Hot or Cold: What Temperature of Water Cleans Better?

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It’s a question that almost every individual asks at some point in their adult life! Everyone wants to know what the right temperature of water is to safely and effectively clean household surfaces, different floor types, do laundry, kill bacteria, etc. Well, the fact is that using room temperature water when cleaning virtually anything in your home is doable in the sense that it will work and not cause damage; however, changing the temperature of the water can make it 10x more effective or damaging. Therefore, knowing the appropriate temperature of water to use and when to use it is an absolute game-changer in household cleaning!

Before we get to the cleaning tasks and suitable temperature of water to use against each one for better results, let’s talk about how it works.

The Science Behind Using Hot/Cold Water in Cleaning

If you’ve ever heard people talk about agitated water molecules and the benefits of using hot water for cleaning, the science behind this is that warmer temperatures of water cause molecules to move quickly which, when introduced to detergents, make the cleaner more aggressive. When diluting bleach, on the other hand, the use of cold water is advised because, unlike hot water, it does not affect its active ingredient and cause it to become less effective. 

With that said, today, you can find commercial cleaners that include the words ‘cold water’ in the product name itself, suggesting that they are purpose-built. What it means is that you needn’t use energy to stabilise the temperature of the water because they are made to be effective with the use of cold or room temperature water. Therefore, if you live in a place with a cold climate, you won’t be burning up energy to heat water when using ‘cold water’ cleaning products.

When to Clean with Hot or Cold Water

With the information above in your back pocket, let’s look at some common house cleaning tasks and the right temperature of water to use for them.

1. Dishes

Whether you’re washing dishes by hand or using a dishwasher, the fact remains the same: heat causes oil to expand and loosens its grip on dishes. Therefore, any greasy substance can be effectively cleaned off using a water temperature of 95ºF or as hot as your bare hands can tolerate. 

Ideally, the most effective and effortless way to clean dishes by hand is by soaking them in hot soapy water to allow the heat and detergent to fight grease and bacteria before scrubbing. For this, the water temperature can be much higher than 95ºF since the dishes will be soaking for a while and cleaned only after the water has cooled down. By the end of the soak, all you will need to do is lightly scrub the pots and pans before rinsing them will room temperature water.

With or without soaking, the bottom line is that dishwashing with hot water is more effective in cleaning and killing germs.

2. Kitchen Surfaces

If you look at the contents on a bottle of kitchen surface cleaners, you will see that they are often chemical-based. Like bleach, using hot water can deactivate certain compounds and therefore, make the products less aggressive in removing dirt. For this reason, cold or room temperature water is advised when diluting the cleaning product to clean kitchen surfaces.

On the other hand, homemade kitchen cleaners that contain natural ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda, and lemon should be used differently than chemical cleaning products. Although heat doesn’t really affect the cleaning power of each individual ingredient, the fast-moving water molecules in hot water aid in enhancing the overall aggression of the solution. 

3. Bathroom Surfaces

The use of steam in bathroom cleaning is very effective in killing germs and loosening grime. In fact, many homeowners invest in home-use bathroom steamers wherein grime or soap scum literally rolls off bathroom walls and other surfaces. Of course, not everyone has this handy product but that doesn’t mean you can’t use steam to your advantage. 

Here is a quick step-by-step guide to clean your bathroom using steam:

      1. Steam up the bathroom by carefully drawing a piping hot bath or running a hot shower for the bathroom interiors to start sweating.
      2. Use a scrubber or brush to clean bathroom surfaces with the help of a cleaning product of your choice. If it requires to be diluted, use cold water for this.
      3. Finish off by rinsing surfaces thoroughly with cold or room temperature water.
      4. Squeegee excess water into the drain and leave the door and window open for the interiors to air out and dry quickly. If you have an exhaust fan, turn it on after you have finished cleaning your bathroom.

The use of cold or room temperature water is advised because the heat from steaming the bathroom will serve the purpose of hot water without burning up extra energy to maintain the desired temperature. 

4. Flooring

Non-carpeted floors are typically vacuumed/swept and mopped with a floor cleaner diluted in either cold or hot water. For most floor types, this is doable because heat does not damage the surface while working on the same principles as mentioned above (with regard to agitating molecules). A heated cleaning solution is suitable for a wide variety of floor types including tile, natural stone, vinyl, and laminate.

When dealing with wooden floors, on the other hand, you need to stay clear of hot water at all costs! This is because heat warps timber and once that happens, there is no going back. In fact, cleaning experts advise using pH-neutral cleaners or alkaline water-based cleaners with room temperature water to safely and effectively clean hardwood flooring.

5. Laundry

The biggest confusion concerning appropriate water temperature in cleaning is perhaps when doing laundry! We’ve heard so many people advise washing certain fabrics or clothing items in cold, warm, or hot water, however, it is hard to memorise all of that information. Well, Simply Maid has made it easier for you to understand in the context below.

WASHING SYMBOLS:

Pay close attention to laundry symbols on tags that indicate the temperature of water to be used on the item. They are seen in the form of a tub/bucket with numbers or dots that imply the following:

      • One dot – 90°F 
      • Two dots – 105°F
      • Three dots – 120°F
      • Four dots – 140°F
      • Five dots – 160°F
      • Six dots – 200°F

HOT WATER:

      • Wash whites and very dirty (not stained) clothing in hot water of 130°F or above unless the washing symbols indicate differently.
      • Wash dirty bed sheets and clothing used by a sick person with a virus in hot water to kill germs. This is also true for anyone who has tested positive for the coronavirus or COVID-19.

WARM WATER:

      • Man-made fibres such as denim, rayon, and polyester should be washed in warm water of no more than 90°F.
      • Regular laundry that is lightly soiled and not intended for removing stains can be washed in warm water for effective results.

COLD WATER:

      • Use cold water to wash natural fabrics such as silk and wool as hot water expands these materials and loosens the weave.
      • When dealing with stains, cold water is more effective in removing them while hot water pushes them deeper into the fabric.
      • Delicate clothing items and coloured fabrics that bleed require to be washed in cold water that is 80°F or below. 

REMINDER: It should be mentioned yet again that washing instructions specified on labels/tags should be strictly followed; the information above is a generalised guide to washing fabrics and linens that do not come with laundry symbols. 

So, the next time you’re wondering if hot or cold water is more effective in cleaning a particular surface or item in your home, come back to this article to refresh your memory and get the job done in a safe and thorough manner!

Karen Saunders

Content Manager at Simply Maid
Karen Saunders is a full-time Content Manager at Simply Maid. Her 8+ years of writing experience spans the fields of copywriting, sales copy, blogging, editing and paraphrasing. Some of her areas of expertise include house cleaning, health and fitness, lifestyle topics, home décor and interior designing, travel tips, dog-related articles, and product descriptions and reviews.
Karen Saunders

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