All laundry symbols have a specific meaning, so read on for our complete guide to what the laundry symbols mean.
The symbols on your clothing tags may appear to be written in a foreign language, but they have a very important function: they keep your clothes looking newer and longer. These laundry symbols contain all the instructions you require for washing, drying, bleaching, and ironing.
You can avoid causing harm to your clothing by setting the temperature and wash cycle according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Let’s learn about clothing labels’ ins and outs, including all those symbols that resemble hieroglyphs.
What Are International Laundry Symbols?
The laundry industry developed a standard of five fundamental symbols that serve as a kind of universal language because people do laundry all over the world. Laundry symbols are always displayed on labels in the same order, which makes things even simpler. From left to right, they are:
- Washtub (washing)
- Triangle (bleaching)
- Iron (ironing)
- Circle (dry cleaning)
- Square (drying)
You’ll notice a pattern as you go through the five primary international symbols. It’s like its own language where symbols like two lines underneath an icon or three dots inside of an icon always signify the same thing, for instance. You will become an expert in care tags quickly after learning these.
A big X is one of the most significant symbols to pay attention to. When a symbol is crossed out that’s your sign not to do that thing.
Laundry Symbols for Washing
If you see a label with a symbol of a three-sided container with wavy lines on top, you can safely machine wash your clothing.
Slight additions to this symbol indicate special washing details:
- One line under it: use permanent press wash cycle
- Two lines under it: use gentle wash cycle
- One dot in the center: wash in cold water
- Two dots in the center: wash in warm water
- Three dots in the center: wash in hot water
- A number at the center: wash in that temperature (40℃ = 104℉)
The same three-sided symbol can also have a hand in the center, signifying that the delicate item should be hand-washed.
For hand washing, you might also see one of the following symbols:
- Twisted garment with an X through it: do not wring
- Twisted garment: wringing is okay
As a sustainability PRO-TIP that goes beyond knowing how to read clothing care labels, hand washing in the cold is almost always the most eco-friendly and longevity-promoting method.
Clothes That Can’t Be Washed
A garment that has the washing symbol with an X through it should be taken to the dry cleaner rather than being machine or hand washed because it cannot be cleaned that way. Dry cleaning will also require you to know how to read care tags on clothes.
Here are a few you might see:
- A plain circle: dry clean
- A circle with an X through it: do not dry clean
- A circle with an A in the center: any solvent can be used
- A circle with a P in the center: any solvent except trichloroethylene
- A circle with an F in the center: petroleum solvents only
We advise staying away from dry cleaning whenever possible because it is well-known to be bad for people and the environment.
Laundry Symbols for Drying
Your clothes’ appearance and fit depend heavily on how well they are dried. If you’ve ever dried a sweater that was three sizes too small when it came out of the washer, you understand what we mean. Your favorite clothes will last longer if you understand the symbols used for drying.
Just like with the washtub, the number of dots signifies the maximum temperature to be used:
- One dot: Cold
- Two dots: Warm
- Three dots: Hot
There may be lines under the square as well. These denote the appropriate dryer settings to use, just like the washtub icon.
- One line: Permanent press cycle
- Two lines: Gentle cycle
All of that clarifies the machine drying process (and whether it is necessary). But if your square has no circle at all, you should let it air dry. Here’s how to interpret the various air-dry laundry symbols:
- One horizontal line: Lay it flat to dry.
- Three vertical lines: Hang it to drip dry.
- A square that looks like an envelope: Line dry it.
- Two diagonal lines: Only let it air dry in the shade.
Laundry Symbols for Ironing
Ironing can damage some fabrics, such as more delicate ones, even though it can also make some fabrics look fantastic. Some fabrics even demand extra caution when being ironed.
- If the iron symbol on the care label is without dots, your item can be ironed at any temperature.
- The more dots on the iron symbol suggests the temperature of heat that can be applied:
- 1 dot: delicates i.e., silk and wool.
- 2 dots: synthetics.
- 3 dots: linen and cotton.
- If there is a cross over the iron symbol you should not iron the item.
We know how much you hate ironing, so why not get a crisp, professional press from an expert and instead spend that time doing something you love?
Laundry Symbols for Bleaching
You can learn everything you need to know about bleaching an item from the triangle. Here’s how to decipher the symbols:
- Empty triangle: You can use any type of bleach
- Triangle with two lines through it: You can use non-chlorine (or oxygen) bleach only
- Triangle with an X: No bleach should be used at all
How to Read Product Numbers on Clothing Tags?
Clothing labels in the US and Canada will have either a five-digit CA number or a registered identification number (RN). For the purposes of importing or selling the product, both terms refer to the manufacturer, processor, finisher, or other involved business.
When it comes to reading vintage clothing labels, the CA and RN numbers are useful because you can use an equation for the manufacture year to roughly determine when the clothing was made.
Even with contemporary clothing, it is possible to access additional details about the garments, such as the legal business name, address, and website of the entity, using the RN Database and the Government of Canada database.
What Do Clothing Tags Mean for Sustainability?
So, what do clothing labels mean for a greener fashion future? They not only make it simple for us to dress in eco-friendly materials, but they also motivate us to take better care of our clothing.
Knowing which clothes should be left out of the dryer or washed in cold water can prevent laundering mishaps that result in textile waste, which amounts to a staggering 92 million tons every year—or a garbage truck’s worth every second.
Unfortunately, knowing how to read fabric labels has its limits, as most clothes are only designed to last 30-40 washes. That said, in addition to knowing how to read clothes tags so that your ethical leggings don’t turn into a saggy, shapeless mess, consider the following eco-clothes care tips:
- Wash less
- Wash in cold water
- Wash inside-out
- Use eco-friendly laundry detergent
- Hang dry rather than machine dry
- Avoid dry cleaning
- Store properly (away from moisture, heat, and sunlight)
- Repair damage when it’s first noticed
Final Words: Laundry Symbols
It may have caught your attention that detergent care labels are devoid of any instructions. The reason for this is that most modern washers can clean laundry using cold water.
The majority of laundry detergents contain enzymes that can clean in as little as 60°F of heat. The majority of clothing, towels, throws, and other machine-washable items can be washed in cold water, but check the label to be sure.
Your clothes will receive the proper care with the help of laundry symbols. Our comprehensive laundry symbol guide should assist you in taking better care of your clothing fabrics.