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    Why You Should Always Use The Permanent Press Setting On Your Washer

    Allow us to cycle through all of the cycles.

    Have you ever really looked at all of the settings and cycles on a modern washing machine? There are a ton. Let’s see: You’ve got whites, delicates, bulky, um...a mode called permanent press, but what does that even mean? Nothing is permanent! And now you’re having an existential crisis about laundry.

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    Washing machines claim to treat your lingerie with the utmost delicacy and remove the sweatiest of stains out of your favorite comforter all simply by adjusting water temperature and spin speed. But to what extent can they do all that? Does a setting meant for whites really make your clothes whiter than any other option?

    Turns out, while most washing machine settings actually do live up to their promises, you rarely need to use more than two or three of them to get your clothes, bedsheets, and unmentionables looking fresh.

    How Do Washing Machines Work?

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    “In order to get clean, clothing needs agitation or mechanical action from the machine, chemical action from the detergent, and thermal heat from the water,” says Carolyn Forté, home appliances and cleaning products director at the Good Housekeeping Institute.

    Let’s break that down. “Agitation” happens when washers shake clothes up and down, as they tend to do in front-load machines and some top-load ones. Other top-load machines have a central agitator, a protruding piece that swirls items around in the wash. Either type of movement is key to getting clothes clean, but “if it’s too aggressive, fabrics can be damaged,” Forté says.

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    As for water temperature, warm generally cleans best. However, cold is better for keeping colors from bleeding. Plus, Forté adds, “More detergents are now being formulated to work better in cold water as consumers choose cold to save energy.”

    Different cycle types are really just different combinations of water temperature, agitation speed, and time spent in the wash. But which ones actually work best?

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    NORMAL: Use this cycle any time and for almost anything. “Normal is average, so it uses the middle speed for agitation and spin, and it washes clothes for a medium length of time compared to other settings,” explains Mary Leverette, a detergent and appliance manufacturer consultant who has taught classes on fabric care at Clemson University. Use this setting for everyday items like sheets, towels, jeans, T-shirts, and socks. Normal will “remove everything but the heaviest of soil,” so particularly mud-soaked items won’t be thoroughly cleaned.

    HEAVY DUTY: This setting lasts longer than normal, which gives the detergent and water solution more time to break down stains and soil, according to Leverette. The amount of time is the only thing that really sets the heavy-duty cycle apart. “If you have an average amount of soil on your work clothes,” says Leverette, and you use this setting, “you’re just wasting time.” Not to mention water.

    BULKY: Leverette cautions that you don’t really need to use the “bulky” setting at all. Mostly it’s useful for cleaning heavier items, like a bath mat, because the slower spin speed will help keep your washer from getting thrown off balance when a bulky item jerks around. “You should always try to balance your washer by having more than one item in there anyway,” Leverette says.

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    DELICATE: Pick this cycle sparingly and try to avoid. Delicate cycles are designed to treat your clothes gently, using slower agitation and spin speeds, along with a short run time. But a word of warning: Recent research suggests that delicate cycles release far more microplastic fibers than any other cycle. That’s because the delicate wash setting uses high volumes of water, which strips away more plastic microfibers out of your clothing — terrible for the oceans, not to mention your clothes.

    Forté and Leverette agree that hand-washing reigns supreme for items that are especially delicate, made of loosely knit fabrics (like wool sweaters), or colored with dye that might bleed (reds). This means that some obvious items, like bras and wool sweaters, shouldn’t go in the wash (even a delicate cycle can warp an underwire bra). If you do opt to machine-wash anything delicate, put your clothes in a mesh bag, choose cold water, and pick a short cycle. And if you really want to maintain fabric integrity, try permanent press instead.

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    PERMANENT PRESS: Use this cycle for almost anything. High washer speeds can set wrinkles into fabrics. The slow release of cooler water over the course of the permanent press cycle “gradually cool[s] fabrics down to help minimize wrinkles,” Forté says. In this sense, it’s working harder than a delicate cycle to keep your clothes, well, pressed. “I really can’t think of a con,” Leverette says in regard to permanent press. “You can use this setting for almost anything.”

    WHITES: Use sparingly and try to avoid. Like heavy cycles, white cycles tend to take longer. They rely on hotter water to remove stains, since there’s no fear of bleeding dyes. White cycles are also more aggressive in terms of agitation and spin, according to Forté. Overall, she barely distinguishes them from heavy cycles, meaning you could probably sub one for the other — as long as you don’t let your fuchsia socks sneak into the load. Also, keep in mind that all of that hot water isn’t environmentally friendly.

    Trust the Machine, Trust Yourself.

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    Our experts Leverette and Forté feel that most washing machine settings more or less do as they promise, but your normal setting will usually get the job done. Ultimately, it’s up to you, the laundry-doer, to not mess things up.

    “It’s not just choosing the cycle, but also the water temperature and the right type of detergent, and having your laundry separated correctly,” Leverette says. And maybe start throwing more clothes in the permanent press cycle to avoid wrinkles!

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