Set Your Dryer to Perm Press ... Meaning What, Exactly?

By: Sara Elliott & Yara Simón  | 
Woman with iron and ironing board standing beside giant pile of laundry
Who wants to spend all that time ironing? Peter Cade / Getty Images

Creases and wrinkles are the enemy, whether they're on a bedspread, Monday's clean white shirt or that nice pair of comfy sweats you plan to wear for weekend relaxing. If you despise ironing, you might wonder if there's a magical way to wash and dry clothes without them turning into a crinkled, misshapen and distorted mess.

Get ready to set your machine to perm press ... meaning, what? We'll explain this handy-dandy dryer and washing machine setting.


What Is the Permanent Press Setting?

Perm press, or permanent press, is a delicate cycle found on both washers and dryers. Designed to minimize wrinkles, perm press uses warm water for washing and cold water for rinsing. These temperatures help to clean clothes effectively without causing shrinking or fading.

It also uses a slower spin cycle and a gentle wash motion. The permanent press dryer cycle uses reduced agitation and medium heat.


Permanent Press vs. Normal Wash Cycle

Unlike the permanent press cycle, which takes a gentler approach to prevent excessive wrinkling, a regular cycle typically involves higher agitation and spin speeds that are effective for heavy-duty cleaning.

A normal cycle may not prioritize wrinkle prevention, and clothes may require additional care, such as ironing or steaming.


How the Cool-Down Period Works

Toward the end of the drying cycle, the machine reduces the temperature of the air used for drying. Instead of abruptly stopping the drying process, the cool-down function introduces a period of gentle, cooler air.

This gradual cooling helps relax the fibers of the clothes and minimizes the formation of wrinkles.


Fabrics That Can Benefit From Perm Press

You should always wash clothes that say permanent press on the label through this gentle cycle. These articles of clothing, typically made of synthetic fibers like polyester, can become ruined if you do not wash and dry them properly.

But as it turns out, most clothes can benefit from a slow cycle. However, you want to avoid permanent press settings for the most delicate fabrics, like lingerie, because they might not be gentle enough.


Steam Dryer: An Alternative to Permanent Press Cycles

Permanent press is a cycle that reduces wrinkles in clothes. Steam drying achieves a similar result by using water vapor to tackle wrinkled textiles. Steam dryer manufacturers claim their products relax wrinkles, reducing the need for ironing — but they don't claim to eliminate the need for ironing altogether.

Weaker Wrinkles

You've seen the difference between taking a load of laundry out of a conventional dryer right away and letting it sit for a few minutes or more. Even if you're speedy at removing a cotton shirt, it might not look creased, but it won't look ironed either. Getting that crisp, pressed look still requires pressing with an iron.


For fabrics that are naturally less likely to wrinkle, the results are somewhat better, but independent testing labs like Consumer Reports haven't found steam dryers significantly better than conventional dryers when it comes to removing visible wrinkles from clothing.

Even though steam doesn't get tough wrinkles out, it may relax them somewhat, making them easier to iron out later. If you've ever scorched a cotton shirt trying to press out the area around the cuffs or collar, a steam dryer may leave a fainter wrinkle that could be better than a tight, pesky one.

Odor Control

Steam dryers are better at deodorizing laundry, too. Because they use high-temperature steam, they kill more bacteria and can banish that smoky, musty smell on clothes that sometimes lingers through multiple washings.

If you're really interested in killing germs in the laundry, look for dryer features like "sanitizing" or "antibacterial" cycles.

Softening and Refreshing

Steam drying can make fabric feel softer, too. This could make your blankets, sheets, cotton undies and jammies feel more fluffy and cozy.

Steam dryers also do a good job of refreshing clothes. If you defer to the dry cleaner every time you wear "good" garments, a 10-minute tumble in a steam dryer could relax and renew silk, wool and other fine fabrics enough to save on a couple of monthly dry cleaning bills.

This may not make a steam dryer the wonder appliance you'd hoped for, but it could make laundry day a little easier to tackle.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.


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