- The laundry symbols printed on the tags of your clothes offer important cleaning information.
- Each symbol tells you all you need to know about the care and upkeep of your garment.
- The system covers five basic areas: washing, bleaching, drying, ironing, and dry-cleaning.
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An easy way to think about laundry symbols is that they are cheat codes for doing laundry. They tell you all you need to know about caring for certain garments to help you get the most out of them.
According to James Chandler, the CEO and founder of Laundry On Demand, the Federal Trade Commission requires that all clothing have at least one set of care instructions. Those care instructions come as a standard set of internationally recognized cleaning symbols.
"It's important to follow the instructions on the label, so your clothes don't shrink, burn up, and last as long as possible," says Chandler.
In total, there are over 30 laundry symbols, which include specific variations on one of the five main categories:
Once you start recognizing these main symbols, you'll be able to understand how to properly launder any thing with a quick glance.
Here's a visual breakdown of what every laundry symbol means and how to use them.
Laundry symbols for washing clothes
The washing symbol is one of the easiest to identify because it resembles a washtub, with lines indicating the recommended washing cycle and black dots representing the recommended water temperature.
One line on the bottom of the washing symbol indicates that you should run it on permanent press to minimize wrinkles. Two lines means you should use the gentle or delicate cycle, to prevent damage. An X means not to machine wash at all, and a washing symbol with a hand inside means — you guessed it — hand-wash only.
Water temperature plays a big role in laundry, and the black dots give you an idea of the recommended temperature for the best results. One dot means cold, two dots means warm, three means hot, and so on. No dots means any temperature is fine.
Laundry symbols for bleaching clothes
The triangle symbol on the care instructions tells you if a garment can handle bleach, and if so, what kind. Some fabrics, like cotton or linen, respond well to bleach, while others, including wool and silk, will disintegrate upon contact.
There are two types of bleach: chlorine or oxygen. Chlorine bleach is good for disinfecting and removing stains from white fabric, but will cause colored fabric to fade. Oxygen bleach, or chlorine-free bleach, is color-safe, and an effective stain remover and fabric brightener.
If the triangle symbol you're looking at is made up of just an outline, you can use either kind of bleach as needed. Use only oxygen bleach if there are two diagonal lines inside of the triangle, and avoid bleach altogether if you see a solid triangle with an X.
Laundry symbols for drying clothes
Drying instructions, indicated by a square symbol with lines or a circle inside, tell you the best way to, well, dry your garment. Improper drying can permanently damage a garment, so it's important to heed this guidance.
"The most important thing is don't dry for too long in high heat," says Chandler.
A drying symbol with an X should never be machine dried, and is usually accompanied by other drying instructions. Drying symbols with lines give you additional information, like a square with a curved line means you should hang-dry the garment on a clothesline, drying rack, or hanger. One horizontal line means to dry flat by spreading it out on a table or a flat drying rack.
The last thing to note is the black dots inside a circle, which indicates the recommended drying temperature.
Laundry symbols for dry-cleaning clothes
There are certain fabrics — think wool, silk, suede, or leather — that can't withstand wet washing. In other words, they need to be professionally dry-cleaned.
There are many variations on this symbol that give the dry cleaner information about the garment, but the only two that consumers need to know are the circle with an X or without. An X means the fabric won't respond well to the chemicals used in dry cleaning, and you're better off washing at home. An item with a plain circle, however, requires dry-cleaning.
Laundry symbols for ironing clothes
The ironing symbols tell you how a garment handles heat from an iron or steamer. The ironing symbol is perhaps the most obvious to discern; look at the dots to know the appropriate temperature for ironing or steaming.
An ironing symbol with an X means not to iron, such as with nylon clothing. If you see an iron with crossed out lines coming out of the bottom, that item should not be steamed.
There are over 30 laundry symbols that fall into one of five categories: washing, bleaching, drying, ironing, and dry-cleaning. These symbols indicate the best way to care for your clothes to avoid damage and help them last as long as possible. Once you understand the main symbol for each category, it's easy from there to determine what the variations mean.