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The ins and outs of washing machine cycles

When it comes to getting your clothes clean, there’s a lot to consider: The detergent, the temperature, how to sort and dry them properly, and, of course, which washing machine cycle to choose.

This last one is important because it determines how rigorously and for how long your clothes will be agitated in the washing machine, and how much water and energy is used in the process. But as anyone who’s had a look at a few washing machines will know, there are plenty of settings to choose from, and each machine seems to have its own set. Knowing which cycle to choose can therefore be tricky. There are, however, a few washing machine cycles that are common across most washers: normal, heavy duty, bedding/bulky items, permanent press, and delicate, not to mention the additional rinsing and spinning options. We’ll explain these below so you can get the most out of your washing machine and keep your clothes looking their best.

First steps

Before you select the correct washing machine program, make sure you’ve sorted your laundry correctly and have selected the appropriate temperature.

Generally, cold wash cycles are fine for all clothes including delicates and colored clothing. Warm water should be used for clothes that are more soiled and for whites, and hot water for very soiled clothing or items that need to be kept clean, like underwear and towels. Most washing machines will still be able to get clothes clean with cold water, however. Also, keep in mind that using warm or hot water will end up setting stains, so make sure to pre-treat the stains properly before you wash them in warm water. When in doubt, check the care label and follow the laundry symbols

Washing Machine Cycles, Explained: How to Choose the Correct Wash Cycle for Your Clothes

Washing machine cycles are pre-set with wash, rinse, and spin cycles of different speeds, temperatures, and durations. Here are some of the most common ones:

The normal or regular cycle usually combines a high-speed wash with a high-speed spin, meaning it’s harsher on your clothes. That’s why it should only be used on sturdier materials like cotton t-shirts and pants.

Heavy duty
For work clothes that end up heavily soiled, the heavy duty cycle is the way to go. Like the normal cycle, it uses a high-speed wash and spin, but lasts longer and uses more water, making it easier to remove stains.

Bedding/bulky items
Like the name suggests, the cycle for bedding or bulky items should be used for larger items like sheets, rugs, and blankets. This usually begins with a soaking period and follows with a medium-speed wash and spin cycle.

Permanent press/casual
For synthetic fabrics and colored clothes, opt for the permanent press cycle, which uses a medium-speed wash cycle, a low-speed spin cycle, a cold rinse, and a resting period to reduce wrinkling.

Washing delicates requires a cycle that uses low-speed wash and spin cycles, as agitation and tumbling can end up ruining the materials. The delicates wash cycle also tends to be shorter.

Washing Machine Cycle Basics

For washing machines that let you adjust the spin cycle, there are a few things to keep in mind. Spinning is used to remove water from your clothes after they’ve been washed and rinsed. This is to make drying them easier. However, high spin cycles end up creasing your clothing and may stretch them as well, and therefore shouldn’t be used on more delicate fabrics.

Extra-rinse and prewash cycle options

For heavily soiled clothes, most washing machines will offer extra-rinse and prewash cycle options.

Extra-rinse will add another rinse cycle to the end of your washing machine cycle to ensure that as much dirt and detergent is rinsed out as possible. A prewash, on the other hand, is used to soak the clothing before the wash cycle starts, helping to loosen up stains. When you choose a prewash cycle, add detergent to both the prewash and detergent compartments of the dispenser.

If you’re still unsure whether you’re selecting the most appropriate washing machine cycle, consult your washing machine manual, often also available online, for instructions tailored to your machine.

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