How to pick the right washing machine settings for your clothes

Keep your clothes looking great and take a load off your mind with our handy laundry guide

21 May 2021

Washing machines come with all kinds of clever settings – think steam cleaning or anti-allergy settings. But they all share some key programs that will help you keep your clothes clean.

If you're in a spin about a specific type of stain, check out how to remove unsightly stains from your clothes. But if it's general cleaning tips and washing knowhow you're after, we've got you.

While there are loads of buttons to choose from, there are two different things you’ve got to think about when washing your clothes: movement inside the machine and the temperature of the water.

By movement, we mean the amount of agitation in the machine. Gentler settings mean less agitation. The higher the agitation, the more aggressive the clean. And different water temperatures match to different fabrics and provide different types of cleaning.

But do you know when to use delicate wash and when to use a hot wash? Why not give your laundry knowledge a spin…


Which program should I use?

Open washing machine with clothes inside

You might find 20+ options on your machine dial, but here are the key ones to get to grips with:


This is one of the hotter, more aggressive cycles – since cottons need this to get clean. This is particularly true of bed sheets, which should be washed at a 60°C setting.


If you have clothes made from polyester (or other man made fabrics) they run at a cooler temperature than cotton – 40°C or below - and spin less frequently.

Tip: You’ll probably find this program called “Easy Care” on your machine.


This is the machine equivalent of handwashing (though sometimes you’ll see a setting for that too). Traditionally, this is for lingerie, lace or silk. But if your washing machine has no setting for wool, you can use delicates. It’s one of the shortest cycles available.

Tip: Before you start the program, make sure that the temperature setting is on a cold wash – 30 °C or below.

Sports programs

This isn’t just about removing massive mud marks – though it’s useful for that too. The reason that sportswear gets its own cycle is that a lot of sports clothes are made from microfibres that need special treatment. This is usually a longer wash at a lower temperature – so it doesn’t damage the material.

Tip: Only wash trainers in your washing machine if there’s a special program for it.

Quick wash

It may be tempting to use this setting for everything – who wants to wait for their washing machine after all? And, used the right way, quick washing is good for the environment too. But use caution. It’s really only for a very small amount of lightly soiled clothes – the equivalent of about two pairs of jeans. This is the “I’ve got to get to my job interview/date and need something smart” setting.

Easy iron

This program simply creates fewer creases during washing than using a normal cycle – generally by using a lower spin speed and cycle time. Some top end machines actually do the ironing for you with steam technology!


What temperature should I use?

A woman outside a washing machine door looking at a baby-grow

Cold, warm or hot? There’s a time for every temperature.

Cold wash (30°C or less)

If your clothes are “lightly to moderately soiled” (i.e. don’t appear particularly dirty), this is a good to setting to have them on. It’ll save you energy and money and is greener too. Sometimes, you'll see a setting called eco mode which is basically a cooler but longer wash.

Warm wash (40°C)

This is the temperature for underwear in general or gym kits after a workout.

Hot wash (60°C or more)

If you have tough stains on your clothes – this is the setting to go for.

Obviously, this is a rough guide. Some clothes (like a woolly jumper) can’t handle high temperatures – so you should check the label on each bit of a clothing to get a guide.

According to Which? it’s worth thinking about what temperature you’re going to use. Washing at 30 degrees will save you 38% on running costs rather than washing at 40. Take that down to 20 degrees and the saving goes up to 62%.


If you’re looking for more laundry tips, check out our guide to washing machine symbols.

Want to know which washing machine you should buy? We’ve got loads of amazing washing machines with some very clever features. Check out our washing machine buying guide.

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