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Laundry Setting Basics: Permanent Press vs. Delicate

Discover which laundry setting is right for your load. This guide will help you understand the difference between the obscure permanent press and delicate cycles.

Getting Started

When it comes to laundry, we’d love to throw it all in one single pile and call it a day. But to make your clothes last, it takes a bit more time and patience.
Person adjsuting settings on a dryer
More importantly, it takes understanding the various cycles and settings your washing machine offers. Like, what exactly is the difference between the permanent press and delicate cycle?
Prepare to find out!
Close up of dryer control showinf different settings

Basic Laundry Cycle Settings

Even most homeowners who regularly do their laundry have little idea what every setting does.
But choose the wrong laundry cycle, and you could wind up with a mishap.


When it comes down to it, the basic rule of thumb is this:
  • Hot for whites
  • Cold for colors
Hot water can cause your clothes to shrink. And if you’ve ever shrunk a favorite shirt, you understand how disappointing this can be. However, cold water is notorious for not getting out deep stains. Warm is neutral ground if you’re unsure. But, really, this is why you should separate your loads–not bunch them up in one giant pile.
And then there are the two settings most homeowners confuse with one another or are unsure how or when to use them: permanent press and gentle cycles. However, before we dive into these two wash cycles, it’s important to understand the standard settings a washing machine offers.

Common Settings

Most standard washing machines offer these basic settings, although there are more advanced settings offered on modern models, such as a steam treatment and sanitary cycle.
  • Normal/Regular Wash–This wash cycle is for basic everyday apparel like jeans, T-shirts, underwear, and socks, as well as household linens like towels and sheets. It gives a truly deep clean with its hot water cycle and fast tumble speed.
  • Quick Wash–This fast cycle is best for those items you need to toss in to wear that same day. It takes care of lightly soiled items and spins quicker, too.
  • Pre-Wash–Essentially, this cycle gives an extra few minutes of soaking time for stained and dirtier garments. For this cycle, you also divide detergent between the pre-wash and detergent dispensers.
  • Heavy-duty–This laundry setting is for muddy clothes (like sports uniforms, for instance) and other badly soiled items. It allows garments to sit for longer in warm or hot water, and then tumble quickly to remove the grime.
  • Extra Rinse–As the name suggests, this adds an extra rinse cycle to the end of the standard cycle of your choosing. Use an extra rinse if family members have sensitive skin or allergies, as it ensures detergent is thoroughly washed out.
  • Rinse and Spin–This cycle is for when you don’t use detergent and just need to spin excess moisture from something like a bathing suit.
Person pulling clothes out of a dryer

Permanent Press vs. Gentle Cycle: What’s the Difference?

Some assume the permanent press and gentle cycles are one and the same, but it’s important not to confuse the two, as they use different temperatures and spin cycles.
The permanent press cycle is gentle in comparison to the regular cycle. However, it’s still not gentle enough for certain delicate clothes such as lingerie or woven throws.

What Is the Permanent Press Cycle?

The permanent press cycle essentially reduces wrinkles from your clothes. Using warm or hot water, it relaxes the fabric’s creases and then uses a cool water rinse afterward, finally followed by a slow spin to prevent more wrinkles.
A permanent press cycle can also preserve the finish on wrinkle-free garments, which keeps them lasting longer. And it reduces fading, shrinking, and pilling of certain synthetic materials.

What Is the Delicate Cycle?

The delicate cycle, also called the gentle cycle on some washers, is best for garments with weaker fabrics or some blankets and bedding. This laundry setting offers a short, cold wash, followed by a slow tumble and spin cycle. 
So, what do you put in a delicate cycle? You'll use it most often for sweaters, undergarments, and lingerie. Crocheted items like scarves or anything with a sentimental heirloom-quality should also be washed on a gentle cycle.

Try These Settings for Yourself

Always read the labels on your clothes and sort them accordingly. If in doubt, go with the gentle cycle first. While it may take longer to sort laundry piles and will create more loads, it will keep your clothes looking like new and preserve your wardrobe.
Every family is unique and requires the use of different laundry settings. Discover the top offerings from appliance brands like Maytag and Samsung in our Washer Buying Guide. Understanding the cycles and setting basics can help you determine which is best for your family’s lifestyle.

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