Washing machines: Using your washing machine Program guide

Washing mahcine temperature dial

Check clothing labels for the right washing temperature

Not sure which program or temperature on your washing machine to use for the best cleaning results? Want to know whether turning down the temperature will save money?

To help you get the most out of your washing machine, we explain how to choose the right program for your laundry.

Find out which washing machines will deliver the best cleaning results by checking out our Best Buy washing machines.

Washing machine temperature guide


As of December 2013, all washing machines in the UK will have to have a 20°C option visible on the control panel - but what happens to cleaning power and running costs at this temperature?

When we tested five machines on the 20°C cotton program, we found that turning down the temperature from 40°C dramatically reduced running costs - by an average of 66%.

And we found that cleaning power is only slightly worse than at 40°C, with just our olive-oil-based stain not washing out as well.


Over a quarter of Which? members are now using a 30°C program on a regular basis. When we tested the 30°C cotton program, we found that running costs are reduced by about 46% compared with the 40°C program.

46%Using 30°C instead of 40°C could reduce running costs by 46%

Similar to the 20°C cotton programs we tested, it was the olive-oil-based stain that didn't wash out as well at this temperature. However, more soiling was lifted compared with washing at 20°C.


This is the most common wash temperature used by Which? members. It’s suitable for cotton, linen or viscose, acrylics, acetate, wool mixtures and wool/polyester blends – in other words, most everyday items.

As most Which? members we asked frequently use the 40°C temperature setting, we base our testing on the 40°C cotton and synthetics wash programs. 


This wash is suitable for polyester/cotton mixtures, nylon, cotton and viscose, but with modern detergents most people find 40°C adequate for their needs.


The 60°C program generally delivers slightly better cleaning than the 40°C program and is ideal for bedding and towels. We've taken a closer look at some washing machines' 60°C cotton programs, and discovered that two thirds didn't actually reach 60°C. For more on our findings and how it affects your cleaning, see our guide to washing at 60°C.


This is the hottest wash program you’ll find on most machines. It’s only suitable for white cottons and linens that show the dirt. The introduction of modern detergents and synthetic fabrics means most people rarely use this program.

Other commonly used washing machines programs

Washing machines often have as many as 20 programs for washing, rinsing and spinning. Here’s our guide to other ones most commonly used.

Washing basket of clothes

The quick-wash programs are best for clothes that aren't too dirty

Quick-wash programs 

Most washing machines now have a useful time-saving quick-wash program. Generally suitable for washing clothes that aren’t too dirty, a good analogy is that they'll be fine for washing running kits but not rugby shirts.

The quickest quick-wash programs take around 14 minutes but typically will only be able to handle 1.5kg of lightly soiled clothes - equivalent to about two pairs of jeans.

Longer quick-wash programs, such as those lasting 30 minutes, will be able to handle more clothing. Some washing machines on the market have quick washes that last under an hour but can handle an entire drum's worth of clothes, though they can be hard to find.

Reduced-ironing program 

In reality, these programs don’t make much difference to the amount of ironing you have to do.

Some machines do reduce creasing by using a slower spin speed on the easy-iron setting. But there isn’t much difference between a load washed on this program and one washed on the standard cycle.

Delicates and woollens program 

This is the program for cleaning materials such as silk or wool-mixture clothes, which can bobble on normal programs.

Only items marked as ‘pure new wool’ and ‘washable’, ‘pre-shrunk’ or ‘non-matting’ should be washed using the wool program. You should wash all other types of wool with a handwash program.

Handwash program 

This program is for items such as cashmere or angora jumpers and silk garments. Much like the delicates program, it washes more gently than the normal setting, so clothes don’t snag, matt or shrink.

Washing line

Use the economy wash to reduce your washing machine's running costs

Freshen-up program 

Some washing machines have a special option for clothes that aren’t really dirty but need freshening up. It’s suitable for clothes that smell of smoke or have been in the wardrobe for a while.

However, the freshen-up cycle isn’t really different from setting any machine to the rinse and spin part of the cycle.  

Economy wash or half load 

This program can be used to reduce running costs by using less water and electricity for smaller wash loads. 

If a model doesn’t have an economy wash or half-load option then it might be fitted with a sensor to determine the amount of laundry in the drum instead. The sensor automatically adjusts the amount of water and electricity.

Sports equipment 

Sportswear manufacturers are always attempting to push the boundaries of fabric technology. This program is designed to wash synthetic sports fabrics in a quicker time, and with reduced risk of creasing.

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