How To Choose Your Washer Settings Without Destroying Your Clothes (And BTW, What Exactly is Permanent Press?)

How To Choose Your Washer Settings Without Destroying Your Clothes (And BTW, What Exactly is Permanent Press?)

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Shifrah Combiths
Mar 10, 2018
(Image credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

I admit I wash 90 percent of our laundry on the cotton/normal setting. Sometimes I separate towels into their own load and wash them on the towel setting. Rags always go through the Sanitize cycle. But other than that, the settings on my high-tech washer and dryer are basically unused. I've been paying more attention, though, to the impact of how I launder our clothes on their longevity. And I'm determined to put all of my laundry settings to better use.

About Laundry Temperatures

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 some 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!
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Choosing the Right Laundry Cycle

Once you get past the world of washer temperatures, your next choice is going to be about what cycle to choose, such as heavy duty, permanent press, hand wash, or delicate. Real Simple 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.

...but let's be honest. Permanent press is, by far, the most challenging cycle to understand — and probably one you've never touched before on your own machine. Here's what you need to know:

What does the permanent press cycle mean?

On a washing machine, a permanent press cycle washes clothes in warm water and rinses them in cool water and agitation and spin cycles are mild. On a dryer, the permanent press cycle uses medium heat.

What does the permanent press cycle do?

The purpose of the permanent press cycle in both washers and dryers is to minimize wrinkles. The cool rinse at the end of the washing cycle and the lower heat setting of the dryer helps prevent wrinkles from forming in the first place and help release ones that do form. The permanent press cycle also helps minimize fading, shrinking, and pilling.

What clothes should I put in a permanent press cycle?

Most clothes made of synthetic, semi-synthetic, or blends should go in the permanent press cycle. In addition, clothes made of natural fibers that wrinkle easily, such as button-down shirts or pants, should be washed on permanent press.

What is a "permanent press shirt"?

Permanent press shirts (and other clothes) have been treated with a special finish to help keep them wrinkle-free. Sometimes these clothes will be labeled "wrinkle-free" or "wash-and-wear." Permanent press clothing should always be washed on the permanent press cycle because ironing out set-in wrinkles can damage the fabric.

Is the permanent press cycle for delicates?

No. While the permanent press cycle is more gentle than the regular cycle and is ideal for certain types of clothes, delicate clothes should be washed on the delicates cycle.

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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