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What Does Soil Mean on a Washer? Washing Machine Settings Explained

clothes inside the washer

Washing machines: in an ideal world, you put dirty clothes in them, and clean clothes come out after an hour or so of spinning, washing, and draining. However, with a bank of baffling buttons and dials, washing machines can seem like some forbidden dark arts that require some deep mastery to get your clothes clean.

One of the settings commonly found on washing machines is soil level. Soil level enables you to tell the washing machine how dirty the clothes are so that it can determine how hard it needs to work to get your clothes clean.

Settings usually include light, normal, and heavy. Heavily soiled clothes are those that are caked in mud or have a lot of stains. Normal is the normal soil load and will usually be used for the weekly load, and light is the setting used for clothes that have been worn infrequently and have no visible stains or soil on them.

Read on for more information on soil level settings as well as some other common washing machine settings and levels.

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What Soil Setting Should You Use?

Some washing machine owners leave the soil setting at the same level every time they wash, but doing so could prevent the machine from properly washing clothes, or it could mean that the machine is on an unnecessarily high setting that is costing more energy and using more water than you actually need. You might not need to change the soil setting every time you wash clothes but do check before starting a load.

  • Light – A light soil setting is best reserved for clothes that have been barely worn and have only been worn around the house. They have no visible staining or dirt, and you just need to freshen them up before they are worn again. The washing machine will spin on a lower setting, use cooler water, and the load will finish sooner.
  • Normal – This is the most commonly used soil level. It is for clothes that have been worn for a day or longer or on multiple occasions. There may be some mild staining and visible soiling, and the clothes might have a faint sweat or dirty smell. The normal setting will do a good job on most weekly washes, but you may need a higher setting for items that have more visible dirt and stains.
  • Heavy – The heavy soil load is for clothes that have got visible dirt or that smell particularly bad. The washing machine will agitate the clothes more, to pull dirt from the fabric more easily. The cycle might use hotter water and will take longer than the normal and light soil settings. Think of clothes that have been worn for sporting events or have sat in a gym bag or school bag. A heavy soil setting can eliminate the need to pre-wash or pre-soak laundry before washing and ensure the items are cleaner and fresher when they come out of the wash.
hand changing washer settings
Image Credit: Michal Jarmoluk, Pixabay

What Is a Heavy-Duty Wash Cycle?

A heavy-duty wash cycle is somewhat similar to using the heavy soil setting. It will normally spin faster, agitating the laundry more than a standard cycle, and it will run for longer. This can be used for clothes that are heavily soiled but also for tougher materials like denim and towels.

What Is a Delicate Wash Cycle?

The delicate wash cycle, on the other hand, is used for materials that are, as the name suggests, delicate. Rather than being used for denim, it is typically used for materials like wool or lingerie made from thin and sheer material.

If these items are washed on a heavy duty or even a standard cycle, they can be damaged. The delicate wash cycle uses colder water and the machine spins less so causing less agitation in the laundry. There is less chance of laundry becoming damaged or wrecked.

Person pouring liquid in the washing machine
Image Credit: RODNAE Productions, Pexels

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Washing machines have a variety of settings and modes that enable effective and efficient washing. While some determine the manual setting of the spin cycle and water temperature, others allow you to identify the dirt or soil level of the laundry so that the washing machine can choose a cycle that has the best chance of cleaning clothes while still offering an efficient program.

The soil level setting, which can normally be set to low, normal, or heavy, means the amount of dirt on the clothes. Higher settings mean more agitation of the clothing and longer wash cycles, while lower settings have shorter cycles and lower temperatures.

Featured Image Credit By: engin akyurt, Unsplash


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