause less shrinking than hot water will over time.

The only exceptions to this rule are clothes with blood or sweat stains since warm temperatures can actually set these stains into the fabric. You should also always check the tags on your clothing before you use hot water since many synthetics cannot handle the heat.

Dark Clothes

Cold water tends to work best on dark clothes since it will help to protect fabric dyes from the bleeding or fading that happens with warm or hot water. While cold water is less effective in removing stains, this doesn’t tend to be an issue with dark clothes since you can rarely see left behind spots.

The only exceptions to this rule might be dark clothes that need sanitizing. Cold water will not help to remove any germs or insects that might have made their way onto your dark clothes. If this concerns you, you’ll want to fill your next wash with warm water.

Colored Clothes

Bright-colored clothes can fade or bleed when exposed to hot water, though not as bad as dark-colored clothes. For this reason, warm water is often a good setting to wash your colored clothes. It will help to sanitize them and lift any stains while reducing the amount of dye that bleeds.

Cold water can also be used for colored clothes if you are concerned about colorfastness. Cold water tends to be effective for most washes regardless of the color of the clothing.

Baby Clothes

The temperature you wash your baby’s clothes at depends on the clothing and how much sanitizing power you need. Generally, cloth diapers and any clothing that has been soiled should be rinsed in cold water before being sanitized in a hot water cycle. Hot water will help to sanitize these baby clothes by removing any residues left and killing off bacteria.

Hot water can damage baby clothing and you only need to use it when sanitization is necessary. Otherwise, baby clothes should be washed on a gentle cycle with cold water. Cold water will help keep them soft and bright for a long time.

What Temperature to Wash Jeans?

Jeans are made of denim, a fabric designed to be sturdy and stand up to regular wear and tear. For the most part, denim can handle whatever you throw at it. However, over time it can be worn down by being washed at the wrong temperature.

Specifically, denim fibers can shrink or be quickly worn down when washed in hot water. The rich blue color of your jeans can also fade when exposed to this heat. For that reason, you’ll probably want to stick to cold water for your jeans unless you have some other reason to need a hotter temperature.

If, for some reason, you do need warm or hot water, try to only run the jeans through the warmer temperatures once. Then, stick to cold water for any future washes. By doing this, you can minimize any damage that comes from using heat on your jeans.

What Happens If You Wash Clothes in Cold Water Instead of Warm?

If you wash your clothes in cold water when warm water is recommended, you might not be able to see much of a difference. Cold water is generally effective on most washes you will do since it does help clean your clothing and remove dirt and debris. If you’re only washing clothes after a day of casually wearing them, cold water will certainly do the trick.

The only difference between cold water washes and warm water washes is that the hotter temperature does help sanitize the clothing. This can help remove bacteria and insects that cold water may not necessarily kill.

Warm water will also help boost the stain-removing power of your detergent, improving its performance in your wash. This makes warm water more effective at tackling large stains than cold water.

If you accidentally use cold water instead of warm water, don’t fret. Cold water will not damage your clothes in any way. If you take them out of the washer and notice they are still stained, simply run them through another cycle with warm water before you dry them.

What Temp Should You Wash Towels?

What Temp Wash Towels

Towels do a lot to help keep you and your home clean. Because of this, their fabric is often filled with bacteria, food residue, mold, mildew, and stains of various sorts. Hot water is best for removing these residues, sanitizing the fabric, and lifting stains.

The only downside to using hot water on your towels is that they are often made of cotton, meaning that they can shrink at higher temperatures. You should always be sure to check the tags on your towels before you wash them to make sure you won’t damage them beyond repair. Hot water certainly is not gentle on fabric.

Similarly, hot water can also leave your towels feeling a bit scratchier than cold water. However, you can remedy the roughness of your towels by using a quality fabric softener. Hot water’s sanitizing and cleaning powers certainly outweigh any coarseness it creates, especially regarding towels.

Will Washing in Hot Water Ruin Clothes?

Washing in hot water will not typically ruin clothes right away. However, over time it will cause them to break down and lose their brightness, which can ruin their overall appearance. This is because hot water will fade the colors of a garment while also making its fibers feel rougher.

Hot water can immediately cause damage to certain fabrics like synthetics, however. You should always be careful to check the tags on your clothing before you use hot water since this damage will not be reversible. Polyester, nylon, and vinyl are all notorious for breaking down in the heat.

But on the whole, occasionally washing your clothes in hot water will not ruin them completely. You should try to limit this exposure, however.

What Temperature Should You Use to Wash Cotton?

Cotton fibers are notorious for shrinking whenever they are exposed to heat. While hot water may provide the best clean, it can often cause your cotton clothing to shrink considerably. Because of this, you’ll probably want to avoid high temperatures when washing cotton.

Cold water is best, if possible. It will prevent the cotton from shrinking and help to keep any colors bright. Your cotton clothes will last much longer if you keep them from the heat.


Remembering all the rules for washing clothes can be a bit nerve-wracking. After reading these tips, you should be able to wash your clothes without fear of causing them harm by using the wrong temperature of the water. Keep this guide handy, so you can refer back to it regularly.