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Laundry Symbols And What They Mean

by
Apr 29th, 2022

Nearly all of our clothes, garments, fabrics and textiles have small tags attached to them with size information, garment details and, of course, washing and care instructions. 

Now, your run-of-the-mill fast fashion garment is likely made from low quality synthetic products that require nothing more than a default laundry cycle to get it clean and dry. Your higher quality clothes and fabrics like suits, dresses, lingerie, linens, handmade goods and more probably require a little more care, especially if you have wools, cashmere, leather, suede, linen, silk or rayon. 

Washing a garment with the wrong bleach, heat, spin cycle or drying process can seriously damage your fabrics over time, and it could change the very look and feel of your clothes. That’s why those tiny little laundry symbols on clothes are so important: they tell us how to take care of our clothes so that they last as long as possible.

Knowing your laundry symbols will make it so much easier to take care of your clothes, and it will put all those random settings on your washing machine and clothes dryer to good use! Check out our master list of laundry symbols below to get started!

Are all laundry symbols the same?

No matter where you go in the world, you’re likely to see similar laundry symbols on garments of all origins, with maybe a few differences in style and display.

It was in 1963 that The Groupement International d'Étiquetage pour l'Entretien des Textiles (The International Labeling Group for Textile Care) (GINETEX) was formed to help set global standards for garment and textile care which, a few years later, included the formation of a set of care symbols. This set of symbols have gone through several redesign processes since then, with the latest happening in 2018. 

Though these symbols are used all over the world, the exact designs vary from country to country. 

What do clothes tag symbols mean?

Laundry symbols are divided into categories and subcategories. The main category denoting the method of treatment is displayed with a basic shape like a square, circle, triangle or iron. The subcategories, which denote the specific settings for that treatment, add extra symbols to that main shape. 

Additionally, bars and lines are used to signal that the treatment should be gentler than the default. One bar below any symbol means to use a gentler treatment, and two bars call for a very gentle treatment. 

Washing symbols

graphic saying washing symbols

A cartoon washtub is used to denote the washing process, whether by washing machine or by other means. 

Bars below the symbols in this case mean to use a slower spin cycle than you would normally. One bar usually refers to the permanent press cycle, and two bars means to use the delicate/gentle cycle. 

Variations:

  • One dot (or 30°C): wash at or below 86°F
  • Two dots (or 40°C): wash at or below 104°F
  • Three dots (or 50°C): wash at or below 122°F
  • Four dots (or 60°C): wash at or below 140°F
  • Hand: wash by hand and not above 104°F
  • Crossed-out: do not wash

Dry cleaning variation

  • Plain circle: dry cleaning required
  • Plain circle crossed-out: do not dry clean

Bleaching symbols

graphic saying bleaching symbols

The bleaching symbol is denoted by a triangle and generally refers to using chlorine or non-chlorine based bleach. 

Variations:

  • Empty triangle: can be bleached with both chlorine and non-chlorine
  • Two parallel lines within triangle: do not bleach with chlorine
  • Crossed-out: do not bleach 
  • Crossed-out and filled triangle: do not bleach

Drying symbols

graphic saying drying symbols

Drying symbols are a little more complicated than the others as there are far more options and methods for drying out there than there are for washing or treatment.

Tumble dry variations:

  • Square with circle: tumble dry
  • One dot: dry on low temperature
  • Two dots: dry on normal temperature
  • Three dots: dry at high temperature
  • Square with filled-out circle: do not use heat or air
  • Crossed-out: do not tumble dry

Natural drying variations:

  • Empty square: natural dry
  • Drooping line at the top of the square: line dry
  • Horizontal bar in the center of the square: dry flat
  • Three vertical bars within square: drip dry
  • Combination of any two variations: both rules apply
  • Candy-wrapper-looking twist: okay to wring
  • Crossed-out candy-wrapper-looking twist: do not wring

Ironing symbols

graphic saying ironing symbols

I don’t know when the last time I ironed something was, but there are enough fancy shirts and uniforms out there that the ironing symbol still comes in quite handy.

The ironing symbol, luckily enough, looks remarkably like an iron so there’s little confusion as to what it might mean. 

Variations:

  • Empty iron: can be ironed
  • One dot: iron at low temperature (110°F)
  • Two dots: iron at medium temperature (302°F)
  • Three dots: iron at high temperature (392°F)
  • Crossed-out: do not iron
  • Iron with steam below: steam clean 
  • Crossed-out iron with steam: do not steam clean 

So, there you have it! Nearly all textile companies use these symbols as their basis for care guides, and even if the symbols are slightly off or are accompanied by a foreign language, you’ve still got a good chance at figuring out what they all mean. 

Good luck!

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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/RyanMcGuire

Graphics courtesy Colleen Ford

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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