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How long are washing machine cycle times?

We explain common washing machine cycle times and how you can save time and money in the laundry.

choosing a washing machine cycle
Last updated: 24 August 2021

If you've just bought a new front loading washing machine or you've seen our washing machine reviews, you'll have noticed those cycle times creeping up. We've noticed it too – cycle times are definitely getting longer.

While it can be frustrating, it's actually a good thing for the planet, and for your hip pocket, but it may mean you need to change your washing habits to accommodate the longer cycle time. We explain some common washing machine cycles and why they take as long as they do, and offer some tips for cutting down your time spent in the laundry.

How long does a front loader washing machine take to wash?

  • Average cycle time 10 years ago: 99 minutes
  • Average cycle time today: 144 minutes
  • Maximum cycle time recorded our tests: 278 minutes
  • Minimum cycle time recorded in our tests: 71 minutes

Cycle times for front loaders are getting longer as water efficiency improves. One machine we tested even took a whopping 4 hours 38 minutes to complete a cycle! 

In fairness, your patience is rewarded with great wash performance and it does have a quick wash option (albeit suitable only for a small, 2kg load), but its running costs are also quite high, and according to the registration data, a full capacity load (our test load is only 3.5kg) takes a glacial 6 hours and 50 minutes.

This raises another important point – the cycle times we report in our washing machine tests are for a 3.5kg capacity load – while this is what most people wash in one go at home, if you fill your washing machine to capacity, this cycle time may double or even triple.

How long does a top loader washing machine take to wash?

  • Average cycle time 10 years ago: 55 minutes
  • Average cycle time today: 59 minutes
  • Maximum cycle time recorded in our tests: 98 minutes
  • Minimum cycle time recorded in our tests: 40 minutes

Because top loader washing machines use a lot more water than front loaders (they need enough water for your clothes to float freely, unlike front loaders which repeatedly pick up your clothes and drop them in the wash water), they don't take nearly as long to wash, although we find they tend not to wash quite as well, and are harsher on your clothes.

Interestingly, the average cycle time on a top loader hasn't changed much over the years – 55 minutes 10 years ago to 59 minutes today. So with a full cycle taking under an hour, a top loader may be the sensible choice if you need to wash multiple loads in a day. But keep in mind that these numbers are based on our 3.5kg test load, not the full capacity of the machine.

How long does a fast or quick wash program take?

If you're frustrated with waiting for the washing, then help is at hand, as many modern washing machines offer a fast or quick wash program. Some fast wash programs take less than 15 minutes from go to whoa so they're great if you're in a hurry, but it's important to note these programs are only suitable for very small loads – a couple of kilograms, or just a handful of items at most, and only if they're lightly soiled. 

Spill some juice on a business shirt and the fast program is for you, but don't expect it to get the grease out of a week's worth of mechanic's overalls – you'll need a more intensive program for that (and probably a pre-soaker).

Why are washing machine cycles so long?

If you've ever found yourself frustrated at waiting hours for your clothes to finish washing you've probably wondered why washing machines take so long these days. Put simply, it's down to water efficiency – modern machines, particularly front loaders, are very water efficient. 

That's a good thing for the environment (and your wallet) because it saves on energy, which is used to heat the wash water, as well as water itself. But the trade-off is that with less water, it takes longer to wash your clothes. That's also why top loaders have shorter cycle times than front loaders – they use more water.

If cycle time isn't an issue for you or you like to wash in off-peak times, the increasingly lengthy programs shouldn't be too much of a concern – but if you're one of those people who like to do things in one sitting, it might be worth looking at a top loader, or biting the bullet and changing up your laundry habits.

How to save time in the laundry

Whether you've got a high-speed top loader or a slow and steady front loader, if you're anything like us you'd rather spend as little time as possible doing the laundry. Here's how to power through doing the washing in record time.

  • Treat stains early – getting in straight away with a pre-treater or laundry soaker before stains dry and set gives you the best chance of shifting them with a single wash cycle, so you don't need to re-wash clothes several times to get them clean.
  • Use the shortest cycle that will do the job – if you've only got a few T-shirts to wash, then an intensive full-length program will be overkill – a shorter, more suitable program will save you time, as well as energy and therefore running costs. Check your manual for suitable programs.
  • Use the highest spin speed available – this won't speed up the washing process, but your clothes will dry faster as they'll contain less residual moisture – this also saves you money if you're using a dryer (though it can flatten the pile of your towels a little more).
  • Use the timer – by setting the timer the night before, you can schedule your washing to finish just before you get up in the morning so it's ready to hang out straight away, irrespective of how long the wash cycle takes.
  • Wash full loads – it stands to reason that a very full washing machine will take longer to wash than a half empty one, but it won't be twice as long. So see if you can get all your washing done in one go, because one full load will be quicker than two half loads – it'll save you money too, both on running costs and detergent.
  • Download a faster program – some washing machines now offer Wi-Fi connectivity, and with that the ability to download new wash programs or update existing ones. Check what's available online because there could be a program that meets your needs and takes less time than your default options.

How 'delay start' can save you money

Delay start is a handy option that not only makes doing the washing more convenient – by setting it to finish just before you get up, you can take maximum advantage of the sun's drying rays, and get the laundry out before you have to leave for work – but it can also save you money.

If you have time-of-use electricity prices, or can run your washing machine on an off-peak circuit, then you can use your timer to run your washing machine when your energy costs are at their lowest – typically in the middle of the night when most of us are asleep.

Conversely, if you have solar power then you can set your washing machine to run in the middle of the day when the output from your panels is highest and your electricity is free, even if you're at work.

How do star ratings affect washing machine cycle times?

We love the energy and water star rating systems – they're great tools for helping consumers compare the efficiency of different appliances at a glance, which is a powerful incentive for manufacturers to improve the efficiency of the appliances they make. 

Manufacturers want the best star ratings possible because it drives sales, but the star rating system may actually be contributing to the increase in cycle times. That's because when calculating star ratings, under the Australian standard, a washing machine must be able to achieve minimum thresholds for dirt removal, rinse performance, spin performance and gentleness, however there is no requirement for cycle time. 

Manufacturers don't necessarily want an appliance that performs really well because with better performance comes higher energy and water consumption, and a worse star rating

To get the best star rating, manufacturers don't necessarily want an appliance that performs really well because with better performance comes higher energy and water consumption, and a worse star rating. Instead they want one that performs just well enough. 

What's worse, manufacturers may take a washing machine that just meets this minimum standard and attempt to improve its star rating by further reducing the amount of water used and, because there are no rules around cycle times, extending the length of the wash program to compensate.

Many manufacturers are listening to consumers' frustrations and making concerted efforts to keep the most-used program times as short as possible, while still offering intensive wash options for those who want it. 

On the other hand, some manufacturers are still increasing the most-used program lengths, but are offering fast wash options instead. These cut laundry time dramatically but they're generally not recommended for full loads. With the increase in washing machine capacity, we also suspect some manufacturers will increase the program time to deal with the strain of a full load.

How long do washing machines last?

If you're frustrated with how long your washer takes to wash, you might be secretly hoping it'll hurry up and break so you can justify buying a different one. So how long will you have to wait? That's difficult to answer because every machine is different, but based on over 1000 responses to our 2018 product reliability survey, Australians generally expect:

  • a budget washing machine to last at least five years
  • a mid-range model to last for eight years
  • a high-end washer to last for 11 years, factoring in some minor maintenance and repairs.

An equally important question (provided you're not too dissatisfied with your washing machine) is at what point does it make more financial sense to replace a broken one than to repair it? You need to weigh up the extra cost of replacement against the longevity and performance of a new machine, and the risk of something else breaking on your old one vs the environmental impact of building a new appliance and disposing of an old one. 

From data from our sister publication Consumer NZ, it becomes more cost effective to replace a broken top loader when it's between seven and 12 years old, and a broken front loader when it's between 12 and 20 years old. While this isn't a hard and fast rule (it'll depend on what exactly has gone wrong with your washing machine and the machine itself), it's a good starting point.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE