@texasbee: OK, so… I’ve never seen a machine that is top loading, but they might make them.
You choose your cycle length in several ways. For example, my washing machine is a combined washer drier and has three dials.
– One is for temperature, so you can set it anywhere between cold wash and 90 degrees (which is presumably for nappies and things).
– The second dial is for cycle… do you want a longer rinse? A quick wash? A half load? A double spin? All of those correspond to numbers or letters on the second dial, and they are all longer or shorter cycles.
– The third dial is for drying. You can pick your drying time (anywhere between zero and 2 hours).
Note that some machines only have two dials. In that case, the cycle dial also controls the length of the drying cycle. If the machine has only one dial (an old machine) that will be the cycle dial, and all of the cycles will have longer or shorter drying times, and will wash at different temperatures. If there is only one dial, there will also be a drying only cycle.
My machine has a timer, which tells you how long it will take. For example, if I set my machine to 40 degrees, cycle 4 (normal cycle), the dial reads something like 1 hour 40 minutes. If I then turn the dryer dial to 40 minutes, the timer will now read 2 hours 20 minutes. Most washes take under 2 and a half hours.
Now… if your clothes are coming out damp and wrinkled, several things could be going wrong. If you were in a hard water area, it could be that limescale has clogged your filters, and you need to use a water softener in the machine. A quick solution is to not dry the clothes in the dryer at all, just wash. When the clothes are wet and clean in the machine, open the door and let the condensation out. Then dry on a separate cycle for 40 minutes, and repeat the process until the clothes are dry. The limescale can cause condensation build up inside the drum, which makes your drying cycle less successful.
If your clothes are wrinkled, you could be over-drying them (and drying in the creases in the process). Unless it is a very hot and dry day (in which case I dry clothes outside on the line), I usually machine dry clothes until they are 80-90% dry, then iron them, then either hang them up inside the house, hang them on a washing line, or finish them off quickly inside the machine. Makes ironing much easier.
OK, so. Detergent. This is a matter of personal preference, but if the water in your area is very hard then you may need to use a water softener in addition to your detergent. It is also much better for your machine. You should be able to buy this over the internet… they’re catching on, but only slowly, so you may not find them in shops! If you can’t find an appropriate softener, I don’t see why you couldn’t use a few Calgon tablets along with your detergent instead. Calgons are designed for dishwashers, but they prevent the build up of limescale in any water.
I use tablets like Bold, but I don’t have a particular brand of detergent that I like. I just buy whatever reputable brand is on offer, usually. I like tablets because they go right in the drum and cause less mess.
Oh… and one last thing… the water near you may not be hard. For example, I’m originally from Manchester, and we have soft water there. It depends on the bedrock. I would check to see how hard it is before automatically assuming that your detergent won’t work!
Hope this helps!