If you were raised anything like I was, you learned early on that hot water is the best option for cleaning almost everything – clothing, floors, dishes, even your hair. The hotter the water, the cleaner the result, right? But that water costs money and energy to heat, and as it turns out, hot water might not always be the best option in your day-to-day household tasks.
We all know it takes energy to heat water, especially if we’re the ones keeping an eye on the bills. Heating water accounts for 18% of the average household’s energy usage. That’s a lot of energy and money for something that, a lot of times, just goes right down the drain. And, depending on where you live, your water heater may still rely on dirty energy sources. Whether you’re trying to lower your energy bill, limit your household’s carbon footprint or both, being aware of your hot water usage could make a big difference.
The good news is that, despite the old housekeeping wisdom, cold water works just as well, if not better, for a lot of the things that we do to clean and maintain the home. Let’s break down some of the daily ways we use water and talk about how cold water can be your (and your energy bill’s) best friend.
Keeping up with laundry is already a chore, so we want to make sure we’re doing it right. The old wisdom is that hot water gets clothes the cleanest, but that isn’t really true! Modern machines and detergents are designed with energy savings and efficiency in mind, so they actually work great with cold water.
The truth is hot water can often do more damage than good to your clothes and linens. Using hot water can strip fabric of dye and damage the fibers in many fabrics, causing them to shrink and pill. And certain stains actually set in the fabric more when washed with hot water, so they’re nearly impossible to get out.
If you want to keep your clothing looking as good as possible, use cold water! Cold water washing preserves your clothing in a few different ways. It reduces fabric shrinkage and breakage, meaning the shirt that fits perfectly now will keep fitting that way. And cold water preserves the dyes in clothing, meaning your clothing will look better and last longer.
It also takes a whole lot of energy to run hot (and even warm) cycles in your washing machine. Almost 90% of the energy used while running a washing machine goes to heating the water. So simply running a cold water cycle cuts the cost to almost nothing! To break it down, the average cost to run a hot/warm cycle is 72 cents, while the cost to run a cold/cold cycle is just 5 cents. If you’re doing a lot of laundry, this could really add up!
Unlike laundry machines, most dishwashers don’t give you an option to use cold water. That said, you still have options to reduce your hot water usage!
First things first, you don’t have to pre-rinse your dishes before loading into the dishwasher, especially not in hot water. Modern dishwashers have sensors to detect how dirty your dishes are and will adjust the cycle accordingly, so ditch the old habit of pre-rinsing. Just scrape the food off and load!
While most dishwashers require a connection to hot water to work, this isn’t always the case. There are machines available now that only require a cold-water connection. These machines have built-in water heaters that are much more efficient than using hot water from the home water heater. If you’re looking to replace your dishwasher, check out our dishwasher breakdown for tips!
And as far as hand-washing dishes, there’s good news there too. Recent food safety studies have shown that room-temperature water is as effective as hot water in removing dirt and bacteria when hand-washing dishes. By using room-temperature water instead of hot, you can save money on your energy bill and save your hands from some discomfort too.
We all know that a hot shower can feel wonderful, but showers use a lot of water. The average shower uses about 2.1 gallons of water per minute, so a fifteen minute shower could mean over 30 gallons of hot water down the drain! The easiest way to limit hot water usage in the shower is to take quicker, colder showers, which might not sound super fun. Thankfully, there are a lot of potential benefits to cold showers.
Showering in cold water may provide some health benefits that hot water doesn’t. Cold therapy – which includes showering at a temperature below 60 degrees – is being studied for potential health benefits, and the results are promising. Potential benefits may include:
Cold water may also help your hair and skin look and feel better! For your hair, shampooing and conditioning in cold water can help to prevent breakage and boost moisture retention. Cold water can also help your hair maintain some of its natural oils, which leads to softer and shinier tresses. And for your skin, the benefits are similar! Cold water closes the pores, which helps to keep excess oil and bacteria out and improves the texture of the skin. And a splash of cold water can reduce inflammation and redness, especially on dry skin.
Cutting back on hot showers may well make you look and feel great, and it will certainly help with the hot water bills. That said, always check with your doctor before introducing a new routine to your self-care.
Whether you're washing dishes, clothes, or your body, give cold water a try. You may find it works even better, and you’ll save money, energy and the planet along the way.
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