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Laundry Guide: Understanding Washing Machine Cycles

by Reyna Thomas

Have you ever been prepared to wash, dry, and fold your clothing but been stumped by the machine's settings? Modern washers and dryers are sophisticated appliances with pre-programmed settings to aid your laundry wash cycle. With the push of a button, your washing machine can be readily configured to wash delicates, heavy bed sheets, towels, and casual clothing.

However, washers are not all created equal, and not everyone knows what it means when you set your washer to "delicates" or "heavy-duty." Some washers have cryptic settings that require a decoder to comprehend. That's why we've put together this guide to help you out! Continue reading to learn more about wash cycles and various settings so that you can always wash your laundry on the correct setting.

Washing Machine Cycles Explained

Let's define a wash cycle first. Your washer employs pre-programmed settings called "wash cycles" to complete its work. One wash cycle includes a washing cycle in the beginning, followed by a resting, rinsing, and spinning phase to dry your clothes. Some settings offer multiple rinses and spin cycles to guarantee that your clothes are clean.

hand choosing wash cycle on machine

Most washers have normal, quick, heavy-duty, permanent press and delicate wash cycle settings. Here is what they mean respectively:


The normal cycle is a vigorous wash cycle due to its high agitation and lengthy cycle. This cycle uses warm water with a high spin speed for moderately soiled clothing made of cotton, linen, and other mixed fabrics. Depending on your machine, a normal cycle can run up to an hour.

Quick/Speed Wash

As the name suggests, this setting is for quickly cleaning lightly soiled items. It is best to use this setting for small loads that need to be cleaned in a hurry. This cycle has a quicker wash time of typically 15 to 40 minutes, and a more powerful spin speed to extract more moisture.


This wash cycle is ideal for cleaning heavily soiled or stained items like bedding, work clothes, and towels. This cycle uses warm to hot water and high spin speed to ensure that your items come out clean and can usually take between 1 to 2 hours to complete.

woman looking inside the washing machine

Permanent Press

This cycle is for synthetics, wash and wear, and wrinkle-free clothing. This setting is usually shorter than the Normal cycle and uses warm water with a lower spin.


This is a highly gentle wash cycle and is perfect for washing delicate items such as lingerie, silk, hosiery, wool, cashmere, hand-washed items, baby clothes, and anything that might get damaged in a regular wash cycle. This setting uses cool water and low spin speed to protect your delicate items from being damaged. You can expect your clothes to be done in under an hour and a half.

man doing laundry at laundromat

The Steps of a Wash Cycle

Now that you know the different types of wash cycles, it is important to understand the different steps involved in each cycle. The steps may vary slightly depending on the make and model of your washing machine, but they typically follow this order:

  1. Pre-wash (optional): This step is only available on some machines and is typically used for heavily soiled clothing items.
  2. Main wash: During the main wash, the water temperature and amount of detergent are determined by the type of laundry you are washing and the selected cycle.
  3. Rinse: The rinse cycle helps to remove any leftover detergent or dirt from your clothes.
  4. Spin: The spin cycle helps to remove any excess water from your clothes before they are placed in the dryer.
  5. Dry (optional): Some washing machines come with a built-in dryer, while others do not have this feature. If your machine does have a dryer, you can select the type of drying cycle you would like (e.g., low, medium, or high heat).

woman loading laundry into the machine

Now that you know all about wash cycles and the steps involved in each cycle, you can be sure to properly care for your clothing! Always read the care labels on your clothing before selecting a cycle. And if you are ever unsure which cycle to use, err on the side of caution and select the delicate cycle.

If you are experiencing issues with your washer or its performance is lacking, it may be time for a laundry upgrade! Classic Maytag Home Appliance Center has washers, dryers, or laundry pairs you need to get laundry day back on track! Enjoy shopping our selection and if you have any questions, just give us a call. We’d love to help. Happy laundering!