Not “Normal”—Confusing Washing Machine Cycles, Explained

What does the “Permanent Press” washing machine cycle even do? How does your washer kill germs in the “Sanitize” cycle? And are the “Bulky” and “Heavy Duty” cycles interchangeable? 

If you always default to “Normal,” you may be leaving dirt and bacteria hidden in fabric fibers. Or even slowly ruining certain items. Get your most confusing washing machine settings explained, so you can use your washer like it’s meant to be and keep your laundry fresh and clean.

Permanent Press Flattens Wrinkles

Permanent Press is a wrinkle-prevention cycle. High spin speeds can wrinkle clothes, so Permanent Press slowly spins your clothes. This helps prevent wrinkles and release existing ones. Water is warm and agitation is gentle. The Permanent Press cycle can also slowly release cool water as it rinses, gradually cooling your clothes to keep wrinkles at bay. 

Sanitize Busts Bacteria

If you want your laundry germ-free, choose the Sanitize cycle. It uses the hottest temperature—at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit—to destroy bacteria. The Sanitize cycle is also perfect for eliminating hard-to-get-rid-of smells. Be careful in using the Sanitize cycle. The super-hot water will break down fabric fibers if used too often.

Bulky is Best for Bedding

Items like comforters, pillows and rugs are bulky; they need a cycle with extra water to really soak in and clean them. The Bulky cycle does just that. And, it uses a slower spin speed to help ensure your drum doesn’t get unbalanced. You can also use this cycle for a full load of towels or a sleeping bag after a camping trip.

Heavy Duty Details Dirt

Clothes covered in mud and grass stains? Grease and oil? Sweat and grime? The Heavy Duty cycle leverages strong agitation and a high spin speed to clean excessively dirty laundry. Most of all, the Heavy Duty cycle leverages time—scrubbing laundry for 1-2 hours to have your clothes emerge sparking clean.

Whites Make Bright

The Whites cycle cranks up the heat (because there’s no fear of bleeding dyes), aggressively agitates and spins fast to whip out dirt and stains from your whites. Use this cycle sparingly to keep laundry fibers intact over time.

Rinse and Spin 

Maybe you’re sensitive to detergent and want to all the soap rinsed out. Or maybe you want a bulky blanket to be drip-free before you transfer it to the dryer. The Rinse and Spin (or Drain and Spin) cycle uses no soap and no agitation. It just provides one additional rinse and then spins the extra water out.

Temp Tips

Always check labels to see what cycles and temperatures your laundry needs. But for quick reference, here’s a general rule of thumb about cycle temps:

  • Cold water is for: 
    • Items you don’t want to shrink
    • Delicate fabrics like lace, silk and wool
    • Dark or new clothes to prevent bleed
    • Items with elastic, like athletic shorts
  • Hot water is for: 
    • Cotton fabrics you’re deep cleaning, like socks and bed sheets
    • Heavily soiled items 
    • Heavy-duty work clothes
    • Removing stains
  • Warm water is for: 
    • Synthetic fabrics
    • Normally soiled items

Baffling Washing Machine Settings, Explained

Never again be confused by your dial of choices. With all your “not Normal” washing machine cycles explained, you can feel confident every time you hit start.