/ Health, Home & Energy

Washing machines – does washing at 60 really banish bugs?

Washing machine

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?


I generally use low-temperature washes because they are faster, less likely to damage clothes, and cheaper in terms of energy use. However I have been concerned about bacteria build-up/mould/slime in the machine.
Recently I had a very stained large white cotton cover for an armchair to clean, so I put it in on a very hot wash. To my horror it came out with lots of large grey/brown spots (some in a regular pattern, similar to the holes in the washing drum).
I can only conclude that using the hot wash on that rare occasion had dislodged lots of scum resident in the machine which had then deposited itself firmly on the fabric.
I have heard that it may be necessary to do lots of empty hot washes in a row to get rid of all this gunk – sounds expensive and troublesome! Any thoughts?


Susanc – I think you are right and it is difficult to think of any other explanation of what you have seen.

Frequent maintenance washes are important when routinely washing at low temperature. Grease from our skin – maybe natural oils sounds better – builds up in the tub surrounding the clean shiny drum, and helps bacteria and moulds stick there and multiply. I am not convinced that doing a maintenance wash once a month is enough and I am not convinced that it is essential to run the machine empty. You might not have found out about the problem if you had run your machine empty. Without dismantling a washing machine it is difficult to know how clean the innards are.


This has solved a mystery. I sent an evening dress shirt to the laundry for a premium-priced professional wash and ironing service. It wasn’t soiled but I was having the suit dry-cleaned and thought it worth having the shirt done properly as well and presented immaculately in a sealed cellophane enclosure for storage until needed again. After I brought it home and opened the brown paper wrappping I noticed that there were lots of off-white/greyish spots all over the front of the shirt. It didn’t occur to me at the time that they were in a sort of pattern. There was a note pinned to the shirt explaining that despite their best efforts the laundry couldn’t eradicate the stains on the shirt. I didn’t do anything more about it and just put it down to experience. I subsequently washed the shirt on its own in our machine on a 60 C cotton wash using Fairy non-bio gel with a small amount of fabric conditioner and ironed it myself while slightly damp [the shirt, I mean] and with a gentle spray-starch application. The results were at least as good as any laundry and the shirt looks perfect again. One never quite knows where dry cleaning services get the laundry done – it’s probably farmed out to local people on piece rates who, as one would expect, try to keep their costs down by generally using a low temperature setting. They might not pay much attention to the cleanliness of their washing machine believing that (a) frequent use takes care of any problems, and (b) this a 40 C wash is good for the environment. Once in a while they probably have to do a hot wash and, hey presto!, the clothes draw out the scum from the drum. I thank Susan C for explaining this.

raj says:
29 March 2015

When the same happened to me I thought it was mould or mildew. In fact the drum bearing was broken and it was bearing grease. Do have that checked. I ruined quite a few shirts.


Our machine did a perfect wash. The laundry service let us down and won’t get our custom again.


Bearing grease seems a plausible cause for susanc’s problem. Bearings are usually sealed units but the space between the bearing and seal may be packed with grease. A washing machine engineer would know if this is the case.


Susan if the marks on your cover after washing were greasy it could also be sign that the bearings are going on your machine, if it happens on other programmes as well.


It is over 16 months since this problem of nominal 60C washes being far from that and Which? said it would be liaising with DEFRA. Perhaps we can have an up-date. The concept that fixed measurements like degrees C can be misused by manufactuers to meet EU plans is deeply troubling.

” 43°CThe hottest temperature reached by a Hoover washing machine on the 60˚C program

Instruction manuals must, however, contain wording stating that the temperature specified might not be reached. When we questioned all the manufacturers involved in our testing, they quoted this clause as the justification for not reaching 60˚C.
This means that the Hoover washing machine that only reaches 43˚C and gets an A+++ energy rating is acceptable under the current requirements of the EU label.

What is Which? doing about this?
The top temperatures reached by different machines in our tests varied by 24˚C. With no law requiring particular temperatures to be reached, manufacturers can, in theory, not heat the water as much to save on energy costs and improve their ratings.
As guidelines are currently so relaxed, we think the energy label is not a transparent and fair way to compare washing machines. Which? has contacted several organisations, including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which oversees the energy label in the UK.

Defra has confirmed that it will bring up this issue as part of the European Commission’s review of washing machine energy labels, so we’ll be meeting with Defra before that review to present our evidence.”

I am also ashamed to note that despite running this story the Which? website does not actually provide a button for dicovering which machines offer a hygiene wash – generally code for a more thorough wash with longer high temperatures and more rinse cycles. Given the huge rise in children suffering from allergies this would be useful. The 60C testing for washing machines also appears to be have been a one-off by Which? so consumers have no idea as to the actual temperatures reached in this cycle.


Not only are we washing at lower temperatures, but modern machines use far less water, leading to frequent comments about poor rinsing in Which? reports and by users. It is interesting to compare the amount of water used by a modern machine and mine, which I have had for 33 years (today is it’s birthday). It’s one reason I’m holding on to it. I should point out that I live in an area where there is plenty of water. I appreciate that other areas are not so lucky, but in order to conserve water, perhaps Defra should be questioning the use of drinking-quality water for gardens and flushing the loo.

We now know that the 60C setting on a modern washing machine relates to cleaning performance and not that it washes at 60˚C. At best this is confusing, and I wonder if the same applies with the 40˚C setting. My biggest concern is that our machines are not allowed to accumulate very large numbers of bacteria and moulds anchored by grease, protein and goodness knows what else. This can be hidden from view behind a shiny stainless steel drum and the user will probably be unaware of the problem until there is a smell or the door seal becomes contaminated. I am not convinced that a monthly maintenance wash is enough, partly because I have not seen any evidence. I believe that we should go back to programme settings that relate to the washing temperature and would like to see some standardisation of the time held at this temperature, which can vary greatly between models.

A further concern is what chemicals are used in laundry detergent and even more so in fabric conditioners, which are designed to remain on our clothes after washing. The chemical composition of these products can change without users being aware of this, which is very difficult for users who are suffering from skin irritation or more serious conditions.

I would like to see investigations done totally independent of manufacturers of detergents and washing machines.

As discussed elsewhere, many washing machines are now being designed in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to carry out repairs such as replacing bearings cost effectively, leading to increased costs for consumers and adding to the mountain of waste.

There are so many problems and uncertainties related to washing and though our modern machines are effective in cleaning, we urgently need to start doing some research. Independent research.


Dieseltaylor – I have now looked back at article the about washing temperature published in the September 2013 issue of Which?

To quote a headline: “MYTH 60˚C KILLS BUGS”

Prof Bill Grant has written in this article: “No one has suggested that heavily contaminated domestic linens should not be treated appropriately. However, are 60˚C washes necessary for sanitising normal linens? Bacterial spores and some viruses are quite resistant to 60˚C. The major sanitising effect of the domestic wash is the removal – rather than the destruction – of bacteria and viruses.”

Anne Mills says:
16 March 2018

Here here

Dave says:
5 March 2015

I used to sell washing machines for a living and I knew back in the early 90s that they rarely reach the set temperature and if they do, not for long… I have a dog and to be sure, I like to always wash at higher temperatures – often using hotter temperature setting 70 – 80c depending on whites being soiled…. Ive tried the expensive detergents but a hotter temperature is better…

angela smyth says:
5 February 2018

Hi Dave,
PLEASE tell me which washing machine has a 70 degree temperature!!
I cannot find any.
They go from 60 degrees to 90 degrees and that takes almost five hours to run – how can that be right?
MRSA won’t be destroyed under 65 degrees ………….my 33 year old Bauknecht had a full range of temperatures and was amazingly quick. Sadly, no new motor could be found and it had to go.
If you know where I can buy a 70/80 degree machine, I would be eternally grateful.