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How to Use a Washing Machine

Two Parts:

Washing machines are incredibly convenient and easy-to-use household appliances, but can take a bit of getting used to. If you've just gotten your first, or are branching out into doing your own laundry for the first time, have no fear. You can easily learn to operate a washing machine, learn which detergent and fabric softener is best for which kinds of garments, and prevent your clothes' colours from bleeding or ruining your whites.


Separating Garments

  1. Check the tags for special washing instructions.Most clothes are machine washable, but always check the tag for further instructions. Some clothes might shrink if you use warm or hot water to wash. Some might be able to handle bleach and some might not. And some garments can't be washed in a machine, such as certain silks and delicates. Always check the label carefully.
    • Put aside clothes that are labeled as "hand wash only" or "dry clean only".
    • In most shirts, clothing care labels are located on the inside left side of the shirt or inside the neck area.
    • In most pants, clothing care labels are located on the inside of the back of the pants.
  2. Separate your laundry by "colour".Dyes in clothes, especially pieces that are new, lose their colour during a wash. The colour can bleed onto other clothes and damage your entire load. When you sort your laundry by "colour", this usually means differentiating them by shade. The most basic way to sort your clothes is to separate your darks from lights and wash them separately. You can even sort them more thoroughly by colour.
    • Darksinclude colours such as blacks, greys, dark blues, dark reds, and dark purples.
    • Lightsinclude pastel colours like whites, pinks, yellows, light blues, light greens, and lavender.
    • Jeans or dark denimsespecially bleed their colour and should be washed in their own separate load.
  3. Sort your clothes by fabric weight.Additionally or alternatively, you can protect your clothes from wear and tear in the washing machine by sorting heavier fabrics from lighter weight fabrics. Most washing machines spin and toss clothes around, and the extra aggravation from heavy fabrics might ruin lightweight fabrics. As well, if you're washing a delicate or lightweight load, the cycle's settings and temperature will be different from a heavier fabric load.
    • Delicates like lingerie, pantyhose, and washable silks should be washed separately.
    • Heavy fabrics include items such as heavy cotton pants, bath towels, jackets, or sweaters.
    • If you choose to sort only by fabric, you can save a lot of energy and money from having to wash multiple colour loads.
  4. Put delicates into mesh wash bags.Instead of washing delicates separately, you can place delicates into mesh wash bags to protect them from harsh wear and tear. Mesh wash bags can come in various sizes but generally are used to protect only one or a few pieces of garments. They can be washed together with a normal load.
    • Mesh wash bags don't protect garments from colours bleeding, so be sure to wash them with similarly coloured loads. In most cases, delicates will not bleed and would be safe to wash with a light coloured load.
  5. Separate out stained clothing.Some stains need special treatment before you can put the garment into the wash. The most popular stains that need pre-treatment are grease and oil stains.
    • Avoid washing or drying stained clothing in the machine. Certain stains set when heat is added, making them difficult to remove.

Setting Up Your Washing Machine

  1. Choose the right washing cycle.Wash cycles consist of two important speeds: a speed at which it agitates or tumbles the clothes with water, and a speed that spins the water out of the clothes.Depending on what you're washing, the wash cycle you choose should match what kind of fabric you're washing to help maximize cleanliness while also protecting your clothes.
    • Normal Cycle:This cycle goes with a fast/fast approach -- it tumbles fast and spins fast. It helps with cleaning very dirty and sweaty clothes, and is what you will most likely use on a regular basis. Sturdy fabrics like cotton, linen, denim, towels, and bedding do quite well in a normal cycle.
    • Permanent or Perm Press:This cycle goes with a fast/slow approach. These fabrics need fast agitation to be clean but a slow spin to prevent wrinkles. Use this cycle for synthetic fibres like rayons, knits, polyesters, and acetates. Synthetic fibres are known to pill, or create small balls of fibre and slow spin cycles help prevent pilling.
    • Delicate Cycle:This cycle uses a slow/slow approach, reducing agitation and preventing wear and tear. However, the level of cleanliness decreases with its slow tumbling. This cycle is best used for specific or special garments like lingerie, sequinned clothing, laced or loosely woven fabrics, or items made of sheer fabrics like pantyhose.
    • Special cycles:Newer models of washing machines have special cycles that do things such as sanitize, steam, or claim to protect whites and remove stains. Consult your machine's manual for further explanations on what each special cycle does.
  2. Set the water temperature.In theory, the hotter the water, the cleaner the clothes. Hot water sanitizes and kills germs better, dissolves detergents more effectively, and removes built up grime so clothes look brighter and cleaner. However, in some cases, hot water can shrink clothes, fade fabrics, set certain stains in, and can be quite expensive for your energy bill.So choose a water temperature that your fabrics can stand but also what you can afford for the best results.
    • Usecool waterin the delicate cycle for delicate items, items that have dyes that might bleed, or clothes that aren't especially dirty.
    • Usewarm waterin the permanent press cycle, dark colours, and moderately dirty loads.
    • Usehot waterfor bath and kitchen towels, bedding, sturdy fabrics, or any extremely dirtied items.
    • Cold water is the most energy efficient way of washing clothes. About 90 percent of energy used in hot washing cycles is used to heat up the water.It is also the most gentlest way of washing your garments.
    • For some machines, the water temperature is already preset according to what cycle you choose. For example, a normal cycle will most likely use hot water that is 30 °C or 40 °C (85 °F to 75 °F).
  3. Pour in detergent and other boosters like fabric softener.It's important to read your washer's manual and find out what type of detergent your machine can handle and also where to put the detergent. Most machines these days can handle liquid and power detergents, as well as other cleaning agents like bleach.
    • Front-loading washing machines usually have a drawer to dispense detergent and will have separate compartments to place fabric softener or bleach. Your machine will dispense the detergents at the right moment for you.
    • Top-loading washing machines require you to pour the detergent right into the drum before you start your cycle. It's best to add your detergentsbeforeyou load your clothes so the high concentration of detergent doesn't stain or damage your clothes. And in some cases, it's best to turn on the water so the detergent dissolves before you load your clothes in.
    • The amount of detergent needed varies by brand of detergent and type of washer, so check the back of the detergent box and also look for any labels on your washing machine to find out how much to use.
  4. Load your washer with clothes.This is pretty simple – just dump your clothes in, but be careful not to overcrowd your clothes. You need space for your garments to move and clean themselves. Some machines may even have options to indicate whether your load is small, medium, or heavy. This option adjusts the water levels within your wash cycle according to the size of the load.
    • Small loads fill about a third (1/3) of your machine.
    • Medium loads fill half (1/2) of your machine.
    • Large loads fill three fourths (3/4) of your machine.
  5. Turn on your washer.Ah, sweet success, now all you have to do is hit that on button and you're ready to go! But remember to close the door!

Community Q&A

  • Question
    Is light grey considered dark?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    No, but be careful which colors you was it with. Don't mix it with whites, bright yellows, or beiges.
  • Question
    How do I drain the water?
    Top Answerer
    You don't. The water will automatically drain.
  • Question
    With which colors can I mix grays?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Mix grays with dark colors, such as black.
  • Question
    When does the drain cycle get used?
    Top Answerer
    After wash, rinse and spin. The machine will drain several times in a wash cycle.
  • Question
    Which compartment do I put the fabric softener in
    Top Answerer
    With newer washing machines, there is a labeled dispenser for it. In others, you can just drop it into the bin.
  • Question
    I only have a dryer. How should I wash my clothes before drying them?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Just use a sink, basin, or bathtub. Fill it with water and detergent and put your clothes in. Swish them around for awhile. Empty the water, rinse each item, and ring out the excess water. Then dry.
  • Question
    Does the washing machine need to fill with water first before you start?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    No, you don't need to wait for it to fill with water before putting in the clothes and detergent. Just put the clothes in, then the laundry detergent, press start and the water will fill up and drain out like it should.
  • Question
    How long does one wash take?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    It depends on what setting you're using, but generally anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.
  • Question
    Can I open a washing machine if it is full of water but the electricity has been turned off?
    Top Answerer
    Yes. Most modern washing machines allow you to open the cover after pressing the pause button and will unlock the door. With older washers, make sure the drum has stopped spinning before opening. You do not need to disconnect power.
  • Question
    Do washing machines use the cold water supply to fill the drum?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Depends on what setting you select on the washing machine. If you're washing on cold, it will use the cold water supply. If you're washing on hot, it will use the hot water.
Unanswered Questions
  • How do I open the door on a front loader, and where do I put in the detergent?
  • Without a hot water hose, can the machine still make the cold water hot if needed?
  • Doesn't using detergent in a ball defeat the purpose of the prewash?
  • What could be the problem if my washing machine has a short circuit? The power turns off when I start it.
  • How do I start an automatic machine without it draining the water out
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Quick Summary

To use a washing machine, start by choosing a wash cycle, like normal or delicate, depending on the kind of clothes you're washing. Then, select a water temperature. The hotter the water, the cleaner your clothes will get, but you should use cold water for delicates or clothes with dyes that might bleed. If you're using a front-loading machine, pour laundry detergent into the drawer that pulls out. If you're using a top-loading machine, pour the detergent directly into the machine. Finally, load your clothes into the machine, close the door, and press the start button!

Did this summary help you?
  • Some machines will need you to set how long your wash cycle will go for. A lot of washing machines will do this automatically, but you may have to do it by hand. You should set the time for about an hour to an hour and a half, depending on how dirty the clothes you are washing are.
  • You can choose to add fabric softener during the rinse cycle.


  • Check pockets of pants and shorts before putting them in the washer, there could be matches, batteries, and other things that could cause a fire.

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