More than a third of Which? members use the 60°C program on their washing machine regularly. But is 60 the magic number when it comes to keeping bacteria at bay? And do washing machines actually reach 60°C?
We asked our members why they choose to wash at 60°C. More than half use this program to wash items like towels and bedding. These are laundry items that are typically associated with germs and for a long time the wisdom has been that we need to wash laundry at higher temperatures if we want to wipe out bacteria.
Normally, we test washing machines using 40°C programs, as modern washing detergents are effective enough to allow people to use 40ºC for almost all their washing needs. Towels and bedding seem to be the exception, due to the perceived advantages of washing at 60.
But can you rely on your washing machine to reach this temperature? And is 60°C actually high enough to kill bugs and bacteria anyway?
Testing top temperatures
We put 12 washing machines to the test and measured the top temperature they reached during a 60ºC wash and how long that temperature was maintained. Eight of the machines did not get to 60 degrees at all. The lowest top temperature was 43°C.
Most of the machines kept the water cooler than 50°C for the majority of the program. That’s not exactly what you might expect if you’re using the 60°C wash with the hope of keeping your laundry bacteria-free.
Banishing the bugs
Our test results suggest that a typical 60°C wash can’t be relied upon to kill bacteria, especially if your machine only reaches this temperature for a couple of minutes (or not at all).
We asked a microbiologist for advice about ridding laundry of bugs and he explained that the real key to wiping out bacteria is using a good laundry detergent to wash them away. Detergents are much more effective than they used to be at lower temperatures, so even if your machine doesn’t get to 60°C, a good detergent can remove bacteria and viruses.
I very rarely use a 60°C wash at home. I prefer to be as energy and water efficient as I can and use a fast program that washes at 30°C. I used to wonder if I was taking any chances by not using a hotter wash on things like towels and sheets. Now I know that laundry detergent has a major role to play in bug removal as well as stain removal, I just have to always remember to actually put some in the detergent drawer…
Do you wash at 60°C? Which washing machine program gives you the most peace of mind when it comes to keeping your laundry bug-free?