What Is the Sanitize Cycle on My Washing Machine?

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The sanitize cycle on your washing machine can get rid of 99.9 percent of several common household bacteria and microorganisms. If you or a family member have just spent the week in bed with the flu, washing your sheets on the sanitizing cycle will help kill the virus so no one else gets sick. Not every load of laundry needs to be sanitized, but there are times when this cycle is quite helpful.


Here's everything you need to know about the sanitize cycle on a washing machine — when to use it, how, and why it's important.

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How Does the Sanitize Cycle on a Washing Machine Work?

If your washing machine features a sanitizing cycle, it works by using hot water to kill germs. The water temperature in most sanitizing cycles heats up to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to effectively kill germs. Some washers also extend the wash cycle a bit, giving the hot water more time to work its germ-killing magic. You don't need to do anything special to utilize your sanitizing wash cycle. Simply add your regular detergent and choose the sanitize cycle.


Why It's Important

That fresh load of laundry you just took out of the dryer may not be as clean as you think. Germs and other unpleasant things, such as fecal matter, can linger in washing machines and on clothing even after you do a load of laundry. Researchers have confirmed that a regular laundry cycle doesn't always kill bacteria and enteric viruses, such as rotavirus and adenovirus.


Though laundry doers can use bleach in a normal cycle to kill viruses and bacteria, it may not always be practical because it could damage linens or an item of clothing (and some people may not enjoy the strong scent of bleach). This is where the high temperatures of the sanitize cycle can come in handy — it can kill germs and bacteria without the use of bleach.

When to Use the Sanitize Cycle

Not every load of wash you do needs to be run through a heavy duty sanitize cycle — and in fact, many regular wash cycles can be done with cold water. You should reserve this cycle for cleaning sheets and throws from a sickbed; pajamas worn while recovering; and other germy items, like cloth diapers or dog bedding. Many health care workers wash their scrubs and work clothes on a sanitizing cycle, and stinky gym clothes can also benefit from sanitizing. Only sanitize fabrics that can handle it; high-performance workout fabrics may be damaged by the heat.


There are other items you should not wash on the sanitizing cycle because the water gets so hot. It can cause dyed items to bleed into the wash and may cause some fabrics to shrink.


What to Wash in Hot Water

Safe to Sanitize

Unsafe to Sanitize

Cloth diapers



Delicates (lace, wool, silk, etc.)

Blankets and throws

Anything not colorfast


Items containing elastic


Workout clothes


The care label on clothing and other fabrics always has the final say. If the tag warns against washing an item in hot water, don't wash it on your washer's sanitize cycle.

Can You Use Regular Detergent on a Sanitize Cycle?

The sanitize cycle on your washing machine is designed to work using hot water, so you need not do anything special. It's perfectly safe to use your regular laundry detergent in a sanitizing cycle. If you wish, you may also add bleach to a load of whites you want to brighten. Essentially, the sanitize cycle is just like a regular load only with extra-hot water.


What if I Don't Have a Sanitize Cycle on my Washing Machine?

A sanitizing wash cycle is handy to have, but people have been sanitizing their laundry without this washing machine feature for years. The first step is using the warmest water the fabric will tolerate. To ensure sanitization, add a special laundry sanitizer to the load.


Alternatively, you can bleach your clothes on a regular laundry cycle since chlorine bleach is an effective sanitizer. Of course, you need to be careful when using bleach and make sure you don't damage colored items.

Buying a New Washing Machine with a Sanitize Cycle

If it's time for a new washing machine and you're thinking you want one with a sanitizing cycle, look for the NSF mark on the tag or label. The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) tests manufacturers' claims about their products. Any sanitizing washing machine can claim to kill a given percentage of germs or bacteria, but the NSF tests these claims to make sure they are true. If so, they will attach their label to the unit.


Cleaning Your Washing Machine

It's a good idea to clean your washing machine about once a month to keep the interior surfaces clean, free of buildup, and, most importantly, germ-free. To clean your machine, you can use chlorine bleach or special machine-cleaning tablets for a detergent. Place the cleaning solution directly in an empty machine (no matter if it's a top-load washer or a front-load washer), as directed, and run a cleaning (or "tub clean") cycle. Do not wash clothes during the cleaning cycle. When the cycle has finished:



  1. Slide out the detergent dispenser drawer as far as you can and wipe it with a clean cloth and hot water. Some drawers will slide all the way out for easier cleaning, but some do not, so don't force the tray out of the machine.
  2. Wipe around the lid or door seal, using a solution of 3 tablespoons chlorine bleach and 1 quart of warm water; do not use undiluted bleach, which can damage rubber and metal.
  3. Wipe down the outside of the appliance with a damp cloth.


What Is a Dryer Sanitizing Cycle?

While not all machines have this, you may have noticed a sanitize setting on your dyer as well as your washer. This cycle works on the same principle in the dryer as it does in the washing machine. On the sanitize cycle, your dryer will blast your clothes with very high heat to disinfect and kill most remaining bacteria. The same rules apply here, however. The sanitize cycle is great, but don't use it on delicate items or fabrics prone to shrinking.



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