What is the Permanent Press Cycle? An Explainer for This Misunderstood Function

It'll become your secret weapon to fight wrinkles.

<p>Rawpixel/Getty Images</p>

Rawpixel/Getty Images

If you don't enjoy ironing but still like wrinkle-free clothes, then you should embrace the permanent press cycles on your laundry appliances. Many brands of washers and dryers include a permanent press setting that will make your laundry routine easier, reduce clothing wrinkles, and help fabrics look better longer.

The Permanent Press Cycle

Added to machines in the 1950s to care for the growing number of synthetic fabrics, a washer's permanent press cycle is shorter than the Normal cycle, uses cold or warm water for washing, a cold water rinse, and slower spin cycles to help prevent creases and wrinkles in clothes. Depending on the washer's manufacturer, it may be called "perm press", "wrinkle control", or "casual".

A dryer's permanent press cycle uses medium heat and a cool-down period to keep clothes from wrinkling or creasing.

Related: The Be-All-and-End-All, Definitive Guide to Doing Laundry

How does the permanent press cycle work?

High temperatures and rapid twisting and spinning can cause fibers to tighten, increasing the formation of wrinkles in fabrics. A permanent press cycle uses cooler temps and slower motions that allow the fibers to relax and help prevent wrinkles from forming.

When you select the permanent press cycle instead of the normal cycle on a washer, the laundry will automatically be subjected to a slightly shorter period of agitation to reduce wear and tear on the fabrics in a warm water wash (on some models, you can override this to use cold water). The rinse cycle will use cold water and the final spin speed will be slower.

The permanent press cycle in a dryer uses medium temperatures to prevent fabrics from overheating, helping to prevent shrinkage, and a cool-down period of tumbling with air only before stopping. Clothes wrinkle more when the fibers are hot than when they are cool.

What is the difference between the permanent press cycle and other laundry cycles?

Here's a quick review of what's happening during other washing machine cycles to help you understand the benefits of using the permanent press cycle to reduce wrinkles and wear and tear on fabrics.

  • Delicate or Gentle: These settings have the shortest washing times, slower agitation, and spin speeds. The delicate cycle can be used as a substitute for the permanent press cycle if the clothes are lightly soiled.

  • Rapid Wash or Speed Wash: Uses a shortened wash cycle and a high-speed spin to shorten drying time. It is not recommended for heavily soiled items or delicate items.

  • Normal: The cycle uses high-speed wash and spin. Water temperature settings can be cold, warm, or hot.

  • Heavy Duty: Features a longer wash cycle for heavily soiled sturdy fabrics (denim) with high-speed agitation and a high-speed spin to remove as much moisture as possible.

  • Bulky: Some machines have a washer setting for bulky items like comforters, rugs, and pillows. The cycle begins with a soak period to allow water and detergent to penetrate the fibers, a medium-speed wash action and spin are used to help prevent the washer from becoming off-balance.

  • Whites: The whites cycle dispenses liquid bleach from the automatic dispenser at the correct time in the washing process. The whites cycle has a high-speed wash and spin cycle.

  • Steam: Many top-level washers now offer a steam cycle. The steam cycle does not wash clothes but injects the fabric with steam to quickly remove wrinkles and freshen a garment.

In a comparison of dryer cycles, the permanent press cycle is the only one with a cool-down feature to help prevent wrinkles.

  • Air Only or Fluff: The air is not heated as the drum tumbles. While not efficient for drying clothes, it can help remove dust and lint from fabrics.

  • Delicate or Gentle: Uses a low temperature suitable for silk, lace, and thin fabrics but takes longer for any fabric to dry. It does not feature a cool-down period.

  • Regular, Automatic, or Timed: All of these cycles use high heat unless your dryer allows you to make temperature adjustments. The regular cycle is used to quickly dry cotton towels, sheets, and heavy fabrics. Automatic dry uses a moisture sensor to determine that your clothes are dry and ends the cycle. Timed allows you to select the length of drying time you feel the clothes need. High heat is harsh on fabrics and is only recommended for the sturdiest fabrics.

  • Steam: The steam cycle refreshes clothes to help reduce odor and wrinkles. It can be added at the end of a drying cycle to prevent wrinkles if you forget to remove the clothes promptly from the dryer.

What are the benefits of using the permanent press cycle?

In the Washing Machine

  • Cold or warm water wash helps prevent clothes from fading.

  • Shorter wash cycle helps reduce damage like pilling.

  • Cold water rinse is energy-efficient.

  • Slower spin cycle helps reduce creases and wrinkling.

In the Dryer

  • Warm temperature is less damaging to fabrics than hot temperatures and helps reduce the chance of shrinkage and damage to embellishments like screen printing.

  • Cool down function helps reduce wrinkles and saves energy because it does not utilize the dryer's heating element.

Tips for using the permanent press cycle effectively

  • While initially designed for synthetic fabrics, the permanent press cycle is also a good choice to prevent wrinkles in natural fabrics like linen, bamboo, and cotton.

  • Follow the guidelines on clothing care labels. Many of them will recommend the permanent press cycle.

  • Don't overload the washer with too many clothes. A tightly packed washer will increase wrinkles.

  • Load items loosely and never wrap the clothes around the center agitator if you have one.

  • Don't leave clothes sitting in the washer after the cycle is complete. Give each item a quick shake as you remove it from the drum to loosen the fabric before you place it in the dryer.

  • When the dryer cycle stops, remove the clothes and fold or hang them. Wrinkles will form if the clothes are left in a pile in the drum.

For fewer wrinkles in your clothes, take a minute to find the permanent press setting on your washer and dryer and put it to good use. Now, if they only had the same cycle for our skin care.

Related: 8 Genius Ways to Get Wrinkles Out of Your Clothes—Without an Iron

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