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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.


what do the washing symbols on wash care labels mean

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.

Has your lifestyle during the Covid-19 lockdown affected the type of stains you get on your clothes?

Washing Symbols: Basic Washing Instructions on Care Labels

  • 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.

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.
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.

  • 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 Care Labels

  • Tumble Dry: 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.
  • 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: As before, 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 Care Label

  • Iron: 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.
  • Do Not Dry Clean: A crossed-out circle means that you should not dry-clean the item.
  • Dry Clean Only: For clothes that are dry clean only, the circle has a letter ‘P’ inside it.
  •  Dry Clean Normal: 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!

Originally published