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What Do the Washing Symbols on Wash Care Labels Mean?

Confused by the symbols & instructions on your clothing care labels? This informative guide will help you understand how to wash fabrics with ease!


Reading Time: 5 minutes

Written by Eunice Samson

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Everybody has experienced it at least once – pulling out a favorite item of clothing from the washing machine only to find that it is now shrunken, saggy, discolored, or damaged! It is at this point you wish you had paid more attention to the symbols on clothing washing labels.

Here, we will explain the most common washing instruction symbols on clothing care labels.

The hand wash symbol is often found on the care labels of certain materials. For these items, you might want to use a laundry detergent that is specifically designed for hand washing, such as Surf Blossom Fresh Bar.

Washing Symbols: Basic Laundry Instructions on Care Labels

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  • Wash symbol: Depicted as a bucket filled with water, the Wash Symbol tells you what temperature or machine setting you should use to wash the item of clothing.

Temperature indication: Inside the ‘Normal Wash’ symbol, there will either be a temperature value or 1 to 6 dots that signifying temperature ranges.

  • One Dot = 30oC

  • Two Dots = 40oC

  • Three Dots = 50oC

  • Four Dots = 60oC

  • Five Dots = 70oC

  • Six Dots = 95oC

  • Permanent Press: The Permanent Press symbol has one line beneath the standard wash symbol. Permanent Press fabrics have been treated with chemicals to ensure they resist wrinkles and retain their original shape. If a piece of clothing is permanent press, it usually means that you shouldn’t iron it.

  • Gentle Cycle: The Gentle Cycle symbol has two lines beneath the standard wash symbol. The gentle cycle is for delicate fibres like wool or silk, or for items of clothing that could be damaged by a vigorous washing (like sequined tops, tights, or lycra).

  • Hand Wash: The Hand Wash symbol is the standard wash symbol with a hand at the top. For ‘Hand Wash’ clothing, do not use a washing machine. Instead wash garments in a sink or small tub, using your hands to ensure that the cleaning liquid is thoroughly rubbed into the material and subsequently rinsed out. Check your cleaning liquid to make sure it is suitable for hand washing – milder detergents have been specifically designed for hand wash use, and they are safe for your clothes and for your hands!

  • Do Not Wash: The Do Not Wash symbol is the standard wash symbol with a cross through it. If the label instructs you not to wash the item, it will have to be dry cleaned after it gets dirty – see the section on Dry Cleaning Symbols below.

So now you know if you can put your items in the machine, here's how:

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Bleaching Guidelines on Clothing Washing Labels

The next symbol on the care label is a triangle that refers to whether specific bleaching conditions are required for the item.

  • Bleach: A triangle without anything in the middle means that any kind of bleach can be used on the clothing when needed.

  • Non-Chlorine Bleach Only: A triangle filled with diagonal lines means that only non-chlorine bleaches should be used. Check the ingredients on your bleach to see if it contains chlorine.

  • Do Not Bleach: A solid black triangle with crossed lines means ‘do not bleach’ – you should not attempt to use any kind of bleach on this garment.

Drying Guidelines on Clothing Care Labels

  • Tumble Dry: The basic tumble dry symbol is a square with a circle in the middle of it.

  • As with the washing symbols, the number of dots inside the circle will tell you the heat setting you should put your tumble dryer on to, as well as any specific program settings required. Three dots mean Tumble Dry High, where as two dots means Tumble Dry Medium and one dot means Tumble Dry Low.

  • Do Not Tumble Dry: When an item is marked as ‘do not tumble dry’ with a cross through the drying symbol, leave this garment to drip-dry on a drying rack, in an airing cupboard, or outside on your washing line rather than putting it in the dryer.

  • Tumble Dry, Permanent Press: Again, a single line below the dryer symbol means that a Permanent Press setting should be used.

  • Tumble Dry, Delicate Setting: Double lines indicate that the Delicate setting must be used.

Ironing Guidelines on Clothes Care Labels

To make life easy, the ironing symbol is shaped like an old-fashioned iron.

Ironing symbols also employ the same dot system for heat levels, which should be adjustable on your iron:

  • Iron on high: Three dots mean that the item can be ironed on high.

  • Iron on Medium: Two dots mean that it can be ironed on medium.

  • Iron on Low: One dot means that it can be ironed on low.

Dry Cleaning Symbols

  • Dry Clean: The dry cleaning symbol is a circle.

  • Dry Clean Only: For clothes that are dry clean only, the circle has a letter ‘P’ inside it.

  • Dry Clean Normal: The clothes that should be dry-cleaned under normal conditions will have a letter ‘F’ inside the circle.

  • Do Not Dry Clean: A crossed-out circle means that you should not dry-clean the item:

  • It’s easy to read laundry instructions or symbols on clothing care labels and still not know how to wash them properly! However, if you familiarise yourself with these explanations for what each little symbol means, future washes will be a breeze!

Frequently asked questions on washing symbols

What happens if you iron clothes with a 'do not iron' symbol?

The do not iron symbol is there for a reason – and if you spot it on your clothing your should abide by it. Ironing clothes that are not meant to be, could result in unwanted damage from scorch marks in wool to permanent unwanted extra folds in a silk scarf.

Is there a 'do not soak' symbol?

There is not a do not soak symbol specifically, however if you spot the ‘do not wash’ symbol, this covers soaking. After all, you cannot wash without an item becoming soaking wet. If an item of clothing says not to wash it, it’s safe to assume you should also not soak it.

Is there a 'do not spin dry' symbol?

The drying symbol is a square, with either a circle or lines. The do not spin dry symbol is the one with the line(s). The lines indicate you should not put the item into a tumble dryer or use the drying setting on a washing machine.

What is the 'do not wet clean' symbol and what does it mean?

As with the do not soak symbol, there is not a specific do not wet clean symbol – only a ‘do not wash’ symbol. A do not wash symbol is more often than not accompanied by the symbols which allow a dry cleaner to know which setting to use and which processes are acceptable.

Are care label symbols and their meanings the same in every language?

You will find that in a lot of cases, care label symbols and their meanings will slightly differ across country boundaries and languages, but there are international standards that are commonplace - so you may find that some international clothing has similarities to your own.

Originally published