Efficient Laundry: Wash Clothes in Cold Water to Save Energy

At the Clinton Global Initiative on Sept. 21, 2011, Proctor & Gamble (P&G) and the Alliance to Save Energy announced that they are teaming up to get the word out about cold-water washing.

Their message: Heating water to do laundry is one of the largest users of energy in a typical home. So, switch to washing in cold water – it gets clothes just as clean as hot water, while using less energy and money.

Reduce Carbon Emissions by Switching to Cold Water

Energy Star states that almost 90% of the energy consumed by a washing machine goes to heating water. Switching from hot or warm water to cold water washing saves that energy. In fact, each household that makes the switch to cold-water washing eliminates about 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year, according to the Sierra Club.

But if the benefits are so obvious, why haven’t people made the switch before? Although cold water has long been used for certain garments, many people have assumed that only hot water could really get clothes clean. That’s just partly true.

Get Clothes Clean and Save Money with Cold Water Detergents

Heat is one of three main ingredients in cleaning clothes – mechanical energy (in the form of your washing machine agitating clothes) and chemicals are the other two, according to a recent New York Times article. So, you can take out one of the ingredients as long as you improve the others, James Danzinger, a senior scientist who works on detergents for P&G, told the Times.

Cold-water specific detergents do just that. Whereas older soaps only worked well with hot water, new cleaning agents are chemically formulated for cold water. These cold-water detergents perform the same as or better than traditional detergents, as rated by Consumers Reports. In fact, P&G’s Tide Coldwater, one of many detergents specifically designed for cold water, is ranked above many regular detergents onConsumer Reports’ detergents list,.

Cold-water detergents also cost about the same as their warm-water competitors, with the additional benefit of reducing energy use by over three-quarters. This can add up to substantial savings every time you do laundry.

Energy-Saving Tips

Washing clothes in cold water with cold-water detergents not only will save energy and money – it also will preserve fabric color.  To save even more energy while washing and drying your laundry, the Alliance recommends that you:

  • Do full loads of laundry. Filling up your washing machine with water requires energy, and it’s a waste if done for a partial load.
  • Do not over-wash clothes. Delicate and gently worn clothes don't need as long of a wash cycle as soiled, sturdy clothes.
  • Clean the dryer lint filter after every load. A lint-free filter improves air circulation and quickens drying, whereas a clogged filter and vent can cause a home fire.
  • Separate light and heavy items before drying. Lightweight items take less drying time, so don’t waste dryer time by throwing your undergarments and t-shirts in with your towels and rugs.
  • Don't over-dry clothes. Take clothes out while they are still slightly damp to reduce the need for ironing — another energy user. If your dryer has an auto-dry feature, use that instead of the timer.

More on the Alliance-P&G Partnership

The Alliance-P&G partnership aims to educate 100 million U.S. households by Earth Day 2013 about  cold-water washing.  Part of this goal is to convert 70% of washing machine loads to cold water washing by 2020.