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Laundry Symbols – What Do They Mean

The wash symbols on clothing can be so confusing! This article explains what common symbols on garment labels mean and gives advice on laundry & ironing.

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Laundry Symbols & Washing Instructions - What Do They Mean?

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Everybody has experienced it at least once – pulling out a favourite item of clothing from the washing machine only to find that it is now shrunken, saggy, discoloured, or damaged! It is at this point you wish you had paid more attention to the washing symbols on the care label. Here, we will explain the most common washing instruction symbols on clothing wash care labels.

The hand wash symbol is often found on the care labels of delicate materials such as wool and silk. For these items, you should hand wash them with a detergent specially designed for delicate fabrics. OMO and Surf provide a great range of suitable laundry detergents. Just read the instruction labels before using them.

Washing Symbols: Care Label Symbols

Washing symbols are a guide to how to wash your laundry correctly. Without care labels on our clothing, we would not know how to take care of our garments. Care label symbols are essential when making a decision to purchase a clothing item.

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Washing Symbols: Basic Washing Instructions on Care Labels

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?
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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.

One Dot = 30°C

Two Dots = 40°C

Three Dots = 50°C

Four Dots = 60°C

Five Dots = 70°C

Six Dots = 95°C

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

The Permanent Press Symbol

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.

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

The Gentle Cycle Symbol

  • 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).

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

The Hand Wash Symbol

  • 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!

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

The Do Not Wash Symbol

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.

Now you've got the hang of washing labels, you can put your machine-washable items in the machine:

Bleaching Guidelines on Wash Care Labels

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

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

Bleaching Allowed Symbol

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

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

Non-chlorine Bleach Only Symbol

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.

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

Do Not Bleach Symbol

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 Care Labels

one dot tumble dry

Tumble Dry Symbol

The basic tumble dryer 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, whereas two dots mean Tumble Dry Medium and one dot means Tumble Dry Low.

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

Do Not Tumble Dry Symbol

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.

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

Tumble Dry, Permanent Press Symbol

As before, a single line below the dryer symbol means that a Permanent Press setting should be used.

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

Tumble Dry, Delicate Setting Symbol

Double lines indicate that the Delicate setting must be used.

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

Ironing Symbols Guidelines on Care Label

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

Ironing Symbol

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.

Do Not Iron Symbol

A cross over the iron symbol means the garment is not suitable for ironing.

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

Iron on High Symbol

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

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

Iron on Medium Symbol

Two dots mean that it can be ironed on medium.

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

Iron on Low Symbol

One dot means that it can be ironed on low.

Dry Cleaning Symbols

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

Dry Clean Symbol

The dry-cleaning symbol is a circle.

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

Do Not Dry Clean Symbol

A crossed-out circle means that you should not dry-clean the item.

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

Dry Clean Only Symbol

For clothes that are dry clean only, the circle has a letter ‘P’ inside it.

Laundry symbols - what do they mean?

Dry Clean Normal Symbol

Clothes that should be dry-cleaned under normal conditions will have a letter ‘F’ inside the circle.

And there you have it! Your favourite top will never be shrunk in the washing machine again, now that you understand these washing symbols on the wash care labels!

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the washing machine symbols?

On every garment like clothing or jerseys as well as other household fabric items like cushion covers and curtains, you’ll find a care label on the inside of the item. The care label will list the washing symbols that are required to keep that specific garment or fabric look it’s best. There are several universal washing machine symbols which indicate what kind of cycle and at what temperature that garment can be washed at, if at all.

Why are laundry symbols important?

To avoid ruining your article of clothing, shrinking it or overstretching it, it’s important to follow the laundry symbols on the care labels for each garment. Every type of fabric should be washed a certain way and in order to get the longest life from your clothing and fabrics, it’s wise to follow the care labels.

What happens if wash care symbols aren’t followed?

If you mistakenly, or deliberately, don’t follow the wash care labels of each garment or fabric type you could end up with a completely ruined article. Some clothes or fabrics can shrink if washed incorrectly, some can over stretch, and some can become completely unusable.

Where did these laundry care labels come from?

Laundry care labels are a universally used guideline for clothing and other fabrics as the best way to wash and care for that particular article. Every laundry care label is required to have the care symbols on how to wash, bleach, iron and dry (or dry clean) the article itself.

Should clothes be sorted by wash care label or by colour?

The standard way of washing and cleaning clothes is often by colour, but in order to get the best wear out of your clothing it is suggested that you wash colours together as well as fabrics together that require the same type of wash care.

Originally published