Does Washing Clothes in Cold Water Kill Germs?

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It is a common concept that hot water kills germs. For this reason, hot water wash is favored over cold wash. But hot water might not always be available. 

Can you alternate your hot for cold water? Yes you can.

But, does washing clothes in cold water kill germs?

No, they don’t. Washing clothes in cold water, in itself, does not kill germs. 

But there is a more economical way to kill or get rid  of germs  that is equally effective. Detergents when paired with cold water helps in getting rid of germs as we will see in a short while. 

Do detergents kill germs? No, they don’t. But detergents contain a chemical called surfactant which helps in removing dirts, stains and bacteria from garments.


Does Washing Clothes in Cold Water Kill Germs
Bleach, detergent and soap

If you wish to wash with cold water, but are concerned about getting rid of germs. You have some options available to you.

  • Bleach 
  • Detergents and soaps
  • Detergents containing bleach


Bleach are natural disinfectants. They have a 99% bacterial kill rate. They are also able to kill 

  • Fungi such as molds, and
  • Viruses, such as influenza virus

Chlorine is a major ingredient in bleaches. It is a powerful chemical that does the actual disinfecting.

Washing clothes in cold water with bleach, will take care of all your disinfecting concerns.

This is as effective as using hot water at very high temperatures. It is cheaper than generating hot water and conserves electric power.

Detergents and Soaps

Using detergents to wash with cold water should satisfy your desire to get rid of germs.

Take note of the expression, “get rid of”, not “kill germs”, because detergents do not kill germs. They are only able to detach them from clothes fabrics, just as stains and dirt are removed from fabric.

But what do you really want? Kill the innocent bacterias or get rid of them from your clothes.

If the latter is your goal, then the next option in this list will be your preferred option. But if you go for the latter, a cold wash with detergents will not just save you electric power, but will also protect you from germs in used clothes.


A chemical substance present in detergents that helps in the cleaning agent to penetrate fabrics. They are also used to disperse attached stains and germs from a bacterial.

Soaps on the other hand, work by creating pockets called micelles. These pockets have to trap germs. Physically scrubbing your clothes helps to mechanically kill the germs and rinsing with water helps to flush these germs from your clothes, dead or alive.

This dispersal action of surfactants is what helps detergents to remove bacteria from clothes. And the water, whether cold or hot, helps to flush these germs from the clothes.

Though detergents do not kill germs, they’re effective at removing them from washed clothes.

Detergents containing bleach

Detergents containing bleach give the benefits of both worlds. 

  • First they are able to remove bacteria from  clothes because of the surfactants in detergents.
  • Second, they help kill germs, because of the bleach added.

Washing Clothes in Cold Water vs Hot Water

This debate has lasted for eternity. The argument has been that hot water is better than cold water, because hot water kills germs.

But is this really true?

Let’s check the facts:

Hot water facts

  • Temperatures between 60 – 65 degrees Celsius can inactivate . And above 70 degree Celsius, most viruses are deactivated in less than a minute. 
  • Regular washing at 20 degree Celsius (default wash temperature of most washing machines) increases the growth of molds.
  • Many detergents can kill bacteria at just 30 degrees or more.
  • Washing at 60 degrees does the magic. Kill and disinfect more laundry.

Going by these stated facts it’s obvious that washing with hot water has more advantage in killing germs than cold water.

However it is worth noting that machine wash at 60 degrees Celsius alone does not kill ALL GERMS. It must be paired with detergents to efficiently disinfect. 

Therefore hot water wash at just any temperature does not in itself kill germs completely.

But this is peculiar to machine wash, as most people can not tolerate hand washing at high temperatures.

Advantages of washing clothes in cold water

It saves electric power

doing cold wash, saves the extra electric cost to heat water to required temperature.

In the United States an average of 10% – 15% of energy expenses used by an average hospital is spent on heating water for laundry.

This is a huge amount to save mainly by using cold water to launder clothes.

Effective water management

It takes less cold water to rinse washed clothes, as cold water is hard on soap. This is ironically the argument toward using hot or warm water, but in reverse is one of the advantages of using cold water.

Hard water makes it difficult for soap to lather. And you might have to use more soap than when using warm water. The same difficulty to lather is what makes it clean soap lather in already washed clothes. The effect is, you need less cold water to rinse your clothes.

Disadvantages of washing clothes in cold water

  1. Cold water wash by itself can not effectively kill germs. although it can with the help of bleach and detergents.
  1. It is more difficult for soap to lather in cold than warm/hot water.
  1. It takes more soap and detergent to form lather.
  1. Some stains are better washed with warm water. Cold water is not efficient at removing tough stains. In this respect, you are better off washing with warm water.

Does washing clothes in warm water kill germs

No, it doesn’t. In fact, molds and many bacteria thrive better in warm environments.

30 degree celcius is the minimum needed to kill germs when used with soaps and detergents.

60 degree celcius is the ideal temperature to kill bacteria and deactivate viruses. And it must be paired with a good measure of detergent to be the most effective.

What Happens If You Wash Clothes In Cold Water Instead of Warm

  1. Your clothes get clean at little or no added power cost.
  1. Cold wash helps retain the elastic strength of fabrics.
  1. Cold wash saves water as it takes less water to rinse soap lather.

Does cold water clean clothes

Yes it does. What determines how clean your clothes will be is 

  1. The availability of cleaning agent (detergents and soaps)
  1. The activities of washing machine impellers and agitators
  1. How dirty your fabrics are
  1. How much time they’re left to soak.
  1. etc.

Whether you wash with hot or cold water, you will still be able to come out with a clean cloth.

Saves electric powerneeds extra power to heat water
consumes less watermore water needed to rinse soap lather from clothe
Preserves fabrics elasticity Can shrink clothes at high temperature
Preserves clothes colorsFades color gradually
Needs cleaning agent to remove or kill germsCan kill germs at high temperature
Cold wash does not harm cloth fabricsHigher temperatures can damage fabrics. Light fabrics are especially susceptible to very hot water.

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