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How Long Do Washing Machines Take?

A collage of washing machine.

We’ve all washed clothes in machines that take until Sean Bean lives through a picture to clean the laundry. We wonder why it takes so long, and tell ourselves we could hand wash the laundry in the river with a washboard in less time. 

The truth is that it takes modern washers an hour and one-half to complete a wash cycle.

Different cycles take different times, different levels of laundry such as a small load or a super load take different times, as well as the type of washer (top or front loaders) takes different times. Cycle completion times have increased over the years.

What are the usual cycle times? Why did the cycle time increase? How can you wash your laundry in the least time and still get the clothes clean? Grab a coffee and get comfortable because we’re going to talk about washing machines.

Related: How Do Washing Machines Work How often should you clean your washing machine

Why Does It Take So Long To Wash A Load Of Laundry? I Don’t Always Have All Day

Save Water And Power

Today’s washing machines (and dishwashers) are made with an eye to water and power conservation. If you can wash a load of laundry with less water and still get them clean, you’re saving money on your utility bills. It also takes less power to heat the water, which is reflected in your power bill.

Don’t Expect A Quality Machine Like Your Grandparents Used

A hand holding a cloth at the washing machine.

The snag to that is that the spin cycle doesn’t necessarily get your clothes nearly dry like our grandparent’s machines did. The agitator isn’t as aggressive as it was in former days.

All this means that the washing detergent doesn’t always work as well as it should, so you have to give the laundry a second rinse to get all the soap out of the cloth. That takes longer as well as uses more water and power.

Top-Load Or Front Load, That Is The Question

But it shouldn’t be, and here’s why. Yes, top-load machines agitate slowly, spin even slower, and take longer. The agitator has ripped lace off my blouses and holes in whatever got caught beneath the agitator as it moved around.

I’ve only ever seen top-loaders in any home or apartment complex I have ever lived in, though. However, front-load machines are only as close as the nearest laundromat, wash faster and more thoroughly, and spin the water out of the cloth much better.

Okay, front-loaders can be a tad noisy, but I’ll take a little noise and way better water efficiency over a quiet top-loader that uses Lake Erie amounts of water. 

Why Did The Cycle Times Increase? I Never Heard Of That

Grab another coffee because we’re going to be getting into a little physics. When one thing (laundry soap) depends on another (the agitation in the washing machine) to complete an action, then the action becomes more important than the components of the action. Here’s how it works:

    • Time and detergent. Increased cycle times give the laundry soap more time to get into the cloth. The friction resulting from less water gives the detergent the action needed to scrub the stains and odors from the cloth as it agitates against each other and the sides of the tub.

    • Tub capacity and water. Modern machines have larger tubs than in former days. This holds more water, even if the total amount is less than in former days. It also holds a larger load, which saves you time, water, power, and money on the power bill.

Clothes inside the washing machine.

    • Spin. Today’s washers say they have higher spin times than older washers, although I, personally, haven’t seen it. It’s supposed to spin the clothes drier than in days of old, which is supposed to save you money on running your dryer. That’s the theory, anyway, of increased cycle times.

Now, we get into the actual cycles, so you can see the physics of it all:

    • Prewash cycle. The machine’s sensors determine the weight of the load. The tub fills with water and gently agitates the clothes to infiltrate the laundry soap into the cloth.

    • Wash. The clothes will agitate for a pre-specified amount of time. This is when the laundry soap does its thing. Then the laundry will soak for a bit before a spin.

    • Rinse. The cloth needs the soap and dirt removed from it. As this gunk is drained from the tub, clean water is sprayed onto the laundry to prevent the gunk from settling back onto the cloth. The tub will fill with clean water, agitate the cloth to further remove soap, then drain the dirty water. It will usually do this twice during the rinse cycle.

    • Last spin. The washer will rinse a little more, then speed up into a wicked spin that slings every drop of water out of the machine.

That’s how the action can be, and is, more important than the components of the action. It’s also a pretty good description of why cycle times have increased over the years.

I’ve Never Sat And Timed It, But Can You Tell Me What Is The Average Cycle Time?

A hand setting time of washing machine.

Cycle times vary between types of washers and brands of washers. I can give you a general time for each cycle, but be aware that it won’t be exactly like the time on the washer in your laundry room:

Cycle Times On Top-Load And Front-Load Washing Machines

The Pre-wash Cycle

The pre-wash cycle takes three minutes to agitate and three minutes to rinse. This is true for both front-load and top-load washers.

The Wash Cycle

The exact time depends on the brand and the model, but most top-load machine wash cycles last from 60 minutes to 80 minutes. This goes for front-load washing machines, too.

The Rinse Cycle

Depending on the brand of the washer and the size of the load, rinsing can take from 15 minutes to 30 minutes. This is true of front-load as well as top-load machines.

The Final Spin Cycle

The final spin can take up to 12 minutes depending on the size of the load and the brand of the washer. This is true of both top-loading and front-loading machines.

Is There A Way To Shorten Cycles? I Don’t Have All Day To Do The Wash

A hand getting clothes from the washing machine.

That’s understandable. Most folks do the wash on the weekends when they aren’t working, and in between chauffeuring the kids to soccer games and getting groceries. There are some tips and hacks, though, to make laundry day short and still clean the clothes:

    • Too much detergent. If the machine senses that the dirt and soap is too much, it will extend the cycle in order to get it all out. Only use about two tablespoons or one small coffee scoop of soap. It will get your clothes cleaner, I promise.

    • Overloading. When you jam too many clothes in the machine, the sensors will stop what the machine is doing to refill the tub. This redistributes the clothes. Front-loaders will slow down the spin so the clothes can redistribute themselves, then speed back up into their usual spin. The moral of the story is don’t overload the machine.

Avoid These Cycles

    • Hot water. Your washing machine will stop the cycle so that its water heater will bring the water temperature up to the proper heat for your cycle. This doesn’t, however, make your laundry soap do a better job, although it does kill germs and bacteria.

    • Heavy duty and sanitize. These cycles use hot water, too, and the cycles might soak a little longer to allow the soap to get deeper into the cloth. This can take up to three hours.

    • Soak, extra rinse, and prewash. These add an extra 15 minutes to the cycle you’ve chosen but don’t clean any better than your basic wash cycle.

How Long Do Washing Machines Take FAQ

What Is The Average Time For A Washing Machine Load?

A hand setting time of the washing machine.

Most washers take between an hour and an hour and one-half to do a load of wash. This depends on the size of the load, the cycle you choose, and the temperature of the water you choose.

Why Is My Washing Machine Taking Three Hours?

You could have problems with the machine’s sensors, the water intake valve (which brings water into the tub,) or a problem with the cycle panel. Contact a professional before your water and power bills explode.

Is A 15-Minute Wash Good Enough?

That’s up to you. The amount of soil in the cloth or a small load is good enough for a 15-minute wash. If you have a bigger load, then a longer wash cycle will be necessary.

What’s The Shortest Washer Cycle?

The quick wash cycle is the fastest and saves more energy and water.  It takes around 30 minutes to complete and clean clothes very well. Heavily soiled clothing will take a longer cycle to clean the cloth.

Are Long Washer Cycles Designed For A Reason?

Yes. The less water and the less energy to heat that water means energy efficiency and less to pay on the power bill.