How To Choose Your Washer Settings Without Destroying Your Clothes

How To Choose Your Washer Settings Without Destroying Your Clothes

Jason Yang
Feb 27, 2013

Most of us learned the hard way during our teenage years about clothes washer settings (red socks + white shirt mishaps, anyone?). But there are lessons beyond separating our colors from our whites. Find out what those temperature and cycle settings on your washing machines actually mean for an optimal laundry cycle.

Modern washers generally give you the option to select a temperature for cleaning your clothes. Generally speaking the hotter the water the cleaner your clothes will be, but you don't always want to just crank up the heat. Hot water can cause your clothes to shrink and often colors and delicates require cold water but might not get out the really tough stuff. Selecting warm is often a compromise, but it's best to sort your laundry to maximize your washer's efficiency with the right settings. Always check your clothing tags for specific instructions but here's good general advice:

  • Durable white clothes should go on hot wash, cold rinse
  • Durable colors generally go on warm wash and cold or warm rinse
  • Permanent press generally goes on cold wash and cold rinse
  • Delicates should go on cold wash and cold rinse.
  • When in doubt, always check the tags!


To confound matters beyond temperature, we're often presented with cycle options such as heavy duty, permanent press, hand wash, and delicate. RealSimple provides a breakdown of some of the more common settings you'll find and when to use them.

  • Quick Wash: A speedy cycle for a few lightly soiled items, like the blouse and pants you want to wear to dinner tonight. A faster spin means clothes will dry quicker, too.
  • Pre-Wash: Stained or extra-dirty garments? Use this to add a soak to the beginning of a cycle. Divide detergent among the pre-wash and detergent dispensers.
  • Permanent Press: Choose this to minimize wrinkling in dress shirts and pants, and preserve the finish on wrinkle-free items. Warm or hot wash water relaxes creases and a slow spin helps prevent new ones from forming.
  • Heavy Duty: Muddy play clothes and other sturdy, heavily soiled items do well in this cycle, which features a long, warm or hot wash and high-speed tumbling to scrub out filth.
  • Delicates: A short, cold wash with slow tumbling and spinning. Use it for sweaters, lingerie, and other items that require a light touch.
  • Hand Wash: Designed to mimic the way clothes are washed in the sink, with periods of gentle tumbling and soaking in cold water, this is for garments labeled "hand-wash."
  • Extra Rinse: Tacks an additional rinse onto the end of a cycle to ensure dirt, dust and detergent are thoroughly flushed out. A good option if a family member has allergies or sensitive skin.
  • Rinse and Spin: Quickly rinses and removes moisture from things like bathing suits and beach towels with no detergent.
- RealSimple
You could always just toss your clothes into the washer willy nilly, but read all of the labels and properly sorting your laundry loads into groups that match your washer settings will really stretch the lifespan of your wardrobe for you to always look your best,

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(Images: Shutterstock/Monkey Business, Shutterstock/trainman32)

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