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Be honest, despite the 15 programmes, five temperatures and three speed settings how many of us just bung all our washing in the machine and stick it to fast wash at 40°C?

Does it really matter what temperature the water is or what you use to wash your clothes? And has it got implications for health?

Take note of the temperature

Symbols on clothing tags and fabrics will give you the best indication of what temperature to wash them at.

In general terms the hotter the water the cleaner the clothes will be.  Hot washes are good for linens and cottons like sheets and towels and whites.
In general everyday clothes don't need a hot wash as they may shrink or become mis-shapen.

Soiled clothes like nappies and healthcare workers uniforms will benefit from a hot wash to make sure all of the germs are killed.

Advice from the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene is that items which come into direct contact with the body like underwear, socks, towels and bed linens should be washed at 30 to 40°C with an oxygen bleach-based laundry product.  

It considers it satisfactory to wash outer garments like jackets, skirts and trousers at 40°C or less with a non bleach-based product.

A general rule of thumb is powders and tablets have bleach, gels and liquids don't.

Advice from the Forum is, for the clothes, bedding and towels of someone with an infection, or for soiled clothes like nappies and sports gear as well as cloths and tea towels, wash at 60°C or more using an oxygen bleach-based laundry product.

You shouldn't mix clothes either, so don't put tea towels in with normal clothes.

At the moment we're being encouraged to wash at 30°C to save energy. Some manufacturers are making detergents specifically for use at lower temperatures.

The advice from the Energy Saving Trust is that washing clothes at 30°C rather than at higher temperatures uses around 40% less energy.

It believes that modern washing powders and detergents work just as effectively at lower temperatures unless you have very dirty washing.

There's also a European campaign called 'I prefer 30' to encourage people to wash at 30°C.

Professor Sally Bloomfield of the Home Hygiene Forum says: "There's no definitive answer on this, we need more data before reaching a conclusion, but people should use their common sense, when it comes to picking a temperature."

She says: "If someone is vulnerable to infection, maybe has cancer or is having chemotherapy, wash their clothes and sheets at a higher temperature and wash them separately from the rest of the family's."

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