A 25C wash is greenest – but can it clean filthy clothes?

Written by

Hannah Robbins

Posted on

February 25, 2020

We all remember when environmental organisations and detergent manufacturers started advising us to be more green with our household chores and wash our clothes at 30 degrees.

At this temperature there is a 40% reduction in yearly energy use, according to the Energy Savings Trust – and a 20 degree wash can reduce this even further, down to 66% less energy a year. That’s great in terms of carbon emissions reduction, as well as making a nice reduction on your energy bills.

But can a wash at that low of a temperature really cut through the dirt and clean your clothes properly?

A 30-minute wash low-temperature cycle sheds less microfibres

A report from researchers at the University of Leeds has found that clothing washed on a “cold” wash cycle for a short 30-minute cycle keeps their colour for longer and sheds fewer microfibres into the wasted water

The research was tested on a range of consumer clothing, including Fruit of the Loom T-shirts, which are often used by events and organisations to produce merchandise and workwear. Except, the clothes they tested weren’t dirty.

Lucy Cotton, the report’s lead author, said:

“We weren’t testing for cleanliness,” 

“One of the things that is useful about this study is that it puts the onus on detergent manufacturers to explore this area. Can they make the cleanliness happen in a cold, quick wash?”

Cold washes are effective for certain loads of laundry 

Despite the research not taking into account cleanliness, advice from Procter & Gamble also supports this finding. They tested their Ariel Gel in lower temperature washes and found that washing dark and coloured loads of washing on colder cycles prevents colours from running, reduces the risk of shrinkage and cleans reasonably dirty clothes

However, they found that tougher stains like Olive oil, and other greasy marks remained after these washes, and so recommended using 40C washes to ensure good performance. They say:

“Many avoid selecting the cold wash cycle on their washing machine, either out of habit or because they’re worried their garments won’t come out clean.”

“However, innovations in washing machine technology and washing detergents, like Ariel Gel, which have been specifically designed with cold washes in mind, mean that a cold wash cycle is more than up to the challenge of everyday washing.”

So, it’s reasonable to assume that for most loads of laundry a colder wash will be more than sufficient to clean your clothes – but maybe not if you’re particularly prone to spillages!

It’s important to not wash all loads of laundry at these low temperatures though, as the NHS recommends washing underwear, towels and household linens on higher temperatures of at least 60C. This is because, when combined with a good detergent, a 60C wash will get rid of bacterial spores and viruses, helping the prevention germs spreading. 

Using lower temperature washes helps the planet

Overall though, turning down the dial to a lower 20C temperature for loads that need it will help to reduce your energy consumption, helping to reduce your carbon footprint and your bills.

Plus, your clothes will stay in a better condition for longer, preventing clothes wastage and on top of that they will shed fewer microfibres into water systems, meaning fewer end up in our oceans. A win for you, and a win for the planet.

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