Things You Should Know – How to Read Those Laundry Symbols

Have you ever wondered what those little symbols on your clothing care tags mean? These squiggles and shapes convey essential information about how to take care of your clothes. These icons or pictograms tell us how to clean, dry, and iron the fabric or textile. Knowing how to read these laundry symbols can help you avoid shrinking your favorite sweater or ruining your best pair of jeans.

Laundry symbols are on the care labels attached to clothing or textile products, usually sewn into the inside seam or collar of the garment. You should keep these essential labels on to ensure you can clean and iron your clothing correctly every time.

Their exact use and style may vary slightly based on local norms. However, the symbols are such that they can be universally understood, regardless of language barriers. Many manufacturers also use written instructions in addition to the icons to help make it easier to read clothing care labels. Learn these laundry symbols before the next laundry day to save the life of your clothing.

1. Basic Laundry Symbols

woman holding clothing tag
Image Credit: Shutterstock

The most common laundry symbols you will find on clothing are for:

  • Washing
  • Drying
  • Bleaching
  • Dry Cleaning
  • Ironing

Each of these actions has a base symbol. For example, the washing symbol is a bucket with water, and a triangle indicates the bleaching symbol. Details for each step, such as temperature, chlorine/non-chlorine bleach, and more, are shown inside the symbol using a series of dots, lines, and other characters.

2. The Wash Symbol

chart of washing symbols
Image Credit: Your Life Well Organized

Here are the most common washing symbols: 

  • A simple bucket of water indicates you can wash the clothing in a washing machine. You can also wash these items by hand if needed. 
  • A hand in a water tub indicates the clothing should be hand-washed only. This symbol is used for delicate fabrics that can’t withstand a washing machine’s agitation.
  • A number inside the tub of water indicates the maximum water temperature you can use while washing. You may also find dots inside the tub symbol. These show the temperature of water you need to clean the fabric in. One dot means you should use cold water, two for warm water, and three for hot water. 
  • If you see an “X” on the tub of water, then you should not wash the clothing. You can find this symbol on delicate textiles. If you see this symbol, you should clean them using other methods, such as dry cleaning.

3. The Bleach Symbol

chart of bleaching symbols
Image Credit: Your Life Well Organized

The most common bleach symbols are:

  • A simple triangle without characters inside indicates you can use chlorine or non-chlorine bleach. 
  • A triangle with “CL” inside means using chlorine bleach with the fabric is okay.
  • A triangle with two diagonal parallel lines suggests using a non-chlorine bleach like an oxygen-based bleach. 
  • A triangle with an “X” on top means you should not use bleach on the clothing.

4. The Tumble Dry Symbol

chart of tumble srying symbols
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A square denotes the drying symbol and tells you how to dry the clothing. Following these symbols is essential to prevent shrinking, color fading, and other damage to your clothes. Tumble drying has it’s own set of symbols:

  • A circle inside the square indicates tumble drying, which means you can use a clothes dryer to dry the clothing. 
  • The number of dots inside the circle indicates the heat you can apply during drying. One means low, two means medium, and three means high heat. 
  • A solid, filled circle inside the square indicates you should not use heat while drying the clothing in the dryer. You can typically find this on delicate clothing that can distort if heat is used.
  • An “X over the tumble-dry ” indicates you should not put the clothing in the tumble-dryer and air-dry it instead. 

5. Air Drying Symbol

chart of natural drying
Image Credit: Your Life Well Organized

A square denotes the drying symbol and tells you how to dry the clothing. Following these symbols is essential to prevent shrinking, color fading, and other damage to your clothes. Air drying has it’s own set of symbols:

  • Air-drying symbols are square with lines inside to signify various ways to dry clothing without using a tumble dryer. 
  • Flat dry is a single horizontal line, and drip dry is multiple vertical lines.
  • Slanted lines indicate shade and a curved line indicates line dry. 
  • There can be combinations of these lines to give you more information on drying, like “drip dry in the shade,” which is three vertical lines with slanted lines on the side.

6. The Dry Cleaning Symbol

chart of dry cleaning symbols
Image Credit: Your Life Well Organized

A circle denotes the dry cleaning symbol. If you see this symbol, the fabric is dry-clean-only. It would be best if you did not attempt to wash the garment. Instead, you should have these cleaned by a professional dry cleaner.

There can be letters inside the circle. These letters indicate which chemicals or solvents may or may not be used for dry cleaning that fabric. For example, “A” means it can be dry-cleaned with any solvent, “F” means dry-clean with petroleum solvent only, and “P” means dry-clean with any solvent except trichloroethylene. Dry cleaners are aware of these symbols and their meanings. An “X over the circle tells you not to dry-clean that garment.

7. The Ironing Symbol

chart of ironing symbols
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The ironing symbol, which is the outline of an iron, is easy to recognize. It represents whether a garment should be ironed and, if so, at what temperature. An “X” over the iron symbol indicates you should not iron the garment.

The appropriate temperature settings are inside the symbol. These settings can be simple numbers indicating the maximum temperature of the iron or dots indicating the heat level. For example, one dot indicates low heat for textiles like nylon, and two indicates medium heat for wool or polyester fabrics.

Three small lines coming out from the iron at the bottom indicate steam. The steam from the steam iron circulates inside the textile and relaxes the threads, making it easier to remove wrinkles. If the steam under the iron has an “X” over it, it indicates you should not use steam while ironing as that may damage the fabric.

What Does Dry Flat Mean?

shirt on counter to dry
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Laundry labels can be confusing. Let’s dive into what does dry flat mean, when and how to dry flat, as well as how to make sure those delicates look good for a long time. Read it here.

Can You Iron Polyester – A Simple How-to Guide

Clothing label for 100% polyester with care instructions and content information on green polka dot garment

Can you iron polyester and polyester fabrics? Here is your complete guide to ironing polyester and removing wrinkles without damage. See it here.

How to Use a Steam Iron Like a Pro – A Complete Guide

Closeup on female in the living room in sunny day setting ironing temperature.
Image Credit: Shutterstock

Learn how to use a steam iron effectively for wrinkle-free clothes. Discover ironing techniques, fabric-specific tips, and troubleshooting advice in this comprehensive guide. See it here.

Anika Gandhi

Anika Gandhi is on a mission to declutter and organize all the things around her and is here to inspire and encourage you to do the same!

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