At first, wash care symbols may appear confusing, but in reality, they’re fairly easy to understand. Each wash care label is designed to tell you what fabric your garment is made from, and there are additional laundry symbols to guide you on how to take care of said garment. Read on to find out all you need to know about the meaning of these washing instruction symbols.
What do the symbols on clothing tags mean?
Wash care symbols are small pictograms to help you decide how to care for your garments. For example, with the help of these symbols, you’ll be able to decide whether your clothes can be washed in a washing machine, or if they need to be washed by hand, etc. There are several groups of symbol types, so we’ve grouped them up for easier understanding.
Washing cycle symbols
If you see a bucket full of water, it means that your garment is machine washable. The sign that shows a line drawn underneath the bucket tells you that your piece of clothing should be washed on a synthetic cycle, and two lines recommend the use of a gentle, delicate, or wool wash cycle.
Hand washing symbol
If you see a hand above the bucket of water, it means that you should stick to hand washing that garment, because its fabric may get damaged if you toss it into the washer.
If you see the bucket full of water with a cross over it, it means that the garment can’t be washed in a washing machine. If the same cross appears over a twisted piece of cloth, it shows that you’re not supposed to wring the garment, otherwise you risk damaging it.
The meaning behind water temperature symbols
Fabric care labels also say what temperature you should wash your clothes on. You can find out the wash temperature from the sign that looks like a bucket filled with water, just like the washing symbols above, but you’ll see a number and the degree sign.
Alternatively, if the garment is machine washable, then you’ll see dots inside the bucket icon, representing the recommended maximum temperature. Some labels will say what the optimal setting is in degrees directly, like the symbols shown above, but others may only indicate this information through dots. If you have a label showing a bucket with dots, this is what they mean: one dot means 30°C (this is the machine cold wash symbol), two dots is 40°C (wash in warm water), and four dots is 60°C (wash in hot water). Some labels may also show three (50°C), five (70°C), or six (95°C) dots.
Bleach symbols on washing labels
Your garment’s fabric care label will also advise you if it can handle bleaching agents, so before you reach for the bleach, check out these symbols.
You can safely use bleach on your clothing when you see an empty triangle on the label. Diagonal lines inside the triangle means you can use non-chlorine bleach, and when you see a triangle crossed out by two lines, it’s best to stay away from bleaching to protect the garment.
Ironing symbols on fabric labels
Follow the ironing instructions on the fabric care label to find the right setting for the item.
When you see an iron on the clothing label with dots inside, this tells you what the maximum temperature should be when you iron the garment. If the iron doesn’t have any dots, you can iron your piece of clothing at any temperature. In general, delicate items like wool and silk fabrics will have one dot, synthetics will have two, and linen and cotton will have three on their label. If the pictogram shows an iron with a cross over it, you shouldn’t iron that garment, and if the two lines of the cross appear at the bottom of the iron, it means you shouldn’t steam your garment.
Drying guidelines on clothing labels
Drying is also an important part of the laundry process. To make sure your clothes don’t shrink accidentally, follow the instructions on the fabric care label, and your fabric will thank you.
Some labels will tell you whether you can tumble dry an item or not, or even whether you need to dry clean it.
A square with a circle inside means that the item can be safely tumble dried. If the symbol is crossed out, do not tumble dry your garment, but let it dry naturally instead.
Air drying symbols
If you can’t tumble dry an item, then you’ll see symbols that tell you how to air dry. Some garments need to be laid flat, and others drip dried, so see the signs below for more instructions.
A square with a circle and three vertical lines inside represents drip drying. A single horizontal line in the middle indicates flat drying. A curved, drooping line means hang to dry. A square with diagonal lines in the corner informs you that you should dry that item in the shade.
Your tumble dryer also has special cycles for different fabrics, and your laundry labels can offer you specific instructions about which one to pick.
When there is a bar below the tumble dry symbol, use the ‘Permanent Press’ or ‘Synthetics’ settings. Two bars below the tumble dry symbol means that you should use the ‘Delicate’ setting. Otherwise, tumble dry as normal.
Tumble dry settings
Your garment labels will also tell you about what heat setting you should use on your dryer.
The number of dots inside the tumble dry symbol indicate what temperature setting to use: One dot stands for low heat, two for medium, and three for high heat setting. No dot means that you can tumble dry your clothes on any heat setting. You shouldn't use heat or hot air when you see a black circle.
There are some delicate clothes that should be cleaned only by professionals, and this is where dry cleaning becomes a great help. A plain circle without the square tells you that piece of clothing is dry clean only, but if you see this symbol crossed out, then do not dry clean.
The following symbols will give you additional information on what kind of solvent the dry cleaner can use when cleaning your garments.
The letter ‘A’ means the dry cleaner can use any solvent when cleaning your garment, the letter ‘P’ excludes Trichloroethylene, and the letter ‘F’ means only petroleum solvents can be used.
Additional dry clean signs
To further help your dry cleaner, there are additional symbols for dry cleaning.
A circle with a line at the bottom left means it should be cleaned on a short cycle. A diagonal bar at the top right says to dry clean with reduced moisture, whereas a line at the bottom right instructs the item be cleaned on low heat. A circle showing a line at the top left says not to use steam finishing.
Still a little confused about how to wash different fabrics? Download our fabric care symbols guide, so you can keep it at hand when doing laundry. Or, see our laundry tips and articles on washing and sorting, and in no time, you’ll be washing your clothes like a pro!
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