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A Complete Guide to Washing Machine Cycles & Settings

by Michael Webster

We know that doing the laundry isn’t the most daunting task, however, understanding washing machine cycles and washing machine settings is an important part of taking care of your favorite clothing and linens. Plus, not all washing machines are created equal. Each one has its own efficiency, capacity, and unique features. Some are top loaded, some are front loaded, but no matter what style your washing machine is, knowing which wash cycle is right to get the best clean and keep your fabrics looking like new will make laundry day an absolute breeze. To help you conquer the never-ending pile of laundry that builds up throughout the week, we’ve put together a guide to help break down washing machine cycles and the settings for the best results every load.

At a Glance:

Washing Machine Cycles

Normal Cycle

Permanent Press Cycle

Delicates Cycle

Rinse & Spin Cycle

Speed Wash Cycle

Heavy Duty Cycle

Bulky Cycle

Bedding & Sheets Cycle

Other Washing Machine Settings to Consider

Washing Machine Cycles

Using the correct washing machine cycle will help effectively clean your clothes and keep them looking their best. Take a look at some of the many different wash cycles and settings, as well as our top washers for each category.


With high agitation and a lengthy cycle, the Normal wash cycle is actually the most intense option. You’ll want to select the Normal cycle for everyday laundry items made of cotton, linen, and articles made of durable synthetics such as sheets, towels, T-shirts, socks, and underwear. In short, the Normal wash cycle is the ideal choice for your casuals and everyday linens.

Our Top Choice for Normal Cycle: LG 4.5 Cu. Ft. White Front Load Washer-WM3400CW

Stock photo of a LG front load washer.

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Big on capacity, and with the power to handle any kind of load — this LG front load washer is loaded with features that make this pick a major value. Included are 6Motion agitation, ColdWash technology, plus the option to pair with an LG SideKick for a total of 5.5 cubic feet of wash capacity.

Permanent Press

The Permanent Press cycle was created in the ‘40s in response to the rise in popularity of synthetics, wash and wear, and wrinkle-free clothing. Shorter than the Normal cycle, this washing machine cycle uses warm water with a lower spin for a gentle but thorough wash of your garments.

Our Top Choice for Permanent Press Cycle: Samsung 5.0 Cu. Ft. Brushed Black Front Load Washer-WF50A8600AV

Stock photo of a black Samsung front load washer.

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This Samsung front load washer made our list for its extra-large capacity of 5 cubic feet coupled with powerful and advanced wash functions. That includes Samsung’s simple-to-use, AI Powered Smart Dial that learns and recommends your favorite wash cycles and allows you to customize your cycle list. Include that with additional features like a 28-minute Super Speed Cycle, Self Clean technology, and WiFi connectivity, and your laundry days will instantly be taken to the next level.


A Delicate wash cycle (or “delicates”) is the washing machine equivalent to handwashing. This cycle uses warm or cold water with low or no spin and is the shortest and most gentle cleaning cycle. We recommend using this cycle to wash silk, wool, and the more delicate synthetic items you may have.

Our Top Choice for Delicates Cycle: Electrolux 4.5 Cu. Ft. White Front Load Washer-ELFW7637AW

Stock photo of an off white Electrolux front load washer.

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Providing an exceptionally large wash tub capacity, this Electrolux front load washer was made for the intense laundry days. Along with LuxCare, SmartBoost technology delivers a powerful stain-fighting performance messes with the option to use the StainSoak feature for enhanced agitation and wash temps to treat stubborn stains. Also found on this model are an Adaptive Dispenser, a 15-minute wash cycle, and a Sanitize option for delicate loads that come out immaculately washed.

Rinse & Spin

This wash cycle is very unique as it doesn’t require detergent or provide as deep of cleaning as other cycle options. The rinse and spin cycle simply rinses the load of clothes and then spins out the moisture from the fabrics for a quick clean-up.

Our Top Choice for Rinse & Spin Cycle: GE 4.2 Cu. Ft. White Top Load Washer-GTW335ASNWW

Stock photo of a white GE top load washer.

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This GE top-load washer’s rigorous deep-clean cycle battles even the toughest loads with ease. And with the PreciseFill function, you can take the guessing out of laundry day and boost your washer’s cleaning performance along the way for any sized load. Equipped with a heavy-duty agitator, you’ll be able to thoroughly rinse and spin away all types of soil thanks to the washer’s deep rinse.

Speed Wash

The speed wash cycle is designed for a small amount of garments needed to be cleaned quickly. It’s also ideal if you’ve accidently left your wet clothes in the washing machine for a period of time and they need a fast refresh. This cycle has a faster spin speed, which means it will dry quicker and generally can complete a full cycle in less than 30 minutes.

Our Top Choice for Speed Wash Cycle: Samsung 4.5 Cu. Ft. Brushed Black Front Load Washer-WF45A6400AV

Stock photo of a black Samsung front load washer.

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Much like our top pick for Permanent Press cycles, this Samsung front load washer takes all the hard work of laundry off your hands ― in less than 30 minutes. This washer handles a full load of laundry in just 28 minutes and delivers optimum results every time. And with WiFi enabled capabilities, you can receive end of cycle alerts for your washer, remotely start or stop your wash, schedule cycles on your time, and even more all from the convenience of your smartphone with the SmartThings App.

Heavy Duty

You’ll want to select the Heavy Duty wash cycle for sturdy fabrics like towels and jeans. It’s also appropriate to use for heavily soiled items to make sure they get that extra emphasis of clean. This cycle offers a longer wash time with high-speed agitation and spin to remove as much moisture as possible.

Our Top Choice for Heavy Duty Wash Cycle: Speed Queen FF7 3.5 Cu. Ft. White Front Load Washer-FF7008WN

Stock photo of a white SpeedQueen front load washer.

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Boasting an ultra-capacity capable of washing 22 pounds of laundry, this Speed Queen front load washer makes sure that no load is too extreme when it comes to a heavy duty wash. Featuring patented baffles and ideal tumble rhythms that essentially eliminate vibration and noise, this Speed Queen washer effectively cascades water throughout each load delivering the best possible clean.


The purpose of this cycle is for washing a full load of heavily soiled clothes that aren’t meant for everyday use. Although you can also use the Normal setting for this type of load as well, if you’re equipped with a bulky items setting on your washer, opt for this cycle for the highest levels of dirt removal.

Our Top Choice for Bulky Wash Cycle: GE 5.0 Cu. Ft. White Smart Front Load Washer-GFW850SSNWW

Stock photo of a white GE front load washer.

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If you have a mountain of clothes and linens to take care of, then look no further than this GE front load washer to summit the peak of your bulky loads. A generous 5-cubic-foot capacity makes it so that you can get through a few days’ worth of laundry in just one single load. This GE washer also includes state-of-the-art features like an UltraFresh Vent System with OdorBlock, Microban antimicrobial technology, and SmartDispense Technology to ensure your laundry day is close to effortless.

Bedding & Sheets

The bedding and sheets cycle on washers should be used for any linens or large pieces of fabric. This wash cycle is set to prevent large items from tangling or wadding up into a ball throughout the wash, but if your washer doesn’t have a specific sheets or bedding cycle, you can also use the heavy duty or bulky option to achieve this.

Our Top Choice for Bedding & Sheets Cycle: LG 4.5 Cu. Ft. White Ultra Large Capacity Smart Wi-Fi Enabled Front Load Washer-WM4000HWA

Stock photo of a white LG front load washer.

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Take a step into the future with this LG front load washer featuring TurboWash feature that quickly churns out full-size laundry loads in under 30 minutes. Providing your garments with the elite fabric maintenance is easy thanks to built-in AI intelligence that takes the guessing game out of laundry day. Plus, this Energy Star certified washer also comes with ColdWash Technology for even more ways to save on every load.

Other Washing Machine Settings to Consider


Don't forget to balance your wash loads evenly and never wrap items around the agitator (if applicable.) As a general rule of thumb, here are the load sizes you should select based on how many items you've loaded into the washer:

If the washer is:

  • ¼  full, use Small
  • ½ full, use Medium
  • More than ½ , use Large
  • At full capacity, use Extra-large (if available)


Some washers have changeable soil level settings that can affect the strength of your wash. If you select low soil, the agitation time will be shorter, however, the higher the soil level, the agitation time increases as the settings are changed.

Shop Washers at East Coast Appliance

Washing machines have come a long way since their inception, and they continue to level up as time goes on and technology advances into the home front. And when it comes to the best washers on the market, we’re Virginia’s leading Discount King and home of reliable washer brands that provide the performance you need to conquer laundry any day of the week. Whether you’re searching for an individual washer, a laundry pair, a stacked laundry unit, or even a washer/dryer combo, you can count on us for affordable laundry appliances! Browse, shop, and compare online or in-store today at one of our 10 appliance showrooms in Virginia, including locations in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Richmond!