can I do laundry with a broken water heater? When your water heater is broken, you can’t take a hot shower or run the dishwasher, but can you at least throw a load of dirty clothes into the washer? Well, that depends on a few factors, including your type of washing machine and what kind of clothing you want to wash. Here’s what you need to know to decide if you can do laundry with a broken water heater.

Does My Washing Machine Heat Water?

Most washing machines do not heat their own water. They have inputs for cold and hot water and draw both from your home. If your washing machine tries to pull hot water from your water heater, and it gets cold water instead, it will just wash your clothes in that cold water. That’s not a problem unless you absolutely needed to wash those garments in hot water.

That said, if your water heater has a major leak or some kind of clog that will prevent it from delivering water to the washing machine at all, then you shouldn’t attempt to use your washing machine. In the case of a leak, your water main should be shut off for safety. In the case of a clog, your washing machine may get damaged if it tries to wash clothes with less or no water.

Also, some washing machines heat their own water with an internal water heater. Some are meant for off-grid situations where you might not have access to hot water all of the time. Others create steam to remove stains from clothing better. If you suspect you have a washing machine that heats its own water, you can double-check with your user’s manual. If you do, there should be no problem using it while your water heater is broken.

What Can You Wash in Cold Water?

If you can only wash with cold water, don’t worry, you can wash many things perfectly safely in cold water. Midrange and more expensive detergents are designed to be used with cold water and will provide the same level of cleanliness on cold cycles as they do on hot. In fact, there are some benefits of washing in just cold water, including protecting the vibrancy of your clothing, avoiding shrinking, and prevent dyeing whites and lighter colors.

That said, there are some clothing items that are better left to wash in hot or warm water, including:

  • White clothing
  • Underwear and garments worn close to the body
  • Bath towels and hand towels
  • Bedsheets, particularly if you were sick
  • Items that were heavily soiled
  • Nylon, rayon, polyester and spandex

What About Water Heater Repairs?

While you may be able to run your washing machine while your water heater is broken, you may want to wait if you’ve called your plumber for repairs. During the repairs, they may need to turn off your water, and you wouldn’t want to interrupt the washing cycle to do that. Your plumber should let you know when they’ll arrive so you know if you can sneak in a load of laundry beforehand.