What Does Delicate Wash Mean?

Many new-generation washing machines have features to meet your specific laundry needs. Understanding what each program does will help you have a better laundry experience. For example, what does delicate wash mean?

Delicate wash is a washing machine setting consisting of a shorter, cold wash with a low tumble speed and slow spin cycle. This setting protects delicate garments from damage by creating less agitation and a gentler wash. This setting is also referred to as “gentle wash.”

The rest of this article will detail the delicate wash function and whether it’s the same as a gentle wash. I’ll also discuss which clothes you should wash on a delicate cycle. 

What Does Delicate Wash Mean?

Also called “gentle wash,” the “delicate wash” setting gently cleans garments made from delicate materials. It also prevents the wrinkling of wrinkle-prone fabrics such as silk and lace. Some call this setting a washing machine’s equivalent of hand washing because it’s gentle on clothes.

You can expect the following unique features from delicate wash:

  • A shorter washing cycle: While a standard wash cycle takes a minimum of 50 minutes to complete, the delicate wash cycle lasts 45 minutes. However, the actual washing or agitation time only lasts about 7 minutes. This feature protects delicates by cutting the agitation cycles short, making for a gentler wash.
  • The use of cold water: Delicate wash uses warm to cold water. Cold water is excellent for stain removal and prevents wrinkling and shrinking of soft fabric. The clothes are also less likely to bleed color and fade. The downside is that the lower temperature allows microbes that cause odor to survive.
  • A slow spin cycle: A slower spin cycle protects delicate fabrics from getting tangled as the washing machine drum rotates when removing excess water from the clothes. 

What Should be Washed on Delicate?

Clothes made from delicate fabrics such as silk, lace, and wool should be washed on delicate. You should also include clothes that have sequins and other features that would easily come off under a standard wash. The delicate wash cycle is also recommended for underwear and workout garments.

Delicate wash is also recommended for baby clothes and bedding because it keeps the fabric from getting frayed and roughening up. It also keeps these items from shrinking.  

Clothes made from a blend of the aforementioned delicate fabrics and a tougher fabric like cotton should also be run through the delicate wash. 

Some experts suggest that you use delicate wash for garments that require dry cleaning. However, I advise against this because it may inadvertently ruin them. These clothes are made of sensitive fibers which react poorly to being saturated with water.

Remember to always check the washing instructions on garment tags before running them in the washer. They’ll guide you on the precise washing requirements, especially for items you’re unsure about. 

Should I Wash Everything on Delicate?

You should not wash everything on delicate. Reserve this cycle for delicate garments, as that is what it is designed for. Furthermore, the delicate cycle is not environmentally friendly, as it uses more water and releases more water pollutants.

Because the delicate wash utilizes low agitation and a shorter wash cycle, it may not effectively clean soiled items. Therefore, you may need to use other stain removal methods before running them in the delicate cycle.

This study published in 2019 reported that the delicate cycle releases the highest number of microfibers compared to other wash programs, and these microfibers cause water pollution. The study also stated that the delicate cycle uses significantly more water than standard washing programs. 

Furthermore, a delicate wash may not clean all clothes effectively because some fabrics require more agitation to remove stubborn stains (such as PB plaster which I discuss in more detail in this article).

What is the Best Cycle to Wash Clothes on?

The best cycle to wash clothes on is usually colder and shorter cycles. These are best for stain removal and fabric preservation. However, the “best” cycle really depends on the fabric the clothes are made from. What may work for one garment may damage another. 

Most machines offer different wash programs for different fabric types. Each wash program is designed to meet each fabric’s unique cleaning needs, so it would be best if you used them as recommended.

For standard garments (non-delicates), the eco-mode program will save you water and electricity costs. This is because it uses less energy and water by spending more time soaking the clothes than using a low tumble speed. 

You must also check the garment tags for washing information to find the ideal washing temperature and cycle. 

Remember to use cold water for soiled clothes regardless of your chosen cycle. Keeping the wash cycles short is also good for your clothes, but the quick wash function uses more water and electricity than standard cycles, making it less economical.

Is Delicate Wash the Same as Gentle Wash?

Delicate wash is the same as gentle wash. Some machines use the phrasing “gentle wash” instead of “delicate wash,” but both wash cycles represent the same washing function.

A gentle wash program is commonly referred to as the handwashing equivalent of a washing machine. It has the same characteristics as a delicate wash, such as low tumble speed and cold water, and it’s designed to protect gentle or delicate fabrics from fraying and wrinkling. You can also use it to clean baby clothes and bedding.


Delicate or gentle wash gently cleans delicate garments using cold water and low agitation. It’s suitable for the following types of clothing:

  • Silk 
  • Woolen garments
  • Lace
  • Synthetic fabrics such as gym wear
  • Baby clothes
  • Bedding
  • Fleece blankets

While delicate wash is recommended for many fabrics, soiled fabrics such as cotton and linen are best run through standard washes for a more effective deep clean because they often require more agitation. 

However, always check the garment tag for instructions on the best washing program and water temperature. This will help you protect your clothes and keep them looking fresh for longer.

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