What Exactly Does Permanent Press Mean? Here's What Every Laundry Doer Needs to Know

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How laundry savvy are you? Do you take the barbaric approach — washing everything unsorted before frying the color-bleeding mess on the hottest dryer setting? Or are you laundry refined — faithfully following the five-stage process of sorting out the laundry, pretreating, washing, drying, and putting it all neatly to bed by ironing and folding?

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Falling into the first group desperately warrants learning about permanent press — but even seasoned launderers sometimes ignore labels and avoid using washer/dryer settings that make a huge difference in how the finished product looks and how long the garments last. So, what exactly does permanent press mean, and what's the difference between it and other types of cycles? Here's what to know.

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What Does Permanent Press Mean?

When you see "permanent press" on a clothing label, it tells you that the garment can remain basically wrinkle-free if washed and dried according to given instructions. Following those directions will involve using the corresponding permanent press cycles on your washing machine and clothes dryer. Permanent-press items are usually synthetics or are made from nonsynthetic fabrics that are treated to make them permanent press, but you can also use permanent-press cycles on items that wrinkle easily but are not treated to be or are not designated as permanent press.

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How Permanent Press Cycles Work

The permanent-press cycle on a washer, sometimes called "casual" or "wrinkle control," can help minimize or even prevent wrinkles by using warmer water temperatures to release wrinkles and slower spinning to prevent creation of wrinkles through compression of garments against each other. You should remove your clothes as soon as the wash cycle is complete to prevent heavy, wet clothing items from wrinkling.

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A dryer's permanent-press cycle uses medium heat temperatures, and with some brands, a cool-down period to prevent wrinkling. If the label indicates that the item is permanent press, remove it as soon as the cycle ends and hang it up to prevent wrinkling.

Permanent Press vs. Gentle Cycle

Permanent Press

  • A gentle cycle compared to a "regular" cycle, but not ideal for delicate clothing items or linens
  • Has a cool rinse and slower spin speed

Gentle Cycle

  • Best for delicate clothing or linens like underwear, bedding, or vintage items
  • Has the slowest spin cycle available on a washer

Permanent press and gentle, or delicate, wash cycles are commonly thought to be the same thing, but they're not. Permanent press is gentler than the regular cycle on a washer, but items such as lingerie, underwear, sweaters, bedding, and vintage fabrics require treatment that's even gentler. Whereas a permanent-press wash cycle reduces wrinkling with warm water temperatures, cool rinses, and slower spin speeds, a gentle wash cycle protects delicate items with a cold-water wash and rinse and an even slower spin cycle.

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If you need to wash a delicate item that carries no label and you're on the fence about whether to choose the permanent-press or gentle cycle, play it safe with the gentle cycle or simply choose hand washing.

Tip

The best laundry detergents for delicate items are products that list themselves as eco-friendly. Because these products have fewer harsh chemicals like bleach or sulfates, they'll be easier on your clothing items like lingerie or knit sweaters.

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