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How do I know which settings to use on my washing machine?

Confused about which settings to use on your washing machine? Here’s a quick guide to help you select the right settings for perfectly clean laundry every time you wash.

BY: Diana Murphy

Doing laundry used to be pretty simple. These days -- with all the capabilities of modern clothes washers -- it can be downright confusing. Today’s washing machines offer a wide array of settings that are great for doing all types of wash, though it takes a little know-how to figure out which ones to use to get the job done.

Sorting your laundry into like fabrics and colors and using the right settings for each type will help prolong the life of your garments, and can even save energy and money off your utility bills. Here’s a quick guide to understanding the settings on your washing machine.

Choosing the Right Washer Setting
Selecting the correct setting on your washer for the type of load you have will help clean your garments properly and keep them looking new longer. Every make and model will have different settings, and not all models will have all the cycles listed below, but here are some general settings you’ll find on many new washers:

  • Heavy Duty: Choose this cycle for sturdy items such as jeans and towels or for very soiled laundry. If your machine doesn’t have a separate cycle for “whites,” “bulky” or “sheets,” then use this cycle for those items as well.
  • Bulky: Use this setting for large or bulky items such as blankets, comforters and sleeping bags. This cycle will soak items first to thoroughly saturate a large load and maintain the load balance to prevent damage to the machine.
  • Whites: Select this setting for white garments such as T-shirts, underwear and socks. Machines that have a “whites” cycle will dispense liquid bleach at the proper time.
  • Sheets: Pick this setting for sheets, pillowcases, light blankets and throws to keep them from balling up during the wash.
  • Normal: Choose this setting for normally soiled cottons and mixed fabrics.
  • Permanent Press/ Wrinkle Free/ Wrinkle Control: Go to this setting for permanent press and other no-iron fabrics to keep the wrinkle-free properties intact.
  • Darks/Colors: Choose this setting for colored fabrics to help prevent fading.
  • Steam: Pick this cycle to quickly remove wrinkles and odors to refresh garments without having to go through an entire wash cycle.
  • Sanitary/ Allergen Removal: Choose this cycle to remove up to 99.9 percent of common bacteria and allergens from garments.
  • Delicates: Use this setting for delicate or fragile machine-washable items such as lingerie, bathing suits and washable lace curtains.
  • Hand Wash: Choose this setting for hand-washable items; the lower speed will help protect the garments during the wash cycle.
  • Washable Wool: Opt for this setting for washable wool items such as sweaters, hats, scarves and socks that are not marked “dry clean only.” This cycle will clean wool while helping prevent stretching.
  • Rapid Wash/ Speed Wash: Choose this setting to quickly wash small, lightly soiled loads that you need in a hurry
  • Rinse and Spin: Use this setting for loads that don’t require detergent, as this cycle will only rinse and spin garments. 

Choosing the Right Temperature
Selecting the right water temperature for your wash is important to keep clothes clean and bright without fading, stretching or damaging the fabric.

  • Hot Water: Choose “hot” water for the initial wash cycle on white cotton fabrics such as underwear, socks and sheets. Hot water (120 to 140 F) will kill the bacteria and keep whites bright.
  • Warm Water: Pick “warm” water for synthetic, wrinkle-free and permanent press fabrics to prevent them from fading and damaging the material. Warm water (85 to 105 F) will keep colors bright while protecting the fabric.
  • Cold Water: Use “cold” water for dark colors and delicate fabrics, as well as for the final rinse cycle on all fabrics. Cold water (65 to 75 F) will help prolong the life of delicates
Now that you know which settings to use for each load of wash, you’ll do laundry like a pro!

Diana Murphy is the managing editor of Home Sweet Solutions and former editor of Kitchen and Bath Portfolio and Country Living Special Interest Publications.


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