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The dirty truth about washing machine quick washes

Half as good at cleaning and poor at rinsing and spinning compared with the standard wash

Washing machine quick washes don’t clean, rinse or spin dry as well as longer washes, Which? research has found.

We tested the quick wash on 10 different washing machines*, comparing cleaning, rinsing and spinning with the standard wash. For all the basic tasks a washing machine needs to do, the quick wash was found lacking.

Cleaning quality on the 10 washing machines we tested dropped from an average four stars for the standard wash to two stars for the quick wash. Rinsing dropped from an average three stars to two stars, while spinning went from an average five stars on a standard (normal) wash, to three stars on the quick wash.

See the best washing machines we’ve tested.

This means that quick washes are only really suited to laundry that doesn’t have any tough stains or lingering smells, such as a few shirts that you’ve worn to the office for only a day.

Energy and water use

The good news about the quick wash is that our tests found you’re using less water per wash – an average of 2.1 litres per kilo of clothes for the washing machines we tested.

Average energy cost per wash is less, but as quick washes are generally for smaller loads, you might not end up saving there. And as quick washes don’t spin your clothes as thoroughly as a full wash, it will take longer for them to dry. If you use a tumble dryer to do this, it will consume more energy – which will cost you more.

Find out how much your washing machine will cost you over its lifetime, as well as which machines work out to be the cheapest in the long run, by using our energy-efficient washing machines interactive tool.

Do you use your washing machine’s quick wash?

Our survey of 1,199 washing machine owners in January 2018 found that 55% use their quick wash ‘sometimes’ or ‘always’.

We reckon that the large numbers of people using the quick wash is because standard wash times are increasing. In 2011, the average standard wash time was just over two hours, but now it’s more than three hours.

Why are standard wash times getting longer?

The reason that standard washing cycles are getting longer relates to a theory from back in the 1960s called the ‘Sinner’s Circle’ and the need to cut down on energy consumption – as consumers look to save money on their utility bills and manufacturers fight to achieve an A+++ energy label.

The idea is that the overall cleaning power is made up of five elements – temperature, detergent, spinning, water and time – and that if you decrease one part, you can increase another part of the circle to attain the same quality of wash.

When we did our own research into wash temperatures in 2013, we found that a lot of washing machines don’t actually reach 60°C on their 60°C programs. As heating the water is the most energy-intensive part of the process, this suggests that washing machine manufacturers are decreasing the temperature to cut down on energy consumption, but increasing the duration of the wash to get the same cleaning results. And longer cycles can improve efficiency by using less water.


How we find the best and worst washing machines

We test more than 100 washing machines a year to help you find you the very best, and weed out the very worst.

But we don’t just rely on the human eye to tell us how well each machine removes a stain. We use a spectrophotometer to measure the reflectance (amount of light reflected) off of the stained fabric we add to each wash.

By shining a light on the samples, each one stained with synthetic blood, grease, ink, milk, oil and rust, we can determine how much of the stain is still present after washing. This is done by analysing the different wavelengths present and their respective intensities.

*Tests carried out March 2018.

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