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Washing machine temperature guide

By Matt Stevens

Find out what happens to your clothes and bills when you change your washing machine temperature to 30, 40, 20 or 60 degrees.

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For most of us, wash day will mean washing most of our clothes at 40°C  most of the time. But there will be occasions where we need to wash hotter or cooler to best clean our clothes while protecting the fabrics.

We’ll look at washing clothes at temperatures ranging from cold through 20°C, 30°C, 40°C and 60°C all the way to 90°C. We’ll reveal the effect washing at different temperatures has on bacteria and the importance of washing with a good detergent. And this guide will explain the differences in wash costs generated by washing clothes at different temperatures.

And our washing machine temperature guide will help you to decide which temperature to wash your clothes at, whether they be whites, coloureds or baby clothes.

If you're in the market for a washing machine now, head stright over to our washing machine reviews.

In this article:

Washing at 20°C

 

Since 2013, all washing machines in the UK have been required to have a 20°C option visible on the control panel to help save energy. But what happens to cleaning power and running costs at this temperature?

When we tested machines on the 20°C cotton program, we found that turning down the temperature from 40°C dramatically reduced running costs – by an average of 66%.

And we found that cleaning power is only slightly worse than at 40°C, with just an olive-oil-based stain not washing out as well.

Using 20°C instead of 40°C could reduce running costs by 66%

Benefits of washing at 30°C

 

More than a quarter of Which? members use a 30°C program on a regular basis. As you might imagine, it's the recommended setting for a lot of delicate clothes, such as wool and silk – always check the label first though. 

Lower temperatures are also good at helping to preserve colourfully dyed fabrics, although a good quality laundry detergent can help with this, too. 

Similar to the 20°C cotton programs we tested, it was the olive-oil-based stain that didn't wash out as well at this temperature when we ran tests. More general soiling was also lifted compared with washing at 20°C.

Costs are slightly higher for washing at 30°C compared to 20°C. When we tested the 30°C cotton program, we found that running costs are reduced by about 46% compared with the 40°C program.

Difference between washing at 40°C and 30°C

 

While a 30°C program is good for delicate fabrics, a 40°C wash is ideal for more hardy fabrics. It’s suitable for cotton, linen or viscose, acrylics, acetate, wool mixtures and wool/polyester blends – in other words, most everyday items. This is possibly why it is the most common wash temperature used by Which? members. 

As most Which? members we asked frequently use the 40°C temperature setting, we base our testing on the 40°C cotton and synthetics wash programs.

Most Which? members wash at 40°C, so we base our testing on the 40°C cotton and synthetics wash programs.

Washing at 50°C

 

This wash is suitable for polyester/cotton mixtures, nylon, cotton and viscose, but with modern detergents most people find 40°C adequate for their needs.

Cost of washing at 60°C

 

The 60°C program generally delivers slightly better cleaning than the 40°C program, especially when it comes to greasy stains, and is ideal for bedding and towels. But it will cost you – running costs increase by more than half if you wash at 60°C as opposed to 40°C. 

You might be washing at 60°C because you've heard it kills bacteria. The temperature on its own doesn't. Some bacterial spores and viruses are resistant to washing at 60°C. You need to combine your 60°C wash with a good detergent to blast that bacteria. 

Discover the best detergents for removing stains and keeping your whites bright by visiting our . 

We've also taken a closer look at some washing machines' 60°C cotton programs, and discovered that two thirds didn't actually reach 60°C. For more on our findings and how it affects your cleaning, see our guide to washing at 60°C.

Does washing at 90°C kill bacteria?

 

This is the hottest wash program you’ll find on most machines and is only suitable for some items, such as white cottons and linens – a lot of washing labels won't recommend washing such a high temperature. 

As to whether washing at 90°C will actually kill bacteria, the NHS website states that you should wash underwear, towels and household linen at 60°C to prevent the spread of germs, but says nothing about washing at as high as 90°C to kill bacteria. It also says that you should use a bleach-based product, such as washing power. As mentioned above under 'washing at 60°C', this is key to killing germs, as some bacteria will withstand 60°C temperatures.  

Whatever temperature you decide to clean your clothes on, it's also important to carry out a service wash – a wash at a high temperature without any clothes in the drum – once a month to clean your machine and keep it running well. Check the manual before doing so as it may suggest a specific washing program or temperature.

Other commonly used washing machines programs

 

Washing machines often have as many as 20 programs for washing, rinsing and spinning. For more information on these other programs, see our washing machine jargon buster.

What temperature should I wash jeans at?

 

Denim can shrink and colours will fade, so to avoid shrinkage and to keep you blue jeans blue, don’t wash them at more than 40°C.

If your washing machine has a specialist jeans programme – and you have the time to split and separate your wash like this – this will use more water to flush away detergent and spins more gently to avoid creasing. Wash your jeans inside out which also helps to retain the colour and wash them zipped and buttoned up, to avoid unnecessary snagging with other clothes in the wash.

What temperature should I wash bed clothes at?

 

Select the 60°C cottons programme for cotton bed sheets. By washing bed linen like sheets, pillow cases and duvet covers at 60°C - and by using a Best Buy detergent - you give yourself a better chance of removing the stains you can see and the bacteria that you can’t.  

What temperature  should I wash baby clothes at?

 

Aim for 30°C or 40°C wash programme for baby clothes. Any hotter and you run the risk of shrinking what can be quite delicate clothes. You can wash your baby’s clothes with the rest of your laundry or, if your machine has the option, try the baby programme. This will be a little hotter but rinses thoroughly – more so than on a normal wash setting – to make absolutely sure that as much detergent as possible has been rinsed away.

What temperature should I wash underwear at?

 

If you end up with a pile of pants to wash, set your machine to wash at 60°C for the best results. If your load is very dirty and soiled with things such as faeces of vomit, wash at the highest temperature you can, 90°C on most machines.

 

Is 30°C a cold wash?

 

No, a cold wash will be colder than this and should involve no heating of the water at all. But some detergents won’t be as effective at low temperatures. A cold wash is an option if you’re washing delicates or your clothes are brightly coloured and just need to be refreshed a little.

What temperature is warm in a washing machine?

 

40°C will feel warm and, with some exceptions, most of your laundry will end up being washed at 40°C.

What temperature is a hot wash?

 

Think about 60°C as a hot wash and 90°C as a very hot wash. Reserve the latter for special occasions where your clothes’ fabrics are robust enough to stand up to the heat and need the temperature to help shift the stains.

What temperature should I wash white clothes at?

 

The main point about whites is more about separating them from coloureds than the temperature you wash them at. If you separate them, you give yourself the best chance of avoiding colours from other clothes bleeding into them.

The temperature you wash at will depend upon how dirty they are and how robust the items are and just how dirty they are.

If you’re just washing your white bed sheets and other linen, 60 °C will be fine. If you have filthy white rugby or football kit that’s stained with mud, blood, grass and everything else a Saturday afternoon on the playing fields has to offer, try a higher temperature.

What temperature should I wash coloured clothes at?

 

When washing a mixed load of coloured clothes, try to keep the wash temperature low - 30°C will be enough to give them a good clean – as long as you have the right detergent – and the low temperature will help your clothes to retain their colours.

What temperature should I wash mixed colours at?

 

Washing a mixture of bright colours together is fine and only becomes a problem if any whites end up in the load. Again, 30°C would be a good temperature to wash and this will help the fabrics to retain their colour.

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