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Washing machine features explained

Lynn Wright / 31 May 2016 ( 22 October 2018 )

Here’s our guide to the most important features to consider when shopping for the perfect washing machine for you.

Washing machine drum and washing
The right washing machine should have enough features and functions to deliver outstandingly clean clothes

Choosing a new washing machine can be tough. Not only should the right machine deliver outstandingly clean clothes, it should do so easily and efficiently over a good number of years. It should also offer enough features and functions that you can wash a wide range of clothes, bedding and other laundry.

Washing machine features to look for

Digital display A useful option that shows how much time is left on your wash programme.

Time-delay This lets you delay the start of your wash cycle so your washing machine runs during the night on a cheaper energy tariff or while you’re out of the house.

Load detection Your washing machine weighs the washing load in the drum and automatically selects the optimal wash required. This helps to save water and energy but it’s a costly feature typically found only on premium washing machines.

Child lock An essential safety feature for households with young children. Most models have a lock that prevents the machine’s controls from being used, while others include a door safety lock that will stop the door from being closed.

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Washing machine programmes to look for

Cottons and synthetics Most washing machines have programmes for both cottons and synthetics, often with different temperature settings. There may be one or two cotton programmes with a hotter temperature, while synthetics are washed at lower temperatures – 40°C or below – and at lower spin speeds.

Wool/delicate/handwash These gentle programmes use low temperature and minimum spin speeds to prevent clothes from being damaged – useful if you’ve lots of delicate items to clean.

Sports Designed for cleaning microfibre clothing, removing sweat stains and odours, this mode works by using a longer wash cycle at a lower temperature. With some machines you can even wash your sports trainers.

Quick wash Perfect for when you need clean clothes in a hurry, some machines offer a fast programme that works in less than 30 minutes. However, most quick wash modes allow only as a small amount – around 2kg – to be washed at once. Some washing machines have a full-load quick-wash option, but these are for lightly soiled clothes only.

Half load A quick and energy efficient way to wash a few items.

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Easy iron/anti-crease A useful option if you regularly face lots of ironing, this mode helps to prevent clothes creasing during the wash by either shortening the spin cycle or lowering the spin speed.

Anti-allergy By using steam or a very high temperature, this programme removes allergens and bacteria from your laundry.

Extra rinse Clothes are rinsed again to remove more detergent – useful if a family member has sensitive skin or an allergy to detergent.

Economy mode Automatically lowers the washing temperature to help reduce energy consumption.

Variable spin speed Lets you vary the spin speed to protect delicate items.

Rinse hold facility This holds washed clothes in clean rinse water before spinning, so you can time being there to empty the machine as soon as clothes are spun to help reduce the risk of creasing.

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Choosing the best washing machine for you


You can buy washing machines as freestanding, semi integrated or fully integrated models. Freestanding washing machines are the most common type and come in a wide range of sizes and prices. The majority of freestanding models are white but some are available in silver, black and other colours so you can match them to your kitchen.

Integrated or built-in 

Built-in washing machines are a great choice if you want to hide your appliance behind a kitchen unit door for a seamless fitted look, but they typically cost more to install than freestanding models.

Semi-integrated washing machines give access to the control panel at the top of the machine with the rest covered by the kitchen cupboard door. However, there are only a few semi-integrated models on the market.


Washing prices range wildly in price from as little as £150 to well over £1,000. However, spend between £300 to £500 and you’ll typical get a great performing washing machine with a useful array of features.


Drum size is one of the most important considerations when shopping for a new washing machine, as the larger the drum, the more you can wash. Drum capacity typically varies between 5kg and 12kg, with a 7kg normally adequate for most households. 1kg of dry clothes is equivalent to an outfit consisting of a pair of trousers, a top, underwear and socks.

Washing machines work best when the drum is about 80 per cent full so consider your washing needs carefully. Large capacity machines mean you can wash less often, helping to reduce energy bills, but if you prefer to wash just few clothes more frequently then a smaller drum may be best.

Spin speed 

A washing machine’s spin cycle removes water from your clothes at the end of the wash programme. Spin speed is how fast the drum spins in revolutions per minute and typically the faster the speed, the drier the clothes. Some budget washing machines offer top speeds of just 1,100rpm but most decent models offer between 1,200rpm and 1,600rpm for cotton washes.

A lower speed – between 400rpm to 800rpm – is used for synthetics, delicates and wool. Normally the spin speed is auto selected based on your wash programme, but some models offer a variable spin speed function so you can select it yourself.

Energy efficiency 

All washing machines sold since December 2013 must have a minimum energy rating of A+, although you may still find older models on sale with the lower A rating. Premium washing machines use advanced features to get the cleaning results using less water – and models that use less than 7.5 litres of water per kg are deemed energy efficient according to Waterwise.


Most washing machines come with a range of wash programmes including cotton, synthetics, delicates and wool. More advanced models throw in extra options such as sports mode, heavy duty, half loads and anti-crease – all of which will add to the cost of your machine, so think carefully about which ones you’ll use regularly and those you can live without. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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