How to Select the Correct Dryer Cycle

closeup of a dryer

The Spruce / Jessica Lombardi

If you use the same drying cycle setting for every load, you're probably not using your dryer correctly. Unless all of your laundry loads are the same size and type of fabric, you may be wasting money on energy costs, lessening the lifespan of your dryer, and damaging your clothes. And, of course, some items should never be placed in the dryer. It helps to know your dryer's air dry setting from the regular cycle, for instance, and when to use which setting. Learn all about the basic drying cycles below to get the best results from your dryer.

Air Dry or Air Fluff Cycle

On this cycle, there is no added heat. The dryer simply pulls in fresh room temperature air and the drum turns and tosses your clothes to help them "fluff-up." The cycle does help remove dust, lint, and pet hair from fabrics by drawing them into the dryer filter screen. Air dry is particularly useful for fluffing pillows or down-filled items like coats and comforters. You'll get the best results by adding a few wool dryer balls to provide a beating action.

This cycle is also great for freshening dry clean only clothes or those that have been stored and smell musty. Add a dryer sheet or a damp cloth scented with essential oil to add a bit of freshness and help tumble out wrinkles.

Remember, the air dry or air fluff cycle will not completely dry wet clothes.

Delicate or Gentle Cycle

As this cycle clearly states, this is a gentle drying cycle for delicate fabrics. While women's "delicates" like bras and panties should never be placed in the dryer, there are other thin or lacy fabrics that fit the description.

Any loosely woven garment; made of rayon or silk; or has added embellishment from light beading or sequins, embroidery, or iron-on decals (sports jerseys) should be dried on the gentle cycle. It is especially important to use this cycle for high-performance fabrics. These garments cannot withstand high heat. They will fray, stick together, and may fade on high heat..

There is no need to use the gentle cycle for cotton garments, men's undergarments, jeans, sheets, linens, or towels.


Always hang women's bras and panties to air dry.

Permanent Press or Wrinkle-Resistant Cycle

Permanent press does not mean that your clothes will come out of the dryer completely wrinkle-free. You can also reduce the need to iron by promptly removing the clothes and hanging or folding them. 

The permanent press cycle should be used for almost everything you wear like shirts, blouses, dresses, slacks, jackets, outerwear, even non-cotton socks. While some manufacturers recommend that it be used for any synthetic fabric (polyester), the permanent press cycle works for any lightweight cotton, ramie, linen or natural fiber washable garment as well. This cycle uses a medium level of heat to prevent wrinkling and the damage that high heat can cause. Many of the permanent press cycles on today's dryers have a cool-down period of around 10 minutes that uses only room-temperature air to help relax wrinkles in fabrics. A cooler fabric will not wrinkle as badly when folded as a fabric dried at a higher temperature.

Regular Cycle, Automatic, or Timed Dry

The regular cycle is your go-to cycle for towels, sheets, sweats, and jeans. Whether you choose automatic dry, which uses a moisture sensor to determine if your clothes are dry, or select the amount of time you feel the clothes need, the regular cycle is going to use the highest heat setting available on your dryer. While it doesn't shrink your clothes (the hot water in the washer does that), it can melt decorations, and set stains and wrinkles.

The moisture sensor will only work efficiently if you keep it clean (consult your dryer user manual to locate the sensor). Regular use of dryer sheets leaves a coating of residue that prevents the sensor from working allowing clothes to overdry and waste your money. Dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and give it a good cleaning every month. 

Remember, high heat is harsh on fabrics; choose it only for the strongest fabrics.

Steam Cycle

Some dryer models have a feature that creates steam within the drum independent of the traditional drying cycle. The steam cycle is good for refreshing clothes that don't need to be washed but need a little odor and wrinkle removal. The steam cycle can also be added at the end of a drying cycle to prevent wrinkles if you forgot to remove the clothes promptly from the dryer.