Do you wash whites in hot or cold water?

Asking for a friend

Laundry room with washer and dryer and laundry supplies
(Image credit: Chelsea Smith)

It's not just you, we've all thought at one point or another: do you wash whites in hot or cold water? You might also be wondering if your white clothes will shrink depending on the temperature you wash them in. Um, why did no one say doing your laundry was going to be this hard?

Here’s the deal, washing white clothes the proper way consists of separating them from your colorful garments and washing them all together in the hottest yet safest water temperature depending on the fabric type. Utilizing a quality heavy-duty detergent, as well as bleach if needed, is ideal for washing white clothes, too.

Another popular issue you might have is yellowing. If your whites are looking more cream than they are snowy, you might need an action plan. Yellowing can be caused by extreme exposure to chlorine bleach, nicotine, chemical reactions from deodorant, makeup, or storing your white clothes incorrectly — which subjects them to environmental acids. When it comes to giving yellowed clothing a glow-up, you may need to use other items, such as Borax (aka sodium tetraborate), bleach, commercial laundry whiteners, baking soda, bluing products, or vinegar.

Organizational expert Chelsea Smith of The Organising Platform, answered all of our questions, below, and even gave us an easy guide on how to us with a guide on washing white clothes. A true lifeline for all of us laundry game beginners.

Do you wash whites in hot or cold water and why? 

Smith recommends washing whites in hot water to help remove stains and kill bacteria. Hot water can also help whiten fabrics and remove any stains or discoloration. However, it's important to check the care label on the clothing item first, as some fabrics may be damaged by hot water.

She also mentions that if the care label specifies the garment should be washed in cold water, then it's best to follow those instructions to avoid damaging the fabric. Additionally, washing clothes in cold water can help to save energy and reduce your utility bills. So, it's always a good idea to follow the care label.

How to wash white clothes

Smith provided a detailed list of her approach and tips for washing white clothes below and why she follows this specific method:

  • Sort clothes: Separate white clothes from colored clothes to prevent color bleeding.
  • Pre-treat stains: Apply a stain remover or laundry detergent directly to any stains and let it sit for a few minutes before washing.
  • Use hot water: Hot water is effective for removing stains and killing bacteria, but check the care label to ensure the garment can be washed in hot water.
  • Avoid overloading the washing machine: Overloading the machine can prevent clothes from getting clean and cause damage to the machine.
  • Avoid using too much detergent: Using too much detergent can leave a residue on clothes, making them appear dingy and dull. Follow the recommended amount of detergent for the size of the load.
  • Dry in the sun: Sunlight is a natural bleaching agent that can help keep whites bright. Hang white clothes outside to dry in the sun.

Smith mentioned the reasoning for these specific step-by-step methods is to ensure that white clothes are thoroughly cleaned, stains are removed, and the fabric remains bright and white. By using hot water, and laundry detergent designed for whites, you can help prevent yellowing and keep whites looking their best. Additionally, sorting clothes and avoiding overloading the washing machine can help prevent damage to both the clothes and the machine. Finally, drying white clothes in the sun is an effective way to naturally bleach the fabric and keep them bright.

What temperature is best to wash whites and why?

Smith says a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for washing whites, as it can help to remove tough stains and keep these garments looking bright. This temperature is effective at killing bacteria, breaking down dirt and stains, and helping your whites actually stay white. However, it's important to note that some fabrics, such as your fave wool sweater or that pretty silk pillowcase of yours, may require a cooler wash to prevent damage.

What detergent is best for washing white clothes?

For Smith, your choice of laundry detergent depends on personal preference and the specific needs of your white clothes. She, however, has recently made the move to laundry detergent sheets, which have been particularly effective and are formulated to be eco-friendly as well as free from harsh chemicals, making them a greener option for the environment.

Aida M. Toro
Freelance Writer

About Me:

Hello! My name is Aida M. Toro and I am a freelance writer that loves cultivating stories about amazing people, fashion, interiors, art, and food. I currently write for Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam, The House Magazine, Hobnob Magazine, The C-Word, and Real Homes. I live in West New York, New Jersey, which is literally a 10-minute ferry ride or 20-minute bus ride away from New York City. Although I was born and raised in West New York, I consider NYC my home, as I believe it to be the place where all dreams come to fruition, and of course, spend most of my time in. When I’m not writing, I love perusing the city streets and taking snaps with my iPhone of street art along with random things, scoping out new restaurants as well as their spaces, shopping at some of my favorite stores, spending time with family and friends, walking my cockapoodle Benji, and working out at Lifetime or DOGPOUND, which are some of the top fitness spaces in Manhattan and overall the U.S.