Should I wash at 60°C?
By Matt Stevens
We found that eight out of 12 washing machines tested by us do not reach 60°C on the 60°C program. One only reached 43°C - find out what that means for you.
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Does turning the temperature to 60°C really make a difference? Do washing machines even reach 60°C?
To find out, we've tested washing machines from 12 major brands, including Bosch, Hotpoint, Beko, Miele and more, to see what happens when you turn the dial to 60.
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Do machines actually reach 60°C?
In our test of 12 machines, eight of them did not actually reach 60°C on the 60°C cotton program.
Those that did only maintained that temperature for either a few minutes or a few seconds, as washing machines typically only reach their hottest temperature for a very short time.
Of the nine machines that reached 55°C or more, the water spent less than 10% of its time at or above this temperature, on average.
The thermometer above reveals the washing machines we've tested, top temperatures reached and how long each washer spent above 55°C.
The washing machine with the lowest temperature recorded in our tests was the Hoover DYN8163D8P-80. While the water's top temperature was 43°C, the water spent most of its time below 40°C.
Hoover DYN8163D8P-80: while the water's top temperature was 43°C, the water spent most of its time below 40°C.
Does it matter whether my machine reaches 60°C?
Even if your washing machine is one of the models that does actually reach the temperature shown on the front of the machine, it turns out you'll still be reliant on your choice of detergent to remove any bugs and bacteria from your laundry.
Which? spoke to Professor Bill Grant, emeritus professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Leicester, who explained why it's detergent, rather than temperature, that you need to kill bugs:
'Bacterial spores and some viruses are quite resistant to 60°C. The major sanitising effect of the domestic wash is the removal, rather than destruction, of bacteria and viruses.
Professor Bill Grant,
Bacterial spores and some viruses are quite resistant to 60°C
emeritus professor of environmental microbiology
'Modern detergents work much better at low temperatures than years ago, when higher temperatures were necessary to achieve the same results.'
We've also been talking to other organisations to find out the effects of washing machines not reaching 60°C on the 60°C cycle.
MRSA Action UK told us you need to wash laundry at 60°C for 10 minutes to kill MRSA and clostridium difficile bacteria or use a bleach-based laundry product. Since being contacted by Which?, MRSA Action UK has changed the advice on its website to the following:
'If you have been diagnosed with MRSA or are caring for someone with MRSA you should wash your clothes, bedding and linen as normal at the hottest temperature suitable for the fabric. You may wish to consider using a bleach-based laundry product. However, please be mindful of changing laundry powder or detergent if there is likely to be anyone with skin sensitivity in your household.'
Similarly, Lindsey McManus of Allergy UK told us that to stop house mites and their allergen working, you need to maintain a temperature of at least 60°C for 20 minutes and follow with a sufficient rinse cycle.
Of the washing machines in our tests, the one to stay above 60°C the longest was the Panasonic NA-147VB4. But it only maintained a temperature of or above 60°C for three minutes, so no washing machine we tested comes close to being able to remove MRSA or house mites using just the 60°C cotton program.
No washing machine we tested comes close to being able to remove MRSA or house mites using just the 60°C cotton program.
What about cleaning and running costs?
Though washing using the 60°C cotton program will not sanitise what you put in the drum, it tends to remove slightly more soiling from your clothes compared with the 40°C cotton program, particularly greasy stains.
But it comes at a cost. The running costs will increase by more than half by turning the dial to 60°C instead of 40°C.
Based on the washing machines we tested, it costs £20.84 to wash 1,000kg of washing - which is roughly similar to a year's worth of cleaning if you own a 6kg-capacity washing machine. Turn the temperature up to 60°C and that figure increases to £32.68.
So while the 60°C program does offer slightly better cleaning, the extra cost of the cycle means you should probably save it for those really tough, greasy stains.
Are manufacturers cheating the energy label?
Washing machines currently carry EU energy ratings between A+++ and A, with A+++ referring to the most energy efficient models. The labels offer shoppers an at-a-glance idea of how much energy and water the product typically consumes.
The EU energy label is based on the 60°C and 40°C cotton programs, but the label's criteria does not actually have a requirement for the washing machine to reach the temperature stated on the control panel. So no, manufacturers are not cheating the energy label.
The Whirlpool WWDC6400/1 reached just 54°C in our tests. A Whirlpool spokesperson said: ‘On this machine, the 60°C cottons program is operating within the energy-labelling criteria, which is optimised for energy consumption and cleaning efficiency.’
Instruction manuals must, however, contain wording stating that the temperature specified might not be reached. When we questioned all the manufacturers involved in our testing, they quoted this clause as the justification for not reaching 60°C.
This means that the Hoover washing machine that only reaches 43°C and gets an A+++ energy rating is acceptable under the current requirements of the EU label.
What is Which? doing about this?
The top temperatures reached by different machines in our tests varied by 24°C. With no law requiring particular temperatures to be reached, manufacturers can, in theory, not heat the water as much to save on energy costs and improve their ratings.
As guidelines are currently so relaxed, we think the energy label is not a transparent and fair way to compare washing machines. Which? has contacted several organisations, including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which oversees the energy label in the UK.
Defra has confirmed that it will bring up this issue as part of the European Commission’s review of washing machine energy labels, so we'll be meeting with Defra before that review to present our evidence.