How to Choose the Washing Cycle is in the Laundry Basics series here at Mama’s Laundry Talk.
If you were never taught the proper way to wash laundry or if you just need a refresher, this series is for you!
I’ll admit: Prior to just a couple of years ago, I didn’t really know which cycle to use when washing our clothes. I just put the clothes in and hoped for the best result.
But after tons of laundry research (nerdy, I know) I now understand which cycle to use and when.
While front-loaders and top-loaders work in vastly different ways, they do have similar wash cycles. In fact, there are 3 basic wash cycles and we’ll cover those in-depth in this post.
We’ll also briefly touch on the ‘newer’ cycles that some washers now have.
But what is a washing cycle?
What does that even mean?
Many laundry debacles can be chalked up to using the wrong cycle. So it is helpful to know the basics of washer cycles in general.
A washing cycle has a speed at which it agitates or tumbles the clothes and then another speed that it spins the water out of the clothes.
This is important: → The cycle you choose is based upon the amount of agitation and spin the load requires and can tolerate.
The speed of the wash cycle and the spin cycle are often displayed on the machine itself, especially on older models.
For example: “fast/slow” means that the cycle will produce a fast, highly agitated washing cycle and a slow spin cycle. Note that ‘fast’ in this instance means ‘vigorous’, ‘brisk’, or ‘intense’.
Keep in mind that the three factors involved in getting laundry clean are:
- agitation in the wash cycle
- water temperature
How clean your clothes are depends on each of these three aspects.
Washing Cycle #1: The Regular or Normal Cycle
In a basic washing machine, the regular or normal cycle will create the longest cycle with the most agitation. And for a soiled, dirty, sweaty typical load of clothes this is the cycle you want to choose.
The normal cycle often lasts anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes. This is the actual time the machine spends agitating the clothes to get them clean.
This cycle uses a ‘fast/fast’ combination, meaning the washing cycle is fast and the spin cycle is fast as well.
Cottons and linens are fabrics that tolerate the normal cycle very well. They are sturdy fabrics that can withstand this degree of agitation and clothes come very clean as a result.
Jeans, towels and bedding are also fabrics that tolerate this cycle well.
Items that are heavily soiled must be washed on the regular cycle. Whether the problem is a heavy amount of sweat, heavy staining, or heavy dirt the item will not come clean without a significant amount of agitation.
And that can only be achieved through a longer wash cycle.
Washing Cycle #2: The Permanent Press Cycle
For a long time, I just did not know what this cycle was used for. I now understand that it is primarily used for synthetic fibers such as rayons, knits, polyesters and acetates.
These fabric materials need the agitation of the regular cycle, but the slow spin of the delicate cycle as to not wrinkle clothes.
The Permanent Press cycle lasts on average from 7-10 minutes and uses a ‘fast/slow’ combination.
Again, it uses the vigorous speed of the actual washing cycle and uses a slow spin cycle. While the slow spin cycle does not extract as much water from the clothes, it does prevent a good amount of wrinkling.
Synthetic fibers are known for harboring smells and they can only be removed by the agitation experienced in a fast cycle. Synthetic fabrics are also known for pilling, and it is only increased with friction.
By choosing a slower spin cycle, it also helps decrease the wear and tear on the fabric, thus causing less pilling.
Washing Cycle #3: The Delicate Cycle
The Delicate or Gentle cycle is the most ambiguous of the three. There is not necessarily a specific fabric that requires the delicate cycle (other than washable silk or wool), however there are many reasons to use this cycle.
The delicate cycle uses a ‘slow/slow’ combination, meaning that the wash cycle uses a slow or lesser degree of agitation and the spin cycle uses a slow spin to extract water from laundry.
A delicate cycle usually lasts between 4 and 7 minutes during its actual wash cycle. By using a ‘slow/slow’ cycle, the agitation and abrasion on the clothes is greatly reduced and offers a certain level of protection for some fabrics.
Again, there are a few fabrics that need the delicate cycle and there are specific garments that need the extra protection offered by the gentle cycle. Garments that have appliques or sequins, lingerie, extremely sheer fabrics, pantyhose, or loosely woven items such as a loosely crocheted baby blanket are examples.
Items that have weak fibers such as antique pieces or lacy items need the extra protection of the gentle cycle.
The delicate cycle is designed to be less abrasive, using less agitation. So while it provides less wear and tear on your clothes, it also decreases the level of clean in some instances.
Specialty Cycles Offered by Newer Washing Machines
If you choose to upgrade from the basic model, newer washing machines offer a whole host of specialty cycles.
Everything from Kids’ Clothes to Whitest Whites to Steam Treating to Sanitary Cycles are now options on washing machines.
The difference in most of these cycles is:
- Some cycles offer a pre-soak
- Some cycles offer a longer agitation time
- Some cycles offer a pre-determined time during the wash cycle to add laundry boosters such as bleach
A Steam Treatment cycle uses steam (obviously) at pre-programmed times during the wash cycle to combat stains. In my experience, this cycle is very helpful in getting rid of tomato-based stains and ink stains, as they are some of the toughest to remove.
A Sanitary Cycle uses the washer’s internal heater to boost the water temperature to a possible 150 degrees. And they typically also use steam to sanitize clothes in addition to the higher water temperature. This combination is helpful in getting rid of built-up grime, washing cloth diapers, or washing heavily soiled work clothes.
Are all of the ‘extra’ cycles worth it? For some families, they are absolutely necessary. If your husband works in a job where he sweats all day long, the sanitary cycle might be necessary to get the sweaty smell out. If you have lots of children (ie: lots of stains), the Steam Treatment cycle might be necessary to keep clothes looking newer longer.
However, if your family isn’t stain prone and you just have the average amount of dirt and sweat in your clothes, you could survive just fine with a basic washing machine with minimal frills.
Each family has different laundry needs.
Any questions about washing machine cycles? Ask away in the comments!
Make sure you don’t miss the entire Laundry Basics Series!
- How to Wash Clothes Step by Step
- Laundry Basics: How to Sort Clothes
- Laundry Basics: How to Choose the Washing Cycle – you are here!
- Laundry Basics: Choosing Water Temperature
- Laundry Basics: Determining the Size of the Load and Starting the Washer