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How to Read Laundry Symbols & Icons

December 26, 2023

How often should you do the laundry? Ideally, at least once a week.

The last thing that you want is to fill the floor with dirty clothes. Not only will it smell but it can also harbor contaminants.

That’s why it’s so important to wash your clothes regularly.

Importance of Doing the Laundry Properly

But don’t just throw everything into the washer and call it a day. Certain garments have to be washed in certain ways.

how to read laundry symbolsTake wool, for example, it should never be washed with hot water as the heat can damage the delicate fibers.

The same goes for silk.

How can you tell whether or not an item can be put in the washer or if it needs dry cleaning? It’s easy – just look at the washing symbols on the care tag label.

It’ll tell you everything that you need to know about that particular garment – from whether or not you need to hand wash the item to what water temperature you should use.

If anything, you can think of it as a mini-guide on how to wash the garment.

How many laundry symbols are there? Are there drying temperature symbols?

What does the one with the curved line mean?

For the answers, just read on! We’ll be going over everything you need to know in detail below.

How to Read Laundry Symbols – Explained

Here are some of the most common laundry symbols that you might run into.

Machine Washable Laundry Symbols

machine wash symbol

This laundry symbol depicts a bucket filled with water and means that the item is machine washable – so feel free to put it in the washer with a delicate or gentle cycle.

water temperature laundry symbols

These washing temperature symbols are similar to the wash symbol above except it’s filled with dots.

The number of dots indicates the water temperature. From the left to right is “machine wash, cold (temperature should not exceed 30C/85F)”, “machine wash, warm (temperature should not exceed 40C/105F)”, and “machine wash, hot. (temperature should not exceed 50C/120F)”.

Do Not Wash

do not wash icon

This laundry symbol depicts a bucket of water that’s crossed out.

It means that the garment should not be laundered (this includes machine washing and hand washing). Rather, it should be dry cleaned.

Permanent Press Cycle Only

permanent press laundry symbol

This laundry symbol means the garment should be washed with the permanent press cycle, which is meant to remove wrinkles from your clothes, especially button-down shirts, as opposed to a normal cycle.

Instead of cold water, warm water will be used to relax the creases.

Couple that with a slow spin and you won’t have to worry about any wrinkles.

Gentle or Delicate Cycle Only

delicate cycle laundry icon

This symbol means that your garment should be washed with a gentle or delicate setting. Not only will there be less agitation but the wash cycle itself will also be shorter.

Generally speaking, it is used for undergarments and other items such as activewear.

Hand Wash Only

hand wash only laundry symbol

These washing symbols depict a bucket of water with a hand at the top.

If you see this, it means you need to hand wash the garment. Don’t put it in the washer as it might not be able to hold up against the agitation.

Instead, wash the item in the sink or a bucket with soap or mild detergent.

Bleaching Symbols

bleach laundry symbol

These bleaching symbols mean that non chlorine bleach can safely be used on your garment.

Avoid using these types of products if you don’t see this symbol on the care tag label.

do not bleach laundry icon

This bleaching symbol is different from the one above in that it is black and crossed out. If you see this, it means that your garment is not compatible with bleach products.

Do not use any as it can damage the item.

Drying Symbols

tumble dry laundry icon

These drying symbols consist of a square with a circle in the center.

If you see this, it means that the item can safely be put in the tumble dryer (certain fabrics will not be able to tolerate the high heat).

tumble dry laundry symbols

This washing symbol consists of a square with a circle in the center.

If you see this, it means that tumble drying is compatible with the item (certain fabrics will not be able to tolerate the high heat). In some cases, it might specify a specific program setting.

no heat laundry sign

This icon is similar to the tumble dry symbol but the circle is black. Do not put your garment in the dryer if you see this on the care tag label.

Instead, let it drip or air dry on a drying rack or clothesline in direct sunlight. You can also dry flat on a clean surface.

Dry Clean Only

dry clean only icon

Don’t confuse the dry clean icon with the tumble dry icon.

While both consist of a square with a circle in the center, the former has two lines underneath.

If you see it, it means that your garment is not suitable for laundering at home. Instead, you should bring it to the dry cleaners.

do not dry clean laundry symbol

This washing symbol consists of a crossed-out square with a circle in the middle.

It means that the garment should not be dry cleaned; do not confuse it with the tumble dry icon (notice how it doesn’t have a horizontal line at the bottom).

line dry flat symbol

These two symbols let you know how the garment should be dried. The left icon means to line it dry (e.g. on a clothesline) while the right one means that you should lay it flat to dry (on a clean surface).

Ironing Symbols

iron laundry icon

The iron is easy to recognize as it’s shaped like a traditional iron.

If you see these types of ironing symbols on the care tag label, it means that the garment can be ironed safely.

ironing type laundry symbol

These symbols indicate the setting that should be used when ironing. As with the wash and tumble dry icons, it uses the same dot system to indicate heat levels.

One dot means that it should be ironed on the low heat setting, two dots mean that it should be ironed on “medium heat”, and three dots mean that it should be ironed on “high.”

do not iron laundry icon

This icon is similar to the “iron” symbol except that it is crossed out. It means that the garment cannot be ironed safely.

do not steam laundry symbol

This icon depicts an iron with steam at the bottom that is crossed out. It means that you shouldn’t use the steam setting with your iron.

How to Read Laundry Symbols – FAQs

Where can I find the care label for my garment?

Care labels are usually on the side seam or on the inside of the bottom hem.

What does the laundry symbol with the empty triangle mean?

The empty triangle means that you can safely use bleach on the item (only nonchlorine bleach). If the triangle is crossed out with a single line, it means bleach should not be used.

Do I have to follow the laundry symbols on the care label?

While it’s not mandary per se, it’s best to follow the written instructions as that will ensure your garment stays in tip-top condition.

What does the laundry symbol with the square mean?

Drying instructions are indicated with a square. If the item can be tumble dried, there will be a circle inside the square. If there’s a dot inside the square, it means you should use a low heat setting.

Depicting Different Laundry Symbols

As you can see, different icons mean different things when it comes to washing your clothes.

That’s why it’s so important to check the care labels before doing the laundry.

This is especially true for delicate garments, which can be damaged in the washing machine. In cases like that, it may be better to bring them in for professional cleaning.

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Picture of Sophia Grant

Sophia Grant

Sophia Grant brings her extensive knowledge of laundry and clothing care to the masses with her intensive cleaning guides. Her thorough understanding of fabrics, detergents, and washing techniques helps readers master the art of maintaining their wardrobe. Sophia's advice ensures that anyone can achieve professional-level results at home, keeping their garments looking pristine and lasting longer.

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