Decoding Laundry Symbols and Care Labels

Decoding Laundry Symbols and Care Labels will take you through the laundry care symbols step by step. A clothing label tells us what kind of fabric it’s made of, along with important care information. So join me in the laundry room and I will guide you on how to read laundry care labels!

Caucasian appearing fingers holding a clothing care label. Label says Machine Wash Cold, Do Not Bleach, Iron Low Heat, Dry Clean Any Solvent Except Trichloroethylene, Dry Flat

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Decoding Laundry Symbols and Care Labels

One of the often overlooked parts of washing clothing is care labels. We gather up our clothes, toss them in the washer, add soap, and hit start. But how do we know our laundry is clean, or properly cleaned?

Each symbol on your clothing labels tells a story of how that fabric needs to be cared for. Today I will explain the most common laundry symbols and what they mean when you are doing laundry.

How do you tell whether your dress needs a hot or cold wash cycle? Does it require ironing? Is it made of delicate fabrics? Does it even need to go into the washing machine, or do you have to hand wash it?

Well, not all clothing requires the same type of care. So whether you’re bleaching, dry cleaning, washing, or dry ironing, it’s important to know how to read laundry care labels. When you are capable of decoding laundry symbols and care labels, you will say goodbye to frustrating laundry days.

Following these little picture instructions on your care tags will give you a clear picture of how to wash your clothing so that will last longer and keep looking great.

However even though we are explaining each symbol, I do NOT expect you to memorize them. There’s no way I have them all memorized!

Included in this comprehensive guide, you will see a place to request your free Laundry Care Labels Guide! You can print this cheat sheet and even laminate or frame it to sit on a shelf or hang near your washer.

Washing Symbols in a infographic picture

Washing Symbols

The above care label symbols tells you something about how your particular garment needs to be washed.

Looking at the first row, the symbols explain what type of washing needs to occur.

We see the first symbol designates that the garment is to be washed in a machine on a Normal cycle. Also sometimes referred to as Cotton cycle or Standard cycle.

The remaining three symbols in the top row instruct machine washing on the Permanent Press cycle, machine washing on a Delicate cycle, or Do Not Wash in a machine.

The second row of washing symbols denotes the temperature at which your garment should be cleaned in your washing machine or that this item should be hand washed only.

Washing symbols are easy to identify because you will see a washtub symbol containing liquid with a wavy line at the top. The bucket should remind you of your washing machine. 

The lines beneath the symbol indicate the wash cycle, while the number of dots on the bucket indicate the water temperature.

But if the bucket is marked with an X, you should not wash the fabric at all. 

The Wash Cycles

  • No line under the bucket means you should use a normal machine wash cycle.
  • One line means you should use a permanent press to prevent wrinkles from forming.
  • Two lines mean you should run a gentle cycle.

The Water Temperature

  • No dots means you can use any temperature.
  • One dot means you should wash with cold water (65 to 85°F)
  • Two dots mean you should wash with warm water (95 to 105°F) 
  • Three dots mean you should wash with hot water (120°F)
  • Four dots mean you should wash with hotter water at a maximum temperature of 140°F
  • Five dots mean you’re sterilizing at a temperature of 160°F
  • Six dots mean you’ll use the hottest temperature, which is about 200°F

If your care label comes with a certain number inside the bucket symbol, say 30ºC, 70ºC, or 95ºC, it means you shouldn’t wash the fabric above the specified temperature.

How to Read Hand-Washing Symbols

If you see a hand in the bucket symbol, it’s an indication that the item requires hand washing. But you can also use the hand wash setting on your washing machine.

Also, if the label has a twisted fabric symbol, it shows you can wring fabric after washing. But if it crosses with X, it should not be wrung. Instead, allow it to air dry. You may find this icon on stuffed animals.

Hand washing is ideal for delicate materials like silk. For best results, these delicate items should not be washed in water that is above 104°F.

Note: Do not assume that Do Not Wash is only for machine washing. Dry Clean Only or Hand Wash will be determined by a separate symbol on your clothing label.

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Bleaching symbols in an infographic picture

Bleaching Symbols

Your clothing labels should also let you know if you can use bleach when cleaning this item.

Each of the above triangles shows not only what type of bleach can be used, but also two variations for not using bleach.

Notice there are different symbols for chlorine and non-chloring bleach.

Chlorine bleach is ideal for white fabric and disinfecting items, while oxygen bleach is safe for colored fabrics.

If the triangle symbol is empty, it means you can go ahead and use either the chlorine bleach or the oxygen-based variant.

If the triangle has two lines, it means you should use oxygen bleach. 

However, if the triangle is empty and crossed with X, it implies that you shouldn’t apply any kind of bleach. It would be best if you found another method of removing stains from such items.

Tumble drying symbols in an infographic picture

Tumble Drying Symbols

Squares with circles or lines inside represent dryer symbols. You may also find squares with dots within or lines beneath them.

A square with a circle means the fabric can be tumble-dried. If the tumble-dry symbol has a line beneath, it means you should use the permanent press setting. But if it has two lines beneath it, you should use the gentle dry or the delicate setting.

A tumble-dry symbol with dots signifies the recommended drying temperature.

  • One dot represents a low temperature
  • Two dots represent a medium temperature
  • Three dots represent a hot temperature

If the tumble-dry symbol has a dark circle, you shouldn’t dry clothes with heat. 

Also, if the tumble-dry symbol is crossed with X, you shouldn’t place the item in the dryer. Instead, you should look for other symbols indicating the best drying method.

Natural drying symbols in an infographic picture

Natural Drying Symbols

A square with three vertical lines within indicates drip drying, which implies that the fabric should be hung on a line or a clothes rack and left to dry.

A square with a horizontal line inside means flat drying. Here, you’ll lay the fabric on a horizontal surface.

A square with a curve that resembles an envelope means you should hang the fabric and leave it to air dry.

If the square has two diagonal lines at the left corner, it means you shouldn’t expose the fabric to direct sunlight.

Ironing symbols in an infographic picture

Ironing Symbols

Ironing symbols aren’t difficult to understand. However, the accompanying signs will tell you the recommended temperature and whether to apply steam.

If the symbol has one dot, use a low heat setting (maximum of 230ºF). You’ll find this on delicate materials like silk and wool.

If the symbol has two dots, use medium heat (maximum of 300ºF). It works for synthetic fabrics.

If the symbol has three dots, use high heat (maximum of 390ºF). It’s best for cotton and linen.

If the symbol has three lines coming out of it, you can use steam while ironing. But if the three lines are crossed, don’t iron with steam.

If the iron symbol is crossed, it implies that the fabric doesn’t require ironing. In this case, the care label may indicate a tumble-dry procedure. You can also use other DIY methods to remove creases, like hanging the fabric behind the shower and running a steam bath.

I personally rarely use an iron, unless I am sewing. I do however utilize my fabric steamer quite often.

Chemical cleaning symbols in an infographic picture

Chemical Cleaning Symbols

How do you know when your clothing needs to go to the dry cleaner? These little symbols on your labels will tell you all you need to know!

Professional dry cleaner services are most commonly utilized for delicate care items such as wool, suede, silk, velvet, taffeta, and leather.

Especially helpful for fabric that is not pre-shrunk, dry cleaning uses a chemical solvent to remove surface dirt.

Because dry cleaning does not soak into the fibers like washing with water does, this special care prevents the garment from shrinking or losing its shape.

Fabrics like wool, silk, rayon, and linen are quite tricky and should be dry-cleaned by a professional. 

A circle indicates dry cleaning, but if it’s crossed, you shouldn’t dry clean the fabric. Ensure to check the care label to see if there are other symbols that offer directions for washing at home.

Other symbols with letters inform the dry cleaner of the type of solvent to use.

  • A circle with A shows that you can apply any solvent 
  • A circle with P shows that you can apply any solvent, excluding Tetrachloroethylene
  • A circle with F shows that you can only apply petroleum solvents 
  • If there’s a bar under the letter, it means you need to use a delicate setting

Here are some additional dry-cleaning symbols that’ll assist you in dry-cleaning your fabric if you’re a DIYer:

  • A circle with a stroke at the lower left corner indicates a short cycle.
  • A stroke at the lower right corner means you shouldn’t use the steam finishing setting.
  • A stroke at the top left side means you should use a low heat setting.
  • A stroke at the top right side means you should dry clean with less moisture.

Now That You Know How to Read Care Labels…

Several symbols indicate how you should care for fabrics. To help you remember them faster, take note of the following:

  • A bucket filled with water with wavy lines signifies washing in a washing machine
  • A bucket filled with water with a hand signifies hand washing
  • A triangle indicates a bleaching procedure
  • A square signifies drying
  • A circle means you should dry-clean the fabric
  • An iron symbol means ironing or steaming

So the next time you set out to do the laundry, you shouldn’t be overwhelmed by care labels. You now have the tools for decoding laundry symbols and care labels.

You may also want to check out How to Do Laundry for Beginners for efficient ways to clean your clothes. If you need a weekly system for your laundry, you might find Simple Laundry Schedule That Works helpful!

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