The humble washing machine is a wonder of modern life and most of us would be lost without it. But getting to grips with all the settings, cycles and options can be confusing. Watch our video below or read our handy step-by-step guide to find out all you need to know about how to use a washing machine.
How to use a washing machine: step-by-step guide
Follow our blueprint on how to wash clothes in the washing machine for the best results every time.
1. Prepare your clothing
It’s generally a good idea to divide garments into lights and darks in order to prevent any strong colours from running and to help paler colours retain their lustre.
There is also a wealth of information contained on the little tag attached to clothing – what temperature to wash at, a particular cycle or spin programme to use and even which type of detergent. To find out what all the symbols mean exactly, check out our guide to washing instruction symbols and cleaning symbols.
2. Load your laundry
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As washing machines come in different shapes and sizes, it’s important to learn how much your machine can wash at one time. Capacities can range widely from 5kg up to 10kg – check your manufacturers’ instructions, which should contain all the information you need.
Don’t be tempted to cram as much in as you can even if you have a lot to wash. Overloading your washing machine can damage your fabrics or offset the balance of the drum, which can cause the spin cycle to fail, leaving you with wet clothes.
Most modern washing machines measure the size of the load and adjust the amount of water accordingly (which is one less thing to worry about).
3. Add a suitable laundry detergent
Whether you’re using liquid, gels or powder, always make sure it is suited to the fabric you are washing and follow the instructions on the packaging.
Some brands suggest you add detergent directly to the drum, along with your clothes, while others need to be added to the pull-out tray usually found on the top left of your machine.
Don’t fill liquids above the ‘max’ line. Adding more detergent than necessary will not get your items any cleaner. If you’re noticing that your clothes are stiff, smell strongly of soap, or have flecks of powder on them, then you’re using too much. Going too heavy on the powder can also risk clogging the machine.
Stick to the detergent manufacturer’s recommended amount. If you’re using an optional fabric conditioner, now is the time to add it. For further information on how to use detergent in your washing machine, read our comprehensive guide here.
4. Choose the wash cycle
When figuring out how to use a washing machine, this can seem like the tricky part – all the dials, labels, symbols numbers on a modern washing machine can appear intimidating. These will differ by machine and brand, so check your manufacturer's manual to explain what each one specifically does (if you don’t have yours to hand you can usually find downloadable instructions on the producer’s website).
Generally, you want to pay attention to temperature, the amount of agitation and how fast the drum should spin. All these elements will affect how well – and safely – your clothes are washed.
For example, gentle cycles are particularly good for embroidered clothes that may unravel in a ‘normal’ wash, while some garments don’t like to be spun at high speeds. Items such as towels and bed linen are usually fine at spin speeds of 800-1000rpm, which will help them dry faster.
Care labels are your best friends when selecting what temperature to wash at. As a general guide, 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.
Most washing machines run to a set time for each cycle and cannot be changed, but some have the option of a prewash if the clothes are badly stained, or a short or quick wash for things that are lightly soiled and just need a quick run through (which will use less energy, too.)
5. Start the cycle
Hit the start button and let the machine do its magic! Note, that when the programme has finished, the door will remain locked for a minute or two just to make sure that all the water has drained – don’t be tempted to force the handle.
Your top washing machine questions answered
Where do you put detergent in a washing machine?
This will depend on the type of detergent you are using. Capsules and some liquids go straight into the machine, under the clothes, otherwise you add it to the slide-out detergent compartment.
Powder will usually go in the section of the drawer labelled “II”, while fabric softener goes in the compartment marked with a flower. Check out our full guide on where to put fabric conditioner, washing powder or liquid detergent.
What is the best time to use the washing machine?
Your washing machine works the same whenever you use it, but if you are looking to save money on electricity costs then you have to factor in a few things.
Firstly, you’ll need to check what tariff you have with your supplier. Specifically, you want to see whether the electricity price varies depending on when you use it; if it doesn’t, then it won’t matter when you do your washing.
So-called smart tariffs, which alter the price of electricity depending on demand, are becoming increasingly popular (though you’ll need a smart meter installed that can track when you are using electricity).
Generally, peak times are between 4 and 7pm all week, with a minor spike during the later morning. Just using your machine outside these hours could help save money, but you’re likely to save the most if you use your machine at night as that’s when the least amount of electricity is being used.