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How To Read Laundry Symbols:
The Ultimate Laundry Symbols Guide

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October 13, 2020

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The symbols printed on the tags of your garments may seem like they are in a foreign language, but they serve an essential purpose: to keep your clothes looking newer longer. These laundry symbols tell you all you need to know about how to do the washing and drying, and bleaching and ironing. Setting the temperature and wash cycle as recommended by the manufacturer not only gives you awesome laundry results, it can also prevent damage to your clothes.

According to Jonathan Walford, the curatorial director at the Fashion History Museum, laundry symbols were being used in Europe as early as the late 1950s. The idea didn’t catch on in the United States until the 1970s, but today we find laundry tag symbols on almost every garment. While there are slight differences between the European and American versions, most laundry icons of garment tags are universal.

The first thing you need to learn is what each symbol means on a laundry symbols chart. The icon that looks like a bucket of water instructs how to wash a garment, the square with a circle in the center instructs how to dry it, and the iron symbol instructs how to iron it. The remaining laundry tag symbols refer to bleaching (triangle), dry-cleaning (circle), and non-machine drying (square) instructions.

Laundry Symbols Chart: Decoded

laundry symbols chart

Washing Instruction Symbols

Washing Methods

  • Machine Wash
  • Hand Wash
  • Do Not Wash
  • Dry Clean Only
  • Do Not Dry Clean

Washing Temperatures

  • Wash Cold (in temperatures between 65 and 85F)
  • Wash Warm (in temperatures at a maximum of 105F)
  • Wash Hot (in temperatures that exceed 120F)

Washing Cycles

  • Normal Cycle
  • Permanent Press Cycle
  • Delicate/Gentle Cycle

Getting the water temperature and wash cycle right is essential for clean, fresh-smelling laundry, and can even prevent damage to your clothes. At the other end of the spectrum, some garments just aren’t strong enough to be tossed in the machine; if you put clothing like this into your washer, you might well ruin it. The washing instruction symbols above tell you how to wash a garment, what temperature to use, and which cycle is needed. While there are pros and cons to washing with hot water, defer to your garments’ care labels and they will look clean and smell fresh every time.

Always check the label on new clothes or garments you’re unsure about. Look for dry cleaning symbols (represented by a circle) or hand wash symbols (represented by a tub of water with a hand sign). Know what to look for so you won’t put these garments in the washing machine!

Drying Laundry Symbols

Drying Methods

  • Tumble Drying Allowed
  • Do Not Tumble Dry
  • Hang To Dry
  • Dry Flat
  • Do Not Wring

Drying Temperatures

  • Any Heat
  • High Heat
  • Medium Heat
  • Low Heat
  • No Heat/Air

Drying Cycle

  • Normal Cycle
  • Permanent Press Cycle
  • Delicate/Gentle Cycle

Drying is an important part of keeping your clothes looking good and fitting well. If you’ve ever dried a sweater that comes out of the wash three sizes too small, you know firsthand what we mean. Understanding drying symbols can help your favorite garments last longer.

Bleaching Laundry Symbols

  • Bleaching Allowed
  • Do Not Bleach
  • Use Non-Chlorine Bleach

If you choose to use bleach, you’ll want to look at your garment’s fabric care label to see if there is a bleach symbol. Follow the label instructions to save your garment from being ruined by chlorine bleach.

Ironing Laundry Symbols

  • Iron Low
  • Iron Medium
  • Iron High
  • Do Not Iron
  • No Steam Added To Iron

Some fabrics, like cotton and linen, look great after ironing; others, like delicates made with synthetics, can be easily damaged. Wool and silk can be ironed, for example, but you must iron these fabrics without using steam. Following the care labels on your garments goes a long way, but your iron can also lend a hand: Most modern irons feature temperature settings for popular fabrics.

Dry Cleaning Laundry Symbols

  • Any Solvent
  • Any Solvent Except Trichloroethylene
  • Petroleum Solvent Only
  • Short Cycle
  • Reduce Moisture
  • Low Heat
  • No Steam Finishing

“Dry clean only” means what it says. Machine washing garments with this laundry symbol will damage them. “Professionally dry clean” means that the dry cleaning process must use a certain solvent, reduction in cleaning time, the addition or elimination of steam in pressing the garment, and other instructions. While these instructions are more for your dry cleaner, we did promise you the ultimate laundry symbols guide!

You might have noticed that care labels don’t have any instructions for detergents. That’s because modern washers can use cold water and get most laundry clean. Most laundry detergents contain enzymes that can clean in temperatures as low as 60℉. Cold water is enough for most clothes, towels, throws, and other machine-washable laundry, but read that label to be sure.

We hope our ultimate laundry symbol guide helps you take better care of your clothes. Do you want to keep your entire home as clean and crisp as your newfound laundry techniques keep your clothes? Let The Maids create a personalized house cleaning solution that fits your budget, schedule, and unique cleaning needs.

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