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Cold Then Fold Featured on Aug 05, 2009

Challenge

Use only cold water to wash and rinse all of your laundry this month.

Individual Result

By washing more of your laundry in cold water, you will reduce your CO2 emissions by 30.4 lbs and save about $3!

Rally Impact

3006 people have reduced CO2 emissions by 42.28 tons by completing this challenge so far. That's equal to turning off the electricity of 35 homes for about 1 month!

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Challenge Details

Rally Points

  • Water heating is responsible for about 25% of a home’s annual energy expenses.
  • Hot water typically accounts for about 90% of the energy used by a washing machine.
  • A front-loading washing machine uses about 63% less water than a top-loading washer.

Yes, my washing machine is a lot more convenient than taking my clothes and sheets out to a river and beating them on a rock. But the wear-and-tear of repeated washing in hot water, with the fabric being pulled and twisted by the back-and-forth motion of the washer’s agitator, cannot be good for the long-term health of my Threadless tees. Luckily, I can save my clothes, save money, and save carbon by switching to colder washes. So can you.

This Featured Challenge is based on a number of great Challenge suggestions from our Challenge Workshop. We particularly want to give credit to violet, leader of the Green New York team. Violet’s suggestion has received 38 positive votes to date.

The Carbon Connection
You use hot water for showers and baths, to do dishes, and to do laundry. But that hot water doesn’t come pre-heated. It starts out as cold tap water. It takes energy for your water heater to make the cold water hot and to keep it hot and ready for you to use. And when you use some of that hot water, more energy is needed to heat the cold water that replenishes the tank. The energy used by the water heater likely comes from electricity or by burning natural gas. So chances are that your hot water is linked to the burning of fossil fuels and the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

About 25% of the money you spend each year for your home’s energy is due to your need for hot water. According to the EPA, running a hot water faucet for just 5 minutes uses about the same amount of energy as burning a 60-watt bulb for 14 hours. So, limiting your demand for hot water can really reduce your energy use and CO2 emissions. And since laundry can be a big user of hot water, that’s a good place to start in cutting back.

Getting It Done
You already know how to choose different temperature settings on your washer. The only reason you don’t wash more of your clothes in cold water is that you were probably taught that “whites go in hot water, colors go in warm water, and anything special gets washed in cold.” But tell your mother that things have changed. Unless it’s very dirty or has some sort of grease stain, most of your laundry will get perfectly clean using cold water and today’s low-phosphate, biodegradable detergents.

Here are a few other things to think about when considering this Challenge:

  • Try to do fewer loads of laundry. Run full loads, if you can. Remember, now that you are washing your clothes in cold water, you don’t have to separate your colors! And if you need to do a small load, be sure to use the water-level setting for a Small load.
  • Remember that how you dry your laundry is the other energy-saving, carbon dioxide preventing part of this equation. If you haven’t already, consider taking our Sheets to the Wind Challenge and line dry some of your laundry this month.
  • Consider replacing your old top-loading washer with a new, Energy Star-rated front-loading washer. These new washers use half the electricity and almost half the amount of water per load compared with the traditional top loader. The front loader doesn’t have an agitator, so it is gentler on your clothes. And it spins laundry faster, which removes more water and decreases the time it takes laundry to dry in a dryer or on the line.
  • Some things belong in hot water. People with dust mite allergies may still need to wash their bed linens in hot water. Hot water is known to kill and remove dust mites, whereas cold and warm water do not.

Do you already wash your clothes in cold water? Do you use cold water for your sheets and towels as well? Have you found a laundry detergent that works particularly well in cold water? Please share your thoughts, stories, and suggestions on cold-water washing with fellow Rallyers in the forum section below.

Rules of the Challenge
This Challenge asks you to reduce your consumption of hot water by doing all of your laundry in cold water this month. If you do, you will be saving an estimated 30.4 lbs of CO2. This Challenge is repeatable and can be accepted once per month.

This Challenge is based on 10 loads of laundry per month. You may find that you and your roommate or family do more loads of laundry than that. If so, we suggest that you get your roomie or family members to join Carbonrally. Then they can take credit for the other loads of laundry that go cold turkey this month.

Learn More

The Daily Green: 10 Tips To Make Your Clothes Last Longer
Charity Guide: Wash Clothes in Cold Water (more tips on washing in cold water)
California Consumer Energy Center: Clothes Washers (a guide to choosing a new washing machine)
Energy Star: Clothes Washer Tips (other energy-saving tips on washing and drying laundry)

See the Math
Let’s start with the known or estimated numbers:

  • Since top-loading washers are still found in most homes, we will say that you have a top-loading washer that uses 40 gallons of water per load. Assume that the wash and rinse cycles each use half (20 gallons) of that 40 gallon per load total.  source
  • The typical setting choices for washing machines is Hot/Warm (a hot-water wash cycle, followed by a warm-water rinse cycle), Warm/Cold, and Cold/Cold. Let’s say that a hot wash cycle uses 20 gallons of hot water. And a warm wash cycle uses a 50/50 mix of hot and cold water, which means it uses 10 gallons of hot water. Cold wash and rinse cycles use no hot water.
  • Based on the above, each hot-water load (Hot/Warm) requires 30 gallons of hot water (20 gallons for the hot wash cycle, plus an additional 10 gallons for the warm rinse cycle). Each warm-water load (Warm/Cold) requires 10 gallons of hot water. No hot water is required for the cold-water (Cold/Cold) load.
  • According to the EPA, the average household does 392 loads of laundry each year. That comes out to about 7.5 loads of laundry each week or 32.6 loads per month.  source
  • Of course, not all of you are in the average American household. For the purposes of this Challenge, let’s say you only do 10 loads of laundry per month. Furthermore, let’s say that, of those 10 loads of laundry, 4 of them are hot-water loads (Hot/Warm), 4 are warm-water loads (Warm/Cold), and 2 are cold-water loads (Cold/Cold).
  • Your 4 hot-water loads use 120 gallons of hot water per month (30 gallons per load times 4 loads per month). Your 4 warm-water loads use 40 gallons of hot water per month (10 gallons per load times 4 loads per month). The 2 cold-water loads require no hot water. Your total is 160 gallons of hot water needed for laundry per month.
  • This Challenge asks you to use only cold water to wash your laundry for the next month. By washing in cold water, you will not need the 160 gallons of hot water you might normally use.
  • On average, heating 1 gallon of water requires an amount of energy (either electricity or natural gas) that contributes about 0.19 pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere. Reducing your use of hot water by 160 gallons per month saves 30.4 pounds of CO2 (0.19 pounds of CO2 per gallon of hot water times 160 gallons of hot water).  source
  • Based on current energy costs, you save 2 cents for every gallon of water you don’t heat. By taking this Challenge, you will save a little over $3 on your utility bill in just one month!  source

Remember that the more loads of laundry you normally do, the more savings you can realize by making the switch to cooler water for your washing needs. According to the EPA, a family of four averages two to three times the number of loads of laundry used in this Challenge. That can easily mean energy savings of $100 or more a year by simply using colder water in the wash. Dial it down, Rallyers!

Discussion 57 comments so far

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Ouisey almost 2 years ago
I have used only cold water for years.
andie77 about 2 years ago
We always use cold water in washing machine both since then.
JDT17 almost 3 years ago
Its easy to do this one cold doesnt fade your close as much and ive always used cold to wash
jeneko over 3 years ago
haha pretty easy since we can only use cold water to wash clothes in japan
funkfingers420 over 3 years ago
hells yeah, cold water is the only way to wash!
Malissa over 3 years ago
We always use cold water for washing clothes ^^ I love this website!! It has so many funfacts and makes me feel like there are other people who care about reducing the amout of CO2 in the atmosphere and that the world is changing and making a difference :)
Suniday over 3 years ago
I buy cold water detergent already and have been doing this for a couple years...great way to conserve energy :)
rallyer47582 almost 4 years ago
This is great! Thanks for the help! I look forward to reading more. Thanks so much Janine from <a href="http://www.gladstonebrookes.co.uk/ppi/why-claim-ppi">PPI Refund</a>
sillyyogini over 4 years ago
too easy
Smiley over 4 years ago
OMG like i do this any ways. like i dont use hot water for anything I wash :):)
storiadiarte over 4 years ago
I love this! Also, cold water protects darks from fading color. I have been doing this for over 5 years. We use white towel and once they become soiled it's easy to tell. I haven't had any problem with stains at all. Also, clothing doesn't shrink!!
CerridwynEldritch over 4 years ago
I've been doing my own laundry since I was twelve, if not younger (I asked to learn how), and only followed the water temperature rule my mother had told me for a year or so until I finally got annoyed at how long it took to fill up the tank for warmer temps and - lo and behold! - I discovered all the wash came out clean in cold water too. This is an example in which being impatient can be a good thing. :D
evonneu almost 5 years ago
I've found that the clothes still get clean. However, I am having a hard time doing this for towels. They don't seem to get clean, and I feel like they still smell. I am going to continue washing clothes in cold, but I do feel that I need to wash kitchen/ bathroom towels in warm water.
greenman almost 5 years ago
i am going to tell my family to go for this challange 2
rich2058 almost 5 years ago
Tide Cold Water to the rescue!
Nika almost 5 years ago
Already on this one! I love how my gas bill is not so high because I'm not using so much hot water washing. It's a myth to me that your clothes get "cleaner" if you wash in hot water. So far, our clothes are pretty clean in the cold.
myteetek almost 5 years ago
I have been washing all of my clothes in cold water for nearly 10 years. It is works great except for new color clothes. They still will stain your pure white tee shirts and white socks. My solution to pre-wash the color clothes first.
ecoShuttle almost 5 years ago
This has been a regular practice in my family for as long as I can remember. ecoShuttle laundry has never been washed in anything but cold water and eco-friendly detergent since it came into existence.
anitapita_85022 almost 5 years ago
i haven't washed a single load in warm or hot water since i first took this challenge last summer. there doesn't seem to be a difference in the laundry. although, i did have a friend stay over who washed about 10 loads of everything in hot! so i had to give him a lesson in laundry 101. and i swear my electric bill was $35 higher after that...may i also suggest to other challenge-takers, use an eco-friendly detergent and softener. seventh generation makes great "guilt-free" products!
Croe almost 5 years ago
cold water gets our clothes clean fine...we also conserve by hanging barely soiled's up to air for a 2nd wear before washing. switched to front-loaders about 1 yr ago & love them!
hlorrain almost 5 years ago
I have been doing this for a long time!
rallyer30371 almost 5 years ago
I've been doing this for a few years now...
celtia about 5 years ago
i've been doing this for years. I also run the washer on the shortest cycle
maineac about 5 years ago
I've been doing this for over 30 years... laundry gets plenty clean, planet WINS!!
kbe about 5 years ago
I recently changed from 40°C to the cold washing program. It is still warm enough to clean my laundry and it takes only half the time of the other program. So I not only save energy and reduce my carbon emissions by reducing the temperature but also save water and electricity with the shorter washing cycle. Great!
preeti04 about 5 years ago
I already use cold water! So challenge accepted wisely ;-)
Carbonrally_Holly about 5 years ago
i will try this!
roussrally about 5 years ago
I added this just to say that I do already do this anyway. I always wash in cold water, except for bed linens.
rallyer29573 about 5 years ago
Again already do this. this is easy and fun to see others out there who care. Not many around where i am.
Eltra about 5 years ago
Cold water is the way to go! Try taking a cooler shower. You may even find it wakes you up in the morning!
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DarkDreamer about 5 years ago
We already use cold water, lol.
rallyer15856 about 5 years ago
cold water will take out stains even better than warm water :)
CLT0609 about 5 years ago
Not only is this better for the environment it is also better for your pocket book. I didn't realize how much better until we switched to cold a few years back; I was amazed at how much our electric bill went down.
Blossom about 5 years ago
Expected to use only cold water for dishes and laundry for the next few weeks before it gets cold.
gatorlily over 5 years ago
I haven't used anything other than cold water for 10 years. The hot water isn't even connected to my washing machine (I had it disconnected). I need to get a clothesline put up!
jen over 5 years ago
I already only wash my clothes in cold water and only in full load. Call me lazy...What's the point of washing only few shirts? It's scorching in So Cal lately. I take my clothes out of the washer and hang them in the bathroom shower curtain railing. It dries the next day. Granted...you have to buy a lot of hangers and take 10 min of your time to hang them up...but you save electricity and the environment!!!
rallyer29137 over 5 years ago
I have been washing with cold water for a couple of years now. Not only is it better for the environment, it’s better for your clothes! So, you are not only helping the environment but saving money by not having to buy clothing more often, but also keeping clothes out of landfills by keeping your clothing longer!
bonny910 over 5 years ago
since i move to another place where its really hot i started washing my clothes with cold water, this is great for now i can keep doing it and feeling good about it.
fourq55 over 5 years ago
I have been washing my laundry using only cold water for years. It started with me just being lazy and not wanted to seperate my clothes, until I learned it helped the environment. I have no reason to use hot water.
Karen over 5 years ago
Where I live there is no "cold" water as the temperatures have been over 100* for the past 3 months, but I don't use hot water from my hot water heater, so I'm following the callenge! I also hang my clothes out to dry--they're dry faster than in the dryer!
GoAskTheTeacher over 5 years ago
We are doing this from now on and we just strung an old fashioned clothesline in our backyard. My kids are 5 and 3, and they are helping me hang the laundry and LOVING IT! This is the best toy/game/family fun we've thought of in weeks. Very good idea and great for saving energy (plus the clothes smell better!)!!!
SylviaSylviaSylvia over 5 years ago
most clothes i wear require a cold wash anyways :D
rallyer28958 over 5 years ago
i already do this!!! i will do it for the rest of my life!!
Traffie over 5 years ago
Smudge - -Here's a tip about grease in clothes. Use CLEAR shampoo before you put the item into the Washer. a few drops of the clear shampoo on the grease will draw it out. Wholla - -clean T-shirt!
rallyer28893 over 5 years ago
I think my washer doesn´t even have a connection to hot water
kacied5 over 5 years ago
I've always washed my laundry in cold water. This one's no biggy.
Smudge over 5 years ago
My family is pretty green, but this was one we couldn't wrap our heads around until now. Early results? 98% groovy. I had this one dark tshirt last weekend that had a greasy spot from cooking that I didn't notice... that didn't come out in cold. No surprise.
xxbellaxmuertex over 5 years ago
I've always washed my clothes in cold water and will continue to do so. =]
lglaunsinger_85541 over 5 years ago
I have been washing in cold water and hanging clothes to dry year round. Carbon Rally needs to come up with some more challenging projects. Not one that has been issued is new to my life style!
purplefuzz22 over 5 years ago
I've been doing it for a while too!!!
balletgirl over 5 years ago
ive been washing my clothes in cold water since december 2008
Becky over 5 years ago
I've been using cold water for washing clothes all summer. What a surprise...they get just as clean as hot! I use non-toxic biodegradable soap, and with whites, I add a non-toxic/non-chlorine oxygen powder. I'm feeling so much lighter on this wonderful planet!
cricketlove over 5 years ago
i also use cold water to rinse my hair.. it leaves it nice and shiny!
aschram13_75060 over 5 years ago
I have not used hot water, since it seems to set the spots into the material. I do use liquid detergent, and then let the laundry soak for 15 or 20 minutes before starting the agitation cycle. Of course, we can spend the extra time since we are retired. In any case, I will use the cold water cycle instead of the warm water cycle from now on.
Administrator over 5 years ago
We just turned-on Facebook Connect! Now we can use Facebook feeds and friends lists to grow the Rally. Please check it out. More info is in the "blog":http://blog.carbonrally.com/2009/8/5/facebook-connect-is-live . Thanks to all.
donna.vick_95050 over 5 years ago
I have been washing on the cold cycle for the past 2 years and have saved a bundle on my energy bill doing it. I got a credit on my energy bill this summer due to the 30% reduction in my energy cost during the winter time.
OrangeBlossom over 5 years ago
The thing is, it's going to get clean no matter what, and people always wash small loads with a lot of hot water. So this is the perfect Challenge for me because I already do it, so it's no problem.