The Ultimate Washing Machine Temperature Guide

Washing Machine Temperature Guide - Clean and Tidy Living

A guide to Washing Machine Temperatures and When to Use Them

Most laundry products are constantly improving their formulas so we can reduce the temperature of our wash cycles. 

These lower temperatures can reduce wash times, help the environment, prolong the life of our clothes and also reduce our bills. 

Due to current global circumstances, it’s definitely worth being more cautious will how well our clothes are actually being cleaned. 

But don’t worry, we aren’t trying to suggest we should all boil our clothes and linens to destroy all traces of germs. 

There are certain items that will naturally become more soiled than others, which do require a more thorough clean. 

We’ve put together this washing machine temperature guide to help clear-up which items should be washed at which temperatures. 

This post will also cover some top laundry FAQ’s including:

  • What Temperature to Wash Towels
  • What Temperature to Wash Bedding
  • What Temperature to Wash Whites
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Washing Machine Temperature Guide

The following advice is generalised to suit most clothing items, but you should always check the labels of individual items to find out what temperatures they can be washed at. 

Washing at 20 

Since 2013 all washing machines in the UK are required to have an ecological cool setting of 20 degrees celsius. 

This cooler setting decreases running costs due to the smaller amount of energy required to run it. 

According to Which, “Using 20°C instead of 40°C could reduce running costs by 62%”.

However, this cheaper cycle compromises on the quality of laundering. 

It’s great for washing delicate items like silk or under-wired clothing, but will likely leave grease and dirt inside our clothes. 

What to wash at 20: A cold wash should be used when refreshing already clean items, or when washing delicate items like silk fabrics or clothing with wire, like bras and corsets.

This setting will also encourage mould and scum to build up inside a washing machine. 

If a bad smell starts to form in the washing machine, you can use a bleach-based or mould removing cleaning product to clean inside the machine and the rubber seal. 

Alternatively, check out our Clean and Tidy Living articles where we recommend cleaning washing machines with white vinegar, or with white vinegar and baking soda

Pros

Reduce running costs
Gentle on delicate fabrics 
Very eco-friendly 

Cons

Less cleaning power
Less stain removal
Washing machine gets dirtier quicker
Powder detergents don’t dissolve as well

Washing at 30

Due to the improvements in detergents over the years, 30-degree washes can handle most stains and dirt. 

Although they will generally clean clothes very well, the warm temperature might not properly sanitize fabrics. 

We, therefore, don’t suggest washing underwear, towels and bedding at 30 as these tend to be dirtier and contain more dangerous bacteria than other items.

The running costs of a warm wash are slightly higher than a 20-degree wash but still much lower than 40 or 60-degree hot washes. 

What to wash at 30: 30 degrees is ideal for items like wool and silk when set to a delicate or hand wash cycle, as long as it’s longer than any quick setting. Washing colours at 30 is also recommended by detergent companies such as Ariel

Ariel also suggests that the following items should be washed on 30 degrees: 

  • Colours
  • Blouses
  • Acrylics
  • Sportswear
  • Light summer clothing
  • Acetate
  • Shirts
  • T-shirts
  • Wool

Is 30 degrees a cold wash?

30 degrees is in between a warm and cold wash, but depending on the water source, 30 in the winter might be closer to 20 degrees so should be treated as a cold wash. 

Pros

Fairly energy-efficient
Cost-efficient 
Won’t shrink clothing 

Cons

Won’t sanitize washing
Requires a better detergent than hotter washes

Washing at 40 

Washing at 40 degrees with a laundry detergent that kills bacteria, like a bleach-based detergent, will sanitise clothing as effectively as washing at 60. 

We, therefore, think that washing at 40 degrees is the best setting for the majority of items when it comes to killing viruses, germs and bacteria. 

However, it’s not recommended to use this hotter temperature to wash delicates or colours as it can fade, shrink or damage clothing.

A 40-degree wash will have slightly higher running costs than a 30-degree wash. 

What to wash at 40: Underwear, bedding and towels should be washed at 40 degrees with a bleach-based detergent to properly clean and sanitise these items. When washing coloured clothing, use a colour-safe detergent to prevent the hot temperature from fading clothes. 

Ariel suggests washing the following items at 40 degrees: 

  • Bed linen
  • White cotton fabrics 
  • Viscose
  • Wool or Synthetics
  • Wool/Polyester blends 
  • Towels
  • Underwear

Pros

The most versatile setting for different requirements
Will clean stains well and sanitise better than cold washes 
Cheaper than a 60-degree wash 
Most popular wash setting 

Cons

Can fade colours
Might damage or cause wear on delicate fabrics 
Higher running costs than cold washes 
Might shrink some fabrics 

Washing at 60 

In our article What Temperature Kills Bacteria In A Washing Machine we recommend that the optimum temperature for killing bacteria, viruses and germs is 60 degrees. 

Washing Machine at 60 Degrees - Temperature Guide - Clean and Tidy Living

However, washing at 60 alone isn’t enough to kill bacteria and we should use a bleach-based laundry detergent alongside hot temperatures for optimum sanitising. 

What to wash at 60: Towels, white cotton, bedding and underwear can be washed at 60 with great results. Washing other clothing items at 60 will kill bacteria and sanitise very well but may damage, shrink or fade items so wash with care.

But of course, this high temperature takes a lot of energy to heat up and keep hot for the entire cycle. 

Some experts suggest that there isn’t much difference between washing at 40 with a good detergent and washing at 60. 

Hot temperatures like 60 degrees Celsius will also clean the washing machine quite well and stop mould and bacteria from multiplying in the drum. 

Pros

Kills bacteria, germs and viruses
Great for bedding and towels 
Good for oily stains 
Could kill insects and mites 

Cons

High running costs
Fades colours
Can damage or shrink clothing
May set protein stains

Washing at 90

The 90-degree setting should always be used with caution, as this hot cycle can damage and fade clothing beyond repair. 

We suggest only using this setting when:

  • Killing insect infestations
  • Brightening white fabrics like cotton sheets
  • Removing very stubborn stains or cleaning very soiled items
  • Cleaning the washing machine on a maintenance cycle 
What to wash at 90: this very hot wash should be used rarely, and only when completely necessary in the following situations: killing bugs, brightening white cotton, removing very stubborn stains or cleaning the washing machine. 

However, even in these situations the hot water can still cause shrinkage or damage to fabrics and should be very rarely used. 

Another downside to the 90-degree wash is the high running costs and poor environmental efficiency. 

We recommend attempting to clean items at 60 degrees before jumping to the 90-degree wash, to avoid any damage or colour fading to the items. 

Pros

Can brighten white fabrics
Cleans washing machine and can be used for a maintenance wash 
Kills insects and mites 
Removes very stubborn stains 

Cons

High running costs
Fades colours
Can damage or shrink clothing
May set protein stains
Washing Machine Temperature Guide - Clean and Tidy Living

Laundry & Washing Machine Temperature Guide FAQ’s

What Temperature to Wash Towels

Washing towels at a minimum of 40 degrees and a maximum of 60 degrees will ensure they are properly sanitised, when using a bleach-based laundry detergent. 

After the wash cycle has finished, remove the towels as soon as possible from the washing machine to prevent bacteria and germs from multiplying inside the fibres. 

Ensure towels are completely dry before folding them away to avoid mould and damp smells from emerging. 

What Temperature to Wash Bedding

According to the NHS, bedding should be washed once a week at 60 degrees to kill bacteria and remove the buildup of dirt and dead skin cells. 

Be sure to use good bleach-based laundry detergent for maximum results when cleaning bedding. 

White cotton is ideal to use as bedsheets as it can be washed at very high temperatures without fading or deteriorating. 

What Temperature to Wash Whites

Colours tend to fade when washed at hotter temperatures. Luckily, whites can be washed at very high temperatures with no visible damage or wear. 

Whites should be washed at 30-40 degrees for light-medium soiled clothing, but 40-60 for bedding, towels and underwear.

Always check the labels as some fabrics will shrink at warmer temperatures.

Do you wash white clothes in hot or cold water?

General day to day washing of white items is fine at 30-40 degrees, but if you’re looking to brighten whites then a hotter wash of 40-60 degrees will help to remove stain and dirt. 

We don’t recommend washing whites in cold water apart from if the item has metal, like bras or boned dresses. 

Hot water should also be avoided with certain stains as they can actually set and become permanent at certain temperatures. 

We, therefore, recommend pre-soaking stains on white fabrics in cold-warm water to remove them before washing. 

Washing Machine Temperature Guide – Final Thoughts

We hope this guide to washing machine temperatures and settings has been helpful and clear. 

The key takeaways from this article are that each temperature has it’s advantages and disadvantages, but generally, the most used setting should be 40 degrees with good bleach-based laundry detergent. 

Another important point is that we should always check the labels in our garments before washing, and possibly even before buying. 

If you’re looking to buy an expensive item such as a jumper, that will require an entirely different laundry routine to all your other items then it might not be worth the extra effort and wash cycle. 

We hope this washing machine temperature guide has helped answer some of your laundry questions. 

If you’ve enjoyed this guide to washing machine temperature settings, you might like some more of our Clean and Tidy Living posts listed below. 

Related Laundry and Cleaning Advice Articles:

The Ultimate Washing Machine Temperature Guide

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