Is 20 Degrees A “Cold Wash”? (when & how to use it)

 Many washing machine manufacturers consider 30 degrees to be a cold wash. This means that 20 degrees is definitely a cold wash cycle.

With so many programmes and cycles on a modern washing machine, things can become confusing. What doesn’t help is sometimes washing instructions can be vague. Just saying you should wash a certain garment on a cold wash isn’t really all that helpful or informative.

In this article we look at the 20 degrees wash cycle and answer all of the questions you’re likely to ask concerning this low temperature wash cycle.

Is A 20 Degree C Wash Cycle A Cold Wash Cycle?

Depending on the make and model of washing machine you own, the cold wash will either be the 30 degree cycle or the 20 degree cycle. 

It is widely recognised in the UK washing machine industry that a 30 degree wash is a cold wash. If your machine has a 20 degree wash, it is definitely a cold wash.

Why Use A Cold Wash?

There are a number of benefits to using a cold wash cycle on the washing machine. These include;

  • Reduces Electricity Costs
    With ever increasing electricity prices, anything that allows us to reduce our energy bills has to be a bonus. Using a cold wash cycle of 30 degrees decreases electricity usage by around 40% compared to 40 degree wash cycles. A 20 degree wash cycle will reduce energy usage by an estimated 66%.
  • Preserves Clothes
    Clothes are less likely to suffer from wear and tear if washed at lower temperatures. This means your clothes will last longer and stay looking good for longer too.
  • Prevents Colour Fade Or Runs
    It is usually washing clothes at high temperatures that causes the colours to fade or run. Using a 20 degree wash cycle will prevent colours from running which also prevents them from fading.
  • Prevents Shrinkage
    High water temperatures cause the fibres of clothes to contract which makes the clothes shrink. Cold water wash cycles prevent the fibres from contracting. So the clothes don’t shrink.
  • Reduces Plastic Pollution
    Synthetic man made materials are all by products of the petrochemical industry. Many are made from a plastic based fabric which is likely to shed microplastics at high temperatures. Washing synthetics on cooler wash cycles help to prevent many of these microplastic fibres from shedding.
  • Better For The Environment
    A reduction in the amount of electricity used and the lowering of potentially harmful microplastics makes a 20 degree wash cycle a more environmentally friendly wash cycle.

When Should You Use A 20 Degree Wash Cycle?

You should use a cold 20 degree wash when;

  • You Want To Refresh Clothes
  • You Want To Wash Lightly Soiled Garments
  • Washing Synthetic Materials
  • Washing Delicate Items
  • Washing casual Clothes
  • Washing Denim Clothing
  • Washing Colours

What Should Not Be Washed At 20 Degrees?


There are several items that should not be washed at 20 degrees, these include;

  • Bedding
  • Pet Bedding
  • Towels
  • Underwear
  • Clothes With Ingrained Stains
  • Clothes That Are Heavily Soiled

When Should You Not Use A 20 Degree Wash?

With all of the above benefits to using a 20 degree wash cycle, you’re probably wondering why we don’t advise using it all the time. Unfortunately the 20 degree wash cycle isn’t suitable for general use because;

  • It Doesn’t Kill Bacteria
    There are many germs and bacteria that can survive a 20 degree wash cycle. Which makes the 20 degree wash not hygienic enough to wash towels, bedding, baby clothes or any items covered in anything liable to carry bacteria.
  • It Doesn’t Remove Stubborn Stains
    Stubborn ingrained stains like mud for example need a hotter temperature to loosen the dirt from the fabric.
  • It’s Not Effective On Heavily Soiled Clothes
    Heavily soiled clothes also need high temperatures to loosen dirt and bacteria from the fibres.
  • It Doesn’t Remove Grease & Oils
    A 20 degree wash cycle would not be capable of removing engine oil, cooking oil or grease from clothes. Oils and grease need at least a 40 degree wash and most probably a 60 degree wash to remove them from clothes.

Is There A Particular Detergent That Should Be Used In A 20 Degree Wash?

Due to the low water temperature, we recommend using a liquid detergent or a detergent pod when using the 20 degree wash cycle. Powdered detergents are unlikely to fully dissolve in a cool wash.

There are some really effective detergents specifically designed for low temperature wash cycles these include;

Ariel Washing Liquid Laundry Detergent Gel

Ariel Washing Liquid Laundry Detergent Gel, 48 Washes, 1.8 L, Original
281 Reviews
Ariel Washing Liquid Laundry Detergent Gel, 48 Washes, 1.8 L, Original
  • Cleans well even in a cold wash
  • The distinct concentrated washing gel targets stains fast even in a quick wash

This liquid detergent from Ariel is designed for use at low temperatures and is even effective in quick washes.

Persil Non Bio Laundry Washing Liquid Detergent

Persil Non Bio 100% recyclable bottle Laundry Washing Liquid Detergent tough on stains, gentle next to sensitive skin 105 wash 2.835 l
463 Reviews
Persil Non Bio 100% recyclable bottle Laundry Washing Liquid Detergent tough on stains, gentle next to sensitive skin 105 wash 2.835 l
  • Persil Non Bio Laundry Washing Liquid Detergent 105 wash 2.835 l is tough on stains whilst being gentle next to sensitive skin
  • With this liquid detergent, you can get tough on stains like mud, yoghurt and jam, even in a quick and cold wash

This liquid detergent from Persil contains plant based biodegradable stain removers.

Ecover Delicate Laundry Liquid

Ecover Delicate Laundry Detergent, Waterlily & Honeydew, 16 Washes, 750ml
2,661 Reviews
Ecover Delicate Laundry Detergent, Waterlily & Honeydew, 16 Washes, 750ml
  • FRESH LAUNDRY – delicately removes stains to help your wools & silk last longer. Approved by The Woolmark Company.
  • FRAGRANCE – waterlily & honeydew fragrance with gentle cucumber, sun sweet honeydew and transparent waterlily.

This liquid laundry detergent from Ecover is suitable for use on even delicate fabrics like wool and silk even at 20 degrees.

SEE ALSO: Will Washing At 30 Degrees Kill Bacteria?

Frequently Asked Questions

Is 20 degrees cold for a washing machine?

A cold wash on a washing machine typically refers to a 20 or 30 degree wash cycle. Many washing machines have a 30 degree wash cycle and this is considered to be a cold wash. However, many modern machines have a 20 degree wash cycle which is the coldest cycle.

How effective is a 20 degree wash?

A 20 degree wash cycle is effective at removing light stains but is not effective at removing stains from heavily soiled items.

Will 20 degrees wash shrink clothes?

A 20 degree wash cycle shouldn’t shrink clothes. Most fabrics shrink due to heat. The only exception to this is wool which can shrink with too much agitation.

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