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CDA Buying Advice – Washing Machines: Temperature Guide

Many washing detergents are now formulated to be used and clean laundry effectively at lower temperatures. This is great for the environment as it saves on power and energy needed to heat the water; this will also save you money too. However, we still advise that you do a ‘maintenance wash’ every so often to clean away any grease, mould and bacteria that has not been killed off by washing at 30° or 40°.

Here is our washing machine temperature guide which looks at different settings, what they are used for and what we recommend you can wash at those temperatures. You can also find out what temperature kills bacteria in a washing machine, which is always good to know.

20°C

It has been legislation since 2013 for all washing machines to have a 20°C cycle, to help save energy. Washing at this temperature will dramatically reduce the running costs of a washing cycle. This programme is suitable for very lightly soiled garments that may just need freshening up or very delicate items like silk, boned dresses or bras.

Even if the washing machine capacity is large, we wouldn’t recommend doing a full wash at this temperature. You should bear in mind that regularly washing at low temperatures can increase the chance of mould and grease build up. This can often be found around the machine door seal or inside the detergent drawer. This can then cause musty, damp smells to come from your washing machine. To reduce or get rid of these issues, you can use light bleach based products or cleaning sprays to wipe around the areas where mould has developed.

Pros –

  • Energy saving and eco friendly
  • Reduced running costs
  • Washes delicate fabrics well

Cons –

  • Increased chance of mould, grease and smells appearing
  • Higher machine maintenance as the drum needs more regular cleaning to prevent mould

30°C

With a good detergent to accompany it, there is not much that a 30°C cycle cannot handle these days. Many people use this as their regular cycle now when wanting to save energy. This temperature is best suited to wool, silks, strongly dyed fabrics or items prone to shrinking. This temperature also helps to preserve colourful pieces of clothing. The cost of running a machine is slightly higher than if you were to run your machine at 20°C, but the costs are still lower than operating at higher temperatures.

Pros –

  • A good overall temperature and one that is most used in households
  • Carefully washes clothes prone to shrinking

Cons –

  • For best results a good detergent is needed
  • Higher running costs than at 20°C

40°C

This temperature setting is typically the one that most people use to wash their clothing. At this slightly warmer temperature you may be able to see better results when washing cotton, acrylics, acetate or blended fabrics like wool mixes and polyester blends. 30°C washes softer fabrics better than 40°C, which is why 40° is better for your everyday clothing, and fabrics that are harder e.g. wool. This is the temperature that most consumer testing boards use to measure the performance of the machine.

Pros –

  • Popular setting used in many households
  • Good for everyday clothing

Cons –

  • Not as delicate as 30°C for softer fabrics

50°C

Specifically designed to clean out stains and dirt from blended or mixed material fabrics, this temperature would also wash cottons or linens very well. However with new detergents in the market most people can wash these types of clothing 

materials at 40°C and the results will be just as good. Washing on lower temperatures saves more energy, so if you can wash on a lower temperatures it is recommended.

Pros –

  • Removes stains from blended or mixed fabrics

Cons –

  • With new detergents whatever you can wash on 50°C you can wash on 40°C

60°C

You will notice a significant improvement in the wash results at 60°C. Be sure to check that your garments are suitable to be washed at this temperature before throwing them in. 60°C is the perfect temperature for killing bacteria, viruses and removing stains. This wash setting is also highly recommended for washing towels and bedding, but obviously this setting is going to increase running costs as the higher the temperature the higher the cost. You should be aware that you need to use a good detergent to kill all bacteria when washing at this temperature, because on its own this setting will not remove all germs.

Pros –

  • Kills bacteria, viruses and removes stains well
  • Recommended for bedding and towels

Cons –

    • Higher running costs
  • Must use a good detergent otherwise bacteria will not be killed as effectively

90°C

The hottest setting on the machine is not suitable for regularly washing your clothes in and it should be reserved for brightening whites, removing stubborn stains on cotton or linen, killing bacteria on heavily soiled items or performing a routine ‘maintenance wash’ on your machine. However, hot water can shrink and damage clothes, even causing the colours to fade with some fabrics, to stop this from happening ensure that you read the labels on your clothing before choosing the hot option on your machine. This will tell you if your clothes are suitable for high temperatures.

Pros –

  • Removes stubborn stains and brightens whites
  • Used for a routine maintenance wash

Cons –

  • Can shrink and damage clothes
  • Can fade colourful fabrics
  • Must read clothing labels to ensure this setting is appropriate

Now that you know and understand the different temperature settings that can be used on a washing machine, you are ready to get washing! 

Generally, you would wash an average load on 30°C degrees however many use 40°C as well. It is also important to check the labels in your clothing as they will give a suggestion of what temperature you should be washing at. We have some specific temperature information and advice below to help cater for your different types of fabrics.

When to use cold water

Washing clothes on a colder wash saves energy and in turn will cut down the costs of your electricity bills. It is said that you can save an average of 57% on your washing machine running costs when washing at 30°C, so just image the impact you could have on your bills if you washed at 20°C!

20°C to 30°C can be classed as cold temperatures to wash garments on.

Cold washes benefit clothes that have dark or bright colours that can easily run. It can also reduce the possibility of clothes shrinking, but it is useful to note that the lower the temperature you use, the more washing detergent you will need to add. If your clothing is heavily soiled you might need to pre-soak/treat your clothes to ensure the effectiveness of the wash.

Clothing recommended to be washed on a cold setting can include shirts, light summer clothing, t-shirts, sportswear, jeans and coloured clothes that have heavy patterns.

When not to use cold water

Although cold washes can be good for more delicate and softer garments, they are not good for all fabrics. More durable materials such as lightly soiled bed linen or cotton should be washed at warmer temperatures for a more effective wash. A warmer wash is better at removing tougher, heavier stains that are harder to get rid of.

When to use warm water

Generally 40°C and above can be classed as a warm wash and most clothing can be washed at these temperatures. This temperature offers effective washing with little to no shirking, but as mentioned above cold washes are excellent for ensuring no colours run or fade, as the warmer temperatures can still cause fading or bleeding.
The cost to running a warm wash is significantly cheaper than running a hot wash as shorter cycles are required.

Warm water washes are ideal for clothing such as towels, underwear, bed linen and any other harder everyday fabrics such as wool. Warm washes are also good for white clothing that isn’t too soiled as it can help to brighten them up giving that extra bit of care.

When not to use warm water

Although using a warmer wash is better for some types of fabrics and it can help to remove any heavy soiling, you should be careful to watch out for a few issues that could occur when using a warm wash. It can cause clothes to shrink and colours may fade during the cycle that is why it is suggested that washing clothing with heavy colouring is better done on a cold wash.

When to use hot water

Hot washes could be anything from 60°C all the way up to an impressive 90°C. Washing on hotter temperatures can be said to give superior results compared to lower temperatures. It is not recommended that all clothes are washed on high temperatures it should only be for heavily soiled items including towels, bed sheets and baby’s nappies. It can also be effective when washing clothing that has fat based stains such as oil or butter.

Hot washes can be used for heavily soiled white clothing but it is suggested that you check the label first to ensure it is ok to do so. One thing to bear in mind is that washing on high temperatures also results in a high electricity bill, as high amount s of energy are being used.

When not to use hot water

If you are looking for a quick cycle to wash your clothes then perhaps a hot wash isn’t the best option as it runs on a longer cycle due to the additional heating time. Some fabrics and materials are heat sensitive so you must read the labels to ensure that the clothing is hot wash capable, to avoid ruining the clothes.

When washing colourful clothing be aware that hot temperatures could cause colours to run or fade and shrinking could occur.

What temperature kills bacteria?

Higher temperatures do kill off germs and are also very effective in removing any mould on clothing items. Heavily soiled items such as bed linen, towels or other garments will need to be washed at warm to high temperatures for the most effective results.

According to the NHS you should wash household linen, towels and underwear at a temperature of 60°C to prevent any germs spreading. There is a misconception that you must wash clothes on the highest setting possible to kill bacteria, but it is proven that 60°C is adequate.

If you are only washing lightly soiled clothing then you will not need to use hot temperatures.

What temperature to wash white clothes?

When washing white clothing it is all about what kind of fabric they are as to what temperature you should wash it on. Heavily soiled clothing such as towels or bedding should be washed in warm or hot temperatures, but delicate fabrics such as lingerie wash better in lower temperatures.

If you have stained whites with things such as blood or wine, a hot/warm wash could help the stain to set in, so a cold wash should do just the job. But just to make sure, always read the label for the best advice.

What temperature to wash a coloured load?

As previously mentioned a cold wash is best for a coloured load, as it stops the colours form bleeding and running. It can also help to preserve the brightness of the colours and stop them from fading. The lowest temperature found on a washing machine is 20°C so for best results use 20°C-30°C.