It's Laundry Day—Here's How to Use 10 Common Washing Machine Cycles

laundry room washing machine cycles

Cathie Hong Interiors

Often holding 8+ cycles, the dial on your washing machine can seem just a bit overwhelming, to say the least. From delicates to heavy-duty, each cycle has unique features that can wash your linens and clothes in different ways.

Let's break down what each washing machine cycle is best for, what it can do, and what you may need.

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laundry room with normal washing machine cycles

Design: Mindy Gayer Design Co.; Photo: Vanessa Lentine

The normal cycle is your catch-all laundry option for your everyday clothes and linens. It's perfect for cotton or more durable synthetics, and it typically includes a hot water wash, rinse, and a long spin cycle.

Before throwing your laundry in the normal cycle, make sure what you're throwing in is colorfast, not too soiled, and can handle the harsh spin and rinse action. For best results, use a good all-purpose detergent like Tide.

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Speed Wash

laundry room with speed washing machine cycles

Design: Mindy Gayer Design Co.; Photo: VANESSA LENTINE

If your laundry load is small or you're in a rush, the speed wash cycle may be your new best friend. This super-short cycle (often between 15-30 minutes) uses a shortened wash time and a high-powered spin cycle to quickly wash clothes and shorten dry time.

The speed wash cycle is not recommended for delicate or heavily soiled clothes though—for those, stick to the delicate and heavy-duty cycles. But, you don't need a special detergent for the speed wash cycles, and you can use what you already have.

03 of 10


laundry room with delicate washing machine cycle

Cathie Hong Interiors

The delicate cycle on your washing machine is the closest you'll get to hand-washing while using your washing machine. It's perfect for clothes that need extra TLC, like those made with wool, cashmere, or lace. This cycle is the shortest and most gentle—aka, no 10-minute-long spins that make your house shake.

Get your laundry ready for the delicates cycle by double-checking it will use cold water to wash and rinse and by using a special delicates-only detergent, like Woolite.

Keep your delicates extra safe by using a lingerie or mesh bag. This extra layer will help prevent snags or tears in the washing machine from things with hooks, clasps, or zippers.

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Rinse and Spin

laundry room with rinse and spin washing machine cycles

Design: Mindy Gayer Design Co.; Photo: VANESSA LENTINE

Unlike nearly every other washing machine cycle, the rinse and spin cycle doesn't actually wash your clothes. Instead, it rinses them out then spins them dry. This cycle is often used for clothing like swimwear, which can't be 'washed' in the traditional sense, but still needs to be washed out.

Don't place any detergent or cleaning product in your machine when you're using the rinse and spin cycle. It either won't get used or won't get the chance to be properly rinsed out. And don't forget to air-dry your rinsed-and-spun clothing—if it's too delicate to be in the washing machine, it's probably too delicate to be in the dryer too.

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Permanent Press

laundry room with permanent press washing machine cycles

Design: Pure Salt Interiors; Photo: VANESSA LENTINE

The permanent press cycle was developed for wrinkle-prone and more delicate synthetic fabrics like rayon, nylon, and polyester. It has a shorter cycle than the normal cycle, and it uses a gentler spin and less hot water as well.

To get the most out of the permanent press cycle, use a gentle detergent that's made for synthetic fabrics like Sport Suds.

If your washing machine doesn't have a permanent press cycle, a delicates cycle will probably do the trick just as well.

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laundry room with bulky washing machine cycles

KG Designs

Washing machines have a number of distinct advantages over hand-washing—one of them being the ability to wash bulky items. But, it's best not to throw in your fluffy comforter, press 'Speed Wash', and walk away.

Instead, use the bulky mode. Your washing machine's bulky cycle typically includes a soaking period to let water and detergent penetrate, followed by a medium-speed wash and spin.

Get the most out of the bulky cycle by spot-cleaning any old stains before placing the items in the washer. Additionally, it may be extra difficult to place oversized items in the dryer, so consider air-drying them instead.

07 of 10


laundry room with whites washing machine cycles

Kidd House

The whites cycle is the perfect pick for making those grungy towels and sheets sparkling clean again. It uses a high-powered wash and rinse and can also dispense liquid bleach at the correct time if needed.

Before using the whites cycle, double-check that what you're washing can handle both bleach and a rough-and-tumble laundry cycle—you don't want to ruin your fanciest sheets. And if you'd rather use a cleaner that's less harsh than bleach, stick with something like the Laundress's All-Purpose Bleach Alternative.

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Heavy Duty

laundry room with heavy duty washing machine cycles

Jessica Nelson

If your laundry load is extra dirty or its stains are especially old, use the heavy-duty laundry cycle. It's a longer cycle than others and uses high-powered agitation and spin to get out as much dirt and moisture as possible.

Make the most out of your heavy-duty cycle by using a trusted stain remover like OxiClean. To use, dampen the stained area with water, then spray or scrub the stain remover onto the stain. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes before washing.

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laundry room with steam washing machine cycles

Whittney Parkinson Design

If you're lucky enough, your washing machine may even come with a steam cycle. Like the rinse and spin cycle, the steam cycle doesn't actually wash your clothes. Instead, it uses a little bit of moisture and spin action to freshen up clothing and remove wrinkles.

If you want extra wrinkle removal, or if your washing machine doesn't have a steam feature, try out a wrinkle-release spray to smooth out creases ASAP.

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laundry room with allergen washing machine cycles

Whittney Parkinson Design

Another top-of-the-line feature your washing machine may have is an allergen cycle. Allergen cycles use extra-hot water temperatures and an extra rinse cycle to remove pet dander and dust mites. This laundry cycle is a great choice for those who are sensitive to allergens and need to make sure their clothes and linens are rid of them.

To ensure your laundry load stays allergen-free, use a laundry detergent that's hypoallergenic and made for those with sensitive skin, like those made for babies—they work for adults, too.