They may appear confusing, but laundry label codes are quite easy to understand. Each wash care label should tell you what the fabric is made from and includes up to five clothes washing symbols that let you know how to care for the item. Read on to learn what the laundry symbols mean and also download our fabric care symbols guide and put it on your laundry room’s wall! What you'll find in this article
What do the symbols on clothing tags mean?
This group of textile care symbols helps you decide if your clothing is safe to wash in a washing machine, and will also instruct you on which setting and what temperature you should use.
When you see a bucket filled with water, this symbol means the 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. The hand wash icon shows a hand above the bucket, and you can launder a garment with this symbol by hand at 40°C or use the hand wash program on your machine. The last two symbols tell you what not to do. A bucket of water that’s crossed out is the ‘do not wash’ symbol, whereas a twisted garment sign that’s struck through signifies ‘do not wring’.
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.
If the garment is machine washable, then you’ll either see dots or numbers 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 40°C (wash in warm water), and four dots 60°C (wash in hot). Some labels may also show three (50°C), five (70°C), or six (95°C) dots.
Bleach symbols on washing labels
Before you turn to your bottle of bleach to make your whites shine like they used to, it’s worth taking a look at your garment’s fabric care label to see if the clothing can handle bleaching agents.
You can safely use bleach on your piece of clothing when you see an empty triangle on the label. Diagonal lines inside the triangle refer to the use of non-chlorine bleach, however in the case when the triangle is crossed out by two lines, then do not bleach the item.
Drying guidelines on clothing labels
In addition to washing and ironing, the laundry process also includes drying. To prevent your garment from shrinking or becoming misshapen when drying, you can find many helpful symbols on the fabric care label, informing you of the most surefire way to dry your clothes without causing any damage to the fabric.
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. 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.
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 three vertical lines inside represents drip drying, a single horizontal line in the middle indicates flat drying, and a 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.
Tumble dry cycles
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, then use the ‘Permanent Press’ or ‘Synthetics’ settings, while two bars mean that you have to use the ‘Delicate’ setting. Otherwise, tumble dry as normal.
Tumble dry settings
Just like you have information on washing temperatures, 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. You shouldn't use heat or hot air when you see a black circle.
Iron 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. Usually, you’ll find the one-dot ironing icon on delicate items like woolen and silk fabrics, two-dots on synthetics, and three-dots on linen and cotton clothing. If you see a cross over the symbol, this sign means ‘do not iron’, while the image of two lines shooting out from the bottom of the iron with a cross over it stands for ‘steaming is not allowed’.
Dry clean symbols on fabric labels
Some garments are better off being handled by a professional: that’s when dry cleaning comes into the picture. The symbols below are intended to help you decide if your piece of clothing should be dry cleaned and inform the dry-cleaner what solvent to use.
A circle lets you know the item is suitable for dry cleaning, while the letters instruct the dry-cleaner on the necessary process. Having an ‘A’ in the middle notifies your dry cleaner that they can use any solvent, whereas ‘P’ means any solvent except Trichloroethylene. An ‘F,’ this tells your dry cleaner to use a Petroleum solvent only. A crossed out circle is the symbol for ‘do not dry clean’.
Additional dry clean signs
When dealing with your most delicate pieces of clothing, your dry-cleaner appreciates every help they get. That’s why fabric manufacturers include many dry clean symbols on clothing labels, represented by the combination of a circle and a straight line.
A circle with a line in the bottom left corner means it should be cleaned on a short cycle. A diagonal bar in the top right says to dry clean with reduced moisture, whereas a line on the bottom right instructs the item be cleaned on low heat. A circle showing a line in the top left says not to use steam finishing.
Still a little confused about how to wash different fabrics? 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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