Does Detergent for Cold Water Make a Difference?

Written by lisa parris
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Does Detergent for Cold Water Make a Difference?
The detergent you choose does make a difference. (Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Washing laundry in cold water can help reduce the electric bill, but many people believe that clothing washed in cold water is not as clean as laundry washed in hot. That may have been true at one time, but this was before the development of detergents designed specifically for use in cold water. Consumer research suggests cold-water detergents clean just as well as non-cold-water counterparts, but at a much lower temperature.

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Cold-water liquid laundry detergents are some of the best all-around detergents on the market. They they clean just as well in cold water as regular detergents do in hot, according to research published by Consumer Search. Additional tests performed by Consumer Reports had similarly positive results. Not all cold-water detergents were effective cleaning agents, however, and some were listed close to, or at, the very bottom of the performance scale; like regular detergents, some brands simply clean better than others.

How it Works

Detergents use a combination of emulsifiers and surfactants to lift stains from clothing. The formulas are designed to dissolve in water, efficiently releasing these chemicals. Hotter water, however, is more absorbent than cold, so it incorporates a higher percentage of the cleaning agents in to the wash water. Additionally, heat often acts as a catalyst, increasing the rate of a chemical reaction. Cold-water detergents use a combination of chemicals that dissolve well in cooler water, and that have lower activation energy than their heat-loving equivalents, generating similar results while requiring less heat.


Using cold-water detergents allows consumers to wash in cold water, which helps reduce the electric bill; heating the 40 to 60 gallons of water required to clean each load of clothes consumes vast amounts of energy. Additionally, cold-water washing is gentler to clothing and reduces the fading and shrinkage caused by heat.


Cold-water detergents are not always available in the vast range of sizes, colours and fragrances many consumers have become accustomed to. It may be difficult, for example, to find cold-water detergents formulated for those with sensitive skin or in fragrance-free varieties. Additionally, the highest-rated brands tend to be pricey, though this is true with conventional detergents, as well. Consumers will have to decide for themselves whether the price of the detergent is justified by the reduction in the electric bill.

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