What temperature to wash dark clothes – experts explain how to keep your colors from fading

Experts explain how to keep your dark clothes from fading in the wash with these easy to follow tips

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When it comes to getting laundry done making sure you get the right setting every time for different laundry loads can be confusing. We all know so much about washing whites already, so you may be left wondering what temperature to wash dark clothes at to prevent fading. 

Although it is much easier to ignore laundry symbols altogether it turns out that washing dark colors clothes the wrong way can lead to fading – with a bold decision to disregard washing instructions leading to a less-than-bold wardrobe. 

Given that the more common question is 'do you wash whites in hot or cold water?' we so often neglect our dark laundry loads and simply hope for the best, but no longer. 

Here, experts explain what temperature to wash dark clothes at and offer some extra, easy washing tips for getting the most out of your dark-colored clothing for longer. 

what temperature to wash dark clothes

A woman carrying a laundry hamper full of colored clothes

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When washing dark colored clothing, you should always aim for a cool temperature – around 60-80ºF. 'Washing at cooler temperatures is better for your clothes too as hot water is a known cause of clothes fading in colour,' explains Kathleen Bell, Smol (opens in new tab)'s sustainable cleaning expert.

The question 'should I was my clothes in cold water?' has been a common one over the years, with many people mistakingly believing that cooler water is not sufficient enough to remove dirt or bacteria from clothes. Fortunately, this could not be farther from the truth.

'Washing at the right temperature not only helps for energy-saving but can also help keep your clothes looking better for longer, too,' Kathleen continues. 'What's more, most detergents work perfectly, and sometimes even better, at lower temperatures, because anything too hot can denature the enzymes in them that breakdown stains.' 

How to prevent dark clothes from fading in the wash

Small laundry room ideas

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1. Turn dark clothes inside out 

The first step to preventing dark and colored clothing from fading is to turn your garments inside out. 

A washing machine, despite being filled with water and possibly even fabric softener, can be particularly abrasive to clothes. Turning garments and best linen sheets inside out allows the inside of the item to take the brunt of the wash and can help prevent both fading and pilling while also ensuring the garment is thoroughly washed.   

'Washing similar colors together can be a good idea to help prevent colors fading,' Kathleen Bell adds.

2. Opt for a delicate wash setting

The delicate setting on your washing machine is not just for your smalls and fine fabrics, it is important to note. Instead, delicate washes can be used to preserve the quality and color of any fabric in your home (given that it is washable, that is). 

A delicate wash is often a little shorter than a regular wash, too, helping to prevent bleeding dye and fading colors.

3. Choose the right laundry detergent

Using the wrong laundry detergent, or too much laundry detergent is one of the most common laundry mistakes people make. Knowing how to cut down on laundry detergent and select the right type for your clothes (and your skin) can help keep your clothes in better shape. 

'Good bio detergents, like smol's laundry capsules [found on Smol's website] (opens in new tab), work best at cooler temperatures as they contain stain-busting enzymes that denature at higher temperatures,' Kathleen explains. 'As a general rule to prevent colors fading, I’d recommend you wash at 80°F but it’s also a good idea to dig out your machine’s manual and see if using the eco-wash setting could be even better.'

If you are serious about keeping your dark clothing in its best condition, you may also want to consider investing in a specific laundry detergent for darks like this on Amazon (opens in new tab). Some people even choose to opt for a vinegar trick to prevent laundry from fading as an extra protective barrier too.

4. Use a low heat setting on a tumble dryer, or choose to air dry

Understanding a tumble dryer temperature guide can make a huge difference to the look of your clothes and how long they last. Although these machines are incredibly convenient, throwing laundry in haphazardly could shorten its lifespan. 

If you do choose to dry your clothes in a tumble dryer, make sure to use as low a heat setting (or an air drying setting where possible) to help prevent fading. You may also want to learn how to dry clothes quickly to shorten the amount of time dark clothes and linens need in the dryer. 

Alternatively, consider air drying your dark clothes and linens on a clothes airer or heated airer alongside one of the best dehumidifiers to preserve your dark clothes' color for longer – just make sure to keep your clothes out of direct sunlight.

Should I wash dark clothes on cold?

You should wash dark clothes on cold to help prevent fading. This is the opposite to light colored laundry and whites which wash better on higher temperatures to help keep them looking fresh. 

What happens if you wash dark clothes on warm?

If you wash your dark clothes on aa higher temperature then you may experience some color fading. While this may not effect your clothes too badly if it is only done once, repeatedly washing your dark clothes on high temperatures will gradually remove pigment and leave your dark clothes faded. 

Chiana Dickson
Junior Writer

Chiana is a junior writer for Homes & Gardens having joined Future plc as a new graduate in 2022 after achieving a 1st class degree in Literature at university. She first became interested in design as a child after spending her summers helping her parents redecorate her childhood home. As a long-time reader of Future’s homes titles, Chiana is constantly finding new inspiration at work as she focuses on emerging trends, how-to’s, and news pieces.