Stories & features

If you can swim in cold water, you can wash in it, too

A crowd runs into the water at the Vancouver Polar Bear Swim at English Bay under cloudy skies
Participants in the Polar Bear Swim at English Bay in Vancouver race into the icy water. Team Power Smart will be promoting the benefits of washing laundry in cold water at the January 1, 2018 event.

BC Hydro adds a twist to 2018 Vancouver Polar Bear Swim

What do BC Hydro and Wim "The Iceman" Hof have in common? A love of cold water, albeit for dramatically different reasons.

When hundreds of Wim Hof wannabees took the plunge into the icy waters of Vancouver’s English Bay for the Polar Bear Swim on January 1, 2018, BC Hydro was there extolling the virtues of doing laundry in cold water, as it does a great job on clothes while helping trim electricity use.

Swimmers got a chance to swim alongside a giant floating washing machine – courtesy of BC Hydro's Team Power Smart – but Dutch daredevil Hof wasn't there. With waters at 6°C, it would have been no challenge for Hof. Perhaps he might have considered a trip to Prince George, where the Lake Ness polar bear swim was held in water recorded as minus-.5 C.

In case you missed it, Hof is the guy who swam under the ice in the Arctic in waters as cold as -3°C, who ran a half-marathon in Antarctica in bare feet, wearing nothing but shorts, and who spent a world-record 1 hour, 13 minutes and 48 seconds immersed in ice. By contrast, the coldest English Bay has been for a Polar Bear Swim in Vancouver was 3°C, in 1982 and in 1985.

If you have the choice, use the 'cold' setting instead of 'tap cold'

At this time of year the water coming out of our taps can get much colder than usual. So while we insist that you try to keep using cold water to wash your laundry, it's often a good idea to use the "cold" setting on washing machine rather than "tap cold" if you have that option.

The cold setting will add a bit of hot water to bring the tap cold water up to a slightly warmer temperature that works better with many of today's detergents. What should you wash in cold water? Darks and colours for sure, and you’ll likely find that even your whites will work in cold water.

Cold-water detergents are priced about the same as their warm-water competitors, yet they have the added benefit of reducing your energy use by more than 75%. This all adds up to considerable savings every time you do laundry. Finally, cold water during the rinse cycle is perfect for all of your loads.

Rosa de Sousa, a commercial manager with the Greater Vancouver Laundry and Linen Services, says she had her doubts about using cold water until her hot water tank was out of commission for a week and she was forced to experiment on laundry in her home.

She now uses cold water for all her laundry and says that not only is she saving money on laundry costs, her clothes look great.

"Hot water breaks down the fibres and wears down the fabric of your clothes much faster," de Sousa said in an interview for Switch, the Team Power Smart magazine. "Hot water can also shrink, stretch and fade your fabrics."

The savings? By switching from hot to cold water for an average of three loads per week, you could save up to $27 per year on your energy bill. And in some cases cold water is even more effective than hot water. Use cold water on stains such as blood, red wine and coffee, as warm water can set the stain.