A washing machine control panel.

How to choose washing machine settings and dryer cycles

Following your clothing’s care tag and understanding your washer’s laundry symbols is the best way to choose washing machine settings and dryer cycles, keeping in mind that cycles may vary for between front load and top load washers. Take the guesswork out of caring for different fabrics with this guide to washer and dryer settings.

A Whirlpool®  washer and dryer placed side by side. A Whirlpool®  washer and dryer placed side by side.

Washing machine cycles explained

There are several washing machine cycles, and each setting is designed to provide the right spin speed, temperature and rinse for items with certain fabrics and soil levels. Whether you have a front load or top load washer, general washing machine cycles include normal, colors, whites, quick wash, rinse and spin, delicates, bulky/sheets and heavy. Some Whirlpool® washers even include a sanitize setting that uses extra-hot water to eliminate 99.9% of common household bacteria.1

Remember to always follow the instructions on your garment’s care tag for the recommended washing machine cycles and dryer settings.

A washer cycle icon.

1. Normal cycle

This cycle uses warm water with a high spin speed for moderately soiled cottons, linens and other mixed fabrics.

A black T-shirt icon.

2. Colors

This washing machine cycle uses cool water with a high spin speed designed for mixed activewear, dark and colored garments.

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3. Whites

The whites washer cycle uses hot water and high spin speeds to clean heavily-soiled white garments. Coupled with bleach, this cycle can help restore vivid shades of white.

A quick wash icon.

4. Quick wash

Using warm water and a high spin speed, the quick wash cycle is ideal for small loads of laundry when you’re in a pinch. Simply drop in two to three items for an accelerated wash and keep your clothes ready when you need them.

A rinse and spin icon.

5. Rinse and spin

The rinse and spin cycle consists only of a high-speed spin and cold water. This is ideal for garments only needing a detergent-free wash or rinse, such as swimsuits.

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6. Drain and spin

The drain and spin cycle does not use any water. Instead, it uses a rapid spin speed to help quickly dry hand-washed clothes, soaking wet items and heavier fabrics. This cycle is also designed to drain your washer after a canceled load or interrupted cycle.

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7. Delicates

This washing machine cycle uses high levels of cold water and a low spin speed for carefully tending to undergarments, neckties, and delicate fabrics, like silk. Use this cycle for garments marked as “Machine Washable Silks” or “Gentle” on the care tag. To help prevent damage to your clothes, remember to place your delicates, like bras, in a sealed mesh bag before washing.

An XXL sheets icon.

8. Bulky/Sheets

The bulky/sheets washer cycle uses warm water and a low spin speed to care for sheets, blankets, sleeping bags, comforters, jackets and other bulky items. This setting uses more water than other cycles in order to fully soak the large loads.

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9. Heavy

The heavy washing machine cycle uses hot water and high spin speed for thick, heavily-soiled fabrics, like towels and jeans. Loads washed in this cycle may take longer because these items tend to absorb more water than other types of fabrics.

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10. Clean washer

Your washing machine cleans your family’s clothes to keep them fresh and ready to wear, but did you know your washer also needs to be cleaned itself? This cycle uses hot water and a low spin speed with an empty drum. It is recommended to clean your washer after 30 loads or so to keep it fresh and clean. Use affresh® Washing Machine Cleaner Tablets2 to get rid of any grime and odor-causing residues in your appliance.


In fact, some Whirlpool® washers feature a convenient Load & Go XL Dispenser that can hold up to 40 loads worth of detergent.Not only can this take the guesswork out of detergent dosing and handle adding it for you, but when it’s time to refill the detergent, this could be a reminder that it’s time to clean your washer.

A person selecting washer settings on a control panel. A person selecting washer settings on a control panel.

Washing machine temperature settings

Your washing machine has hot, warm, cool, cold and tap cold temperature settings to provide the right care for your garments of various sizes and fabrics. Always follow the care tag’s water temperature recommendations for the right setting for your fabrics.

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1. Hot water

Hot water washing cycles typically have a temperature of around 140°F. This temperature is ideal to help keep your towels, jeans and certain white garments clean and ready to wear. Keep in mind that hot water may cause certain fabrics to shrink.

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2. Warm water

Warm water temperatures generally range from 105°F to 120°F and can be used for a variety of washer cycles, like normal, quick wash and bulky/sheets settings. Warm water is ideal for bright-colored clothing with moderate amounts of soil.

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3. Cool water

Cool water temperatures range roughly above 85°F and are great for loads of colored and dark garments, including activewear. In this setting, your washer may add warm water to help tend to heavily-soiled clothing.

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4. Cold water

Cold water washing cycles have a temperature of 85°F and are meant for delicate garments and dark colors prone to bleeding or fading. Cold water can also be used to help prevent clothes from shrinking and pilling.

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5. Tap cold water

Tap cold water refers to the water coming from your home’s water supply line. Depending on your region, water may be hotter or colder than recommended for your washer. If your tap water is too cold, your washer will compensate by adding warm water until a middle ground is reached to provide the best cleaning. This temperature helps prevent dark clothing from fading or bleeding onto other fabrics.

A dryer control panel. A dryer control panel.

What dryer setting should I use?

The dryer setting you use depends on the fabric and recommendations on your garment’s care tag. Dryers from Whirlpool brand can have settings of no heat, timed dry, normal, permanent press, tumble dry, less dry, more dry and very dry to properly care for your clothes. Some Whirlpool® dryers also have a Wrinkle Shield option to help prevent wrinkles in your clothes, as well as an AutoDry Drying System that automatically senses when your clothes are dry and stops the cycle.

As a general rule, higher temperatures are best used for heavy items, like towels, jeans and jackets. Low to medium heat settings are ideal for sheets, blouses and undergarments, while no heat settings are designed for heat-sensitive fabrics or garments containing rubber or plastic. When in doubt, always refer to your garment’s care tag for specific drying instructions to keep your family’s clothes ready to wear.

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1. No heat or fluff

This dryer setting is best for air drying items containing rubber, plastic or other heat-sensitive fabrics - such as rubber-backed bath mats & rugs.

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2. Timed dry

Selecting this cycle will dry your clothes for the set amount of time that you choose, including quick drying items on a high heat setting.

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3. Delicates or less dry

This dryer setting uses a low temperature to dry and help prevent your clothes from shrinking. This is best used for lightweight shirts and pants, delicates and athletic wear.

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4. Normal or regular

This cycle can be thought of as “regular” and automatically stops the load when optimal dryness levels are reached.

A more dry setting dryer icon.

5. More dry or very dry

This dryer cycle uses a high temperature to dry sturdy fabrics, like jeans and towels.

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6. Heavy duty or heavy dry

For large, bulky items, like robes or comforters, a heavy duty/heavy dry setting uses higher temperatures and longer cycles to get them completely dry and fluffy.

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7. Permanent press

Permanent press settings can help remove and reduce wrinkles with a medium heat and cool down. This cycle may be labeled as “wrinkle control” on Whirlpool® dryers, with some models featuring a dedicated Wrinkle Shield option to help keep wrinkles from setting into clean, dry fabrics.


A tumble dry setting dryer icon.

8. Tumble dry

Tumble dry settings can be used as an alternative to air drying to help save you time and keep your clothes ready to wear. With high heat, low heat or no heat options, tumble dry is a versatile option to get your items dry. Just remember to check your garment’s care tag to make sure it can be tumble dried.

A steam icon.

9. Steam dry

Steam dryers with this setting inject steam at the end of a cycle to help keep wrinkles from setting into clean, dry fabrics. Select Whirlpool® washers feature a Wrinkle Shield Plus Option with Steam that uses tumbling and steam for improved wrinkle-fighting performance for up to 150 minutes after the cycle ends, or until you open your dryer door.

A Whirlpool® Laundry Set. A Whirlpool® Laundry Set.

Choose the right laundry cycle for every fabric

Choosing the right cycle starts with how you sort clothes. If an item’s tag says “dry clean only,” you will want to select the gentle cycle and wash that item by itself. Sort by fabric type first. If you’re worried about colors bleeding from newer items or using different additives in the wash cycle (for instance, bleach with whites or brighteners with colors), further sort laundry by color. Take special items, like cheesecloth, into consideration when sorting laundry to avoid shrinkage and ensure it's washed properly.

A cotton icon.

Cotton and linen clothing

Washing machine settings: Normal cycle

Dryer settings: Normal, Cottons or Less Dry


Care Tip: Drying your cotton clothing on less dry can help prevent them from shrinking with lower drying temperatures.

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Bright and dark colors

Washing machine settings: Colors, Darks or Cold Water Wash

Dryer settings: Colors or Darks


Care Tip: Washing dark colors in cold water can help prevent bleeding and fading.

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Washing machine settings: Whites or normal

Dryer settings: Whites


Care Tip: The Whites cycle will dispense liquid chlorine or oxygen-based bleach at the right time.

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Denim and jeans

Washing machine settings: Normal, Darks or Heavy Duty

Dryer settings: Jeans, More Dry or Very Dry


Care Tip: Wash your favorite pair of jeans on the Normal or Darks cycle. For denim work clothes that need extra help getting clean, turn to the Heavy Duty cycle.

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Dress clothes with no-iron or synthetic fabrics

Washing machine settings: Wrinkle Control, Permanent Press or Casuals

Dryer settings: Wrinkle Control, Steam Dry, Permanent Press, Casuals or Less Dry


Learn more about how to wash polyester with our fabric-specific guide.


Care Tip: Steam dryers or steam dry settings can help reduce static, wrinkles and odors in your favorite clothes.

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Sweaters and wool

Washing machine settings: Delicate, Hand Wash or Gentle

Dryer settings: Delicate or Less Dry


Care Tip: Prefer to dry without heat? Choose a No Heat, Fluff Air or Air Only cycle.

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Athletic wear

Washing machine settings: Casuals, Permanent Press or Wrinkle Control

Dryer settings: Delicate or Less Dry


Care Tip: Keep athletic wear and other synthetic, lightweight items sorted together when washing.

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Delicates, machine washable silk and lace

Washing machine settings: Delicate, Hand Wash or Gentle

Dryer settings: Delicate or Less Dry


Care Tip: Wash your delicates in a closed mesh garment bag to help prevent damage to your load in the washer.

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Coats and jackets

Washing machine settings: Bedding, Sheets or Bulky

Dryer settings: Bedding, Sheets, Bulky, Heavy Duty or Heavy Dry


Care Tip: Heavier items require higher temperatures and longer drying times. Follow these tips to properly wash windbreakers.

A bedding icon.


Washing machine settings: Bedding, Sheets or Bulky

Dryer settings: Bedding, Sheets, Bulky, Heavy Duty or Heavy Dry


Care Tip: These cycles use wash action designed to help keep large items from tangling or balling up.

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Washing machine settings: Heavy Duty or Towels

Dryer settings: Towels, More Dry, Very Dry, Heavy Dry or Heavy Duty


Care Tip: Refrain from adding fabric softener to loads of towels, as it makes them less absorbent.

A pillows and sheets icon.


Washing machine settings: Bedding, Sheets or Bulky

Dryer settings: Bedding, Sheets, Bulky, Heavy Duty or Heavy Dry


Care Tip: Get all of your bedding clean and learn how to wash your comforters and pillows in your next load.

Bright clothing soaking in a washer. Bright clothing soaking in a washer.

Looking for more customizable laundry cycles?

Whirlpool® washers and dryers with Intuitive Touch Controls make it easy to choose the right settings for each load—just select “what” and “how” you want to wash or dry. With different cycles and customizable settings, washers and dryers from Whirlpool brand can provide the right fabric care for your family’s favorite outfits and help take the stress out of laundry day.

Shop the latest deals on select Whirlpool major appliances   Shop Now

Shop Whirlpool® washing machines

Shop the latest deals on select Whirlpool major appliances   Shop Now

Shop Whirlpool® dryers

More laundry tips and tricks

Figure out how to care for your clothes.
What do those laundry symbols actually mean?

We get it; your clothes’ care tags are as indecipherable as your kids’ geometry homework. We’ll help crack the code.

Do you know what the tumble dry symbol means?
What does tumble dry mean

To tumble dry or not to tumble dry: that is the question. Wait, what does tumble dry even mean? Find out here.

Why does the type of detergent you use matter?
Why you should be using HE detergent in your washing machine

Like your young athletes who perform best when they’re fueled with healthy food, your HE washer works best with HE detergent.

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1. Bacteria tested were S. aureus, P. aeruginosa, K. pneumoniae.

2. affresh® brand products and the recommending brands’ products are all owned and distributed by Whirlpool Corporation.

3. Based on an 8-lb. load.