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Cold Wash: Embracing a Central Growth Strategy in Laundry Care

4/26/2024
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There are structural government and industry shifts that continue to increase the prominence of cold wash, and there is a hard fact that will drive it beyond opposition. If every home on the planet used an automatic washing machine with the energy-inefficient hot wash behaviours of today, that would dramatically increase global household electricity use against an existing energy supply shortfall in developed and developing markets, and a looming CO2 emissions crisis.

For the developed world to escape the hypocrisy trap of overindulging in energy consumption whilst lecturing the developing world about the importance of living sustainably and resource-efficiently, cold wash has the potential to serve as a leveller of a severe imbalance in quality of life, creating a common standard and moving us away from our reliance on heat, whilst serving laundry stakeholders and their growth strategy at the junction of sustainability, profit and equality. There are a number of emerging markets where a good performance of cold water washing would be greatly appreciated. Brazil is a notable example, where consumers are cold washing but have to accept inferior results.

If executed successfully, cold wash could serve as a real opportunity for the industry to genuinely act in the interests of the planet, without having to compromise on profit or remain stuck in a moral dilemma of outsourcing blame for failing to achieve ambitious sustainability objectives

Source: Euromonitor International

Stakeholder motives serve as a powerful driver of cold wash

Cold wash plays a crucial role in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with laundry care, particularly Scope 3 emissions, which dominate the product lifecycle’s carbon footprint. Reducing washing machine temperatures to lower energy consumption therefore aligns with governmental and corporate efforts to combat climate change.

It does not come as a surprise that Scope 3 emissions, which capture all indirect GHG emissions, both upstream and downstream, are increasingly coming into focus for regulators and brands, as they account for 89-99% of laundry’s total carbon footprint.Graphic showing brands' carbon footprint

Effective consumer education around cold wash benefits is complex

Consumer knowledge gaps persist regarding the efficacy and benefits of cold water washing, with concerns over germ elimination and cleaning effectiveness in cold water prevalent among consumers. Moreover, entrenched laundry habits and psychological reactance pose significant barriers to adopting cold wash practices. The perceived trade-off between hygiene and efficacy versus environmental concerns complicates consumer decision-making.

Quick wash cycles, driven by time constraints and convenience, exacerbate hygiene issues associated with low-temperature washing. Whilst efforts to promote energy efficiency, coupled with increasing inflation rates and energy costs, have led to some reduction in wash temperatures, consumer scepticism remains high, particularly in regions like Europe where warm and hot washing prevails. Economic factors, such as rising energy costs, have spurred some adoption of cold wash but where desired results are not achieved, compensation behaviour can be observed, working against the goal of achieving a higher level of energy efficiency.

To effect lasting change, consumer motivations must be better addressed. Leveraging defaults, such as setting cold wash as the default cycle, can nudge consumers towards cold washing without requiring significant cognitive effort. Overall, a concerted effort is needed to bridge knowledge gaps, address consumer concerns, and promote the long-term benefits of cold water washing.Chart showing Laundry Temperatures in Europe, 2020-2022

Cold wash in developing markets constitutes the industry’s main growth strategy

In developing markets, the cost and accessibility of electricity pose significant barriers to widespread laundry automation. High energy demands for heating water limit appliance penetration, particularly in regions like the Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific, and Latin America.Chart showing Residential Electricity Consumption in Developing vs Developed Markets, 2010-2023

Energy efficiency regulations, such as the EU’s energy labels, play a crucial role in driving innovation towards cold water washing. Recent updates to the EU label prioritise energy-efficient cycles, with a mandate for the “eco cycle” as the default setting and restrictions on high-temperature cycles. This encourages appliance brands to balance energy consumption with wash performance, driving towards lower average wash temperatures.

Detergency will have to do much of the heavy lifting

Achieving effective cold washes without heating water poses challenges. True cold washes use unheated water, demanding compensation from chemical and mechanical actions to maintain efficacy. Longer cycles and slowed chemistry are visible issues, while bacterial growth presents an invisible challenge, leading to unpleasant odours if hygiene standards are not met.

For cold wash to succeed, detergent chemistry must compensate for the lack of thermal energy. Detergent reformulation is crucial to ensure effective cleaning in cold water, especially in developing markets where energy costs limit appliance penetration.

Existing innovation in cold-active ingredients, including surfactants, enzymes and polymers, enables detergents to tackle stains effectively without relying on hot water

Source: Euromonitor International

Cold wash requires collaboration, but technology is also driving out-of-silo thinking

The laundry industry recognises the necessity of cross-industry collaboration to drive innovation and sustainability. Cold wash solutions require cooperation among stakeholders to ensure performance without compromise.Graphic depicting collaboration between brands and customers

Beyond the need for collaboration, brands are investing in smart technology to support credible fabric care at low temperatures. Haier WashPass, an integrated durables and consumables offer active in Italy, though currently limited in appeal due to price, demonstrates a long-term solution. Soft water technology, combined with mixing-in-the-moment, promises credible cold wash results and groundbreaking sustainability benefits. Nudge theory, implemented through legislative frameworks and transparent reporting, influences consumer behaviour towards lower wash temperatures.

At the end of the day, cold wash not only enables sustainability but also democratises access to automatic laundry, particularly benefiting developing markets like Brazil.

Ultimately, success in cold wash represents a significant opportunity for the industry to align profit with environmental responsibility, promoting equality and sustainability without compromise

Source: Euromonitor International

Our report, A New Appreciation for Cold Wash, provides an in-depth analysis of developments in cold wash across all relevant laundry stakeholders.

Learn more about key home care trends in our report, World Market for Home Care.

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