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Laundry and Water Temperature
By Sarah Aguirre, About.com Guide
For most clothing the hotter the water, the cleaner the clothing will be. This is a general rule, but works out to be true for most of the clothing you'll encounter. Most linens and white clothing are washed in hot water to remove germs and heavy soil. However, many of our clothes will not come out looking very nice if they are washed in hot water. Hot water tends to make some clothing shrink, wrinkle, and fade. Different colors may turn out splotcy after using hot water. Other fabrics are delicate and don't respond well to high temperatures.
For most people the majority of their laundry is washed with warm water. Warm water is actually exactly what it sounds like, a mix of hot and cold. Some machines mix the hot and cold water 50-50, although many newer machines mix 60-40. Warm water is usually the best choice for permanent press and jeans. It allows good cleaning action without as much fading, wrinkling, and shrinking.
Cold water is usually used for delicate items, or items with instructions to be washed in cold water. It's also the best options for clothing that have bright colors that may run or fade in higher temperatures. If your cold water items are heavily soiled or dirty, you need to be especially diligent about checking and pre-treating for stains. You may also have to wash the items for longer, or allow them to soak before washing if they are heavily soiled.
1. Check the tag.
While you will be able to use your discretion with many clothing items, checking the tag allows you to find any special instructions. We often forget to check the tag when we buy items, only to find out there is a 25 step list of washing instruction for best results. Check the tags and pull out items that have special instructions, especially if it is an item that you really want to take care of.
2. Check the water temperature on your washing machine before you wash.
Use a candy thermometer and check the water temperature of the cold, warm, and hot water coming out of your machine. Hot water is most often 10 degrees colder when it arrives at your machine from when it leaves your hot water heater. In general hot water is 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 Celsius) or above. Warm water is between 110 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit ( 43.3-32.2 Celsius). Cold water is generally between 80 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit (26.7-15 Celsius). If cold water is below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 Celsius), clothes are unlikely to be cleaned very well. The temperature of your water can vary greatly depending on the weather outside, too. Be aware of what is actually coming out of your hoses and into your washing machine.
3. Pre-treat stains.
Pre-treating the stains will allow the clothing to get clean even if it needs to be washed in warm or cold water. Although cold water isn't always the best for getting out stains, a cold water soak can be a life saver for certain types of fabrics that have a stain on them. Be patient. We want our clothes to come out clean and undamaged. Sometimes cold water is the answer for that. Take the time to pre-treat for stain removal before they are washed and you have a much better chance of clothing coming out clean and stain-free.
If clothing does require cold water, try soaking the clothing before washing to insure that clothing will actually be cleaned thoroughly. A soak can be anywhere from a few minutes to overnight. The tougher the stain, the longer the soak will need to be. Be patient. Really good things can come from a little time spent soaking.
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