How to use a washing machine

Not quite sure how to use a washing machine for best results? Washing machine temperatures, spin cycles and wash lengths all have an impact. Learn the basics with this guide.


washing machine with clothes

Key steps

  1. Read the manual for your washing machine and learn the different settings and cycles.
  2. Check the care label of your clothes before putting them into the machine. 
  3. Select an appropriate wash cycle and temperature before adding your detergent and putting the machine on.
  4. Check for undissolved detergent or lingering stains when removing your clothes from the machine. Only hang them to dry if they're fully clean.
To make washing clothes more environmentally friendly, try sticking to lower temperatures and shorter washes. Concentrated detergents, like Persil have been especially developed to be effective even in a low-temperature wash.

Do you use powder, capsules or liquid to wash your clothes?

It’s hard to over-praise the humble washing machine. It’s one of the most labour- and time-saving household devices of the last century, and most of us would be lost without it. But getting to grips with yours can be a little confusing at first. We’ve laid out all the basics of how to work a washing machine here, but for more detail on how to prepare your clothes for washing you can see these other articles on how to do laundry and get the best results from your machine.

Which drawer to use in a washing machine

If you’re using detergent in a capsule, you can just put this in the washing machine’s drum with your clothes (some liquid detergents can be used this way too). Otherwise, your detergent or powder will usually go in the compartment of the detergent drawer labelled “II”. Check your machine’s instruction manual if you’re not sure. Make sure you only put in as much detergent as is required as the extra soap may make your clothes stiff and unpleasant to handle.

If you’re using fabric softener, this usually goes in the detergent drawer compartment marked with a flower. Make sure that fabric conditioner never comes into direct contact with your laundry, as it can stain the fabric (for more information, see our article on how to use fabric softener).

If you prefer not to use fabric conditioner but still want your clothes to smell extra fresh, a detergent such as Surf with added essential oils is a great way to achieve this.

Setting the correct washing machine spin cycle, temperature and wash length

Most washing machines will have two dials on the front – one each for temperature and spin cycle. The care labels will be your best friends when you’re selecting a temperature, and this complete guide to wash care symbols will give you all the information you need. As a general rule, you should set the wash at the lowest temperature possible. Garments that can be washed at 40°C will usually wash perfectly well at 30°C unless they’re heavily stained or soiled, for example.

The spin cycle is a bit trickier to set manually. Some washing machines will just have settings according to the type of wash you’re doing – “delicates”, “handwash”, “easy-care” and so on. In this case, select the setting best suited to the kind of washing you’re doing. Other machines will have a numerical dial, usually ranging from no spin to 1200rpm, although some go as high as 1800rpm. The lower the spin cycle, the more gentle the wash would be; for very delicate items you may not want to use a spin cycle at all or to use a very low one, whereas things like towels and bedlinen usually spin at 800-1000rpm, as this helps them dry faster.

Some washing machines have a set time for each type of wash that cannot be changed, but some may have the option for a prewash (if the clothes are badly stained) or a short wash, for things that just need a quick rinse. Most of the time it’s best to stick to the pre-programmed wash time, but if you’re in a hurry or have a lighter wash load than usual, the short wash option can be extremely useful – and it uses less energy, too.

There you have it – a few handy tips on how to use washing machines. 

Originally published