Ah yes, the modern day hieroglyphics. At some point everyone probably understood what the symbols meant, but uhh...not anymore.
We feature a few on our shirts, so let's use those as an example:
Here's an easy breakdown for y'all:
- All symbols that look like a flat wide bucket with waves on top is a washing symbol - this will tell you the washing instructions for the item
- All square symbols indicate drying instructions
- Symbols shaped like an iron are the recommended ironing instructions
- Circle symbols are professional cleaning instructions or dry clean instructions
- These are not currently on our shirts, but triangle symbols represent the bleaching instructions
Note: Any of these basic shapes with an X through them (like #4, the dry clean instructions) means don't do this, we'll show more examples below.
Each of these basic shapes has different iterations that gives more detailed information. Let's take a look at the variations for each step of the cleaning process.
The most basic wash symbol is the empty bucket - this means that the item is machine washable on any cycle:
Both of these symbols mean the same thing, so you might see either. They both recommend washing the item in water at or under 30˚ C or on the cold cycle:
This set of symbols indicate that you should wash the item at 40˚ C or on medium/warm:
These two recommend you wash the item at 50˚ or on hot:
Following the trend you may see the tub with additional dots, just add 10˚ C for each on or just use the highest setting on your machine if you don't have a temperature option.
A tub symbol with a single line underneath it stands for permanent press or synthetics cycle:
Delicate Wash - For your delicate clothes you may see the washing tub with 2 lines underneath (it may or may not have dots or numbers to indicate the recommended temp):
The last symbol for machine washing is the No Washing symbol. It looks like the machine wash symbol with an X through it:
Some items need extra attention or are too delicate to be machine washed. In that case the item will have the hand wash symbol:
The squares on clothing tags are instructions for drying, here's the basic one that looks like a dryer (a square surrounding a circle) that means you can Tumble Dry the item:
A circle in a square with one dot indicates you should tumble dry on low:
If you see a tumble dry symbol with two dotes you should tumble dry on medium:
Dryer symbol with a line under it means to dry the thing you've washed on tumble dry delicate cycle:
As we've seen before a symbol with an X through it tells you not to do something. in this case it means do not tumble dry:
The symbols above are for machine drying, the next few cover natural drying, or drying without a machine. The symbol is an empty square:
A square with a downward curved line connecting the top corners (looks like a clothesline) is the line dry symbol:
When the square has a horizontal line in the middle the item needs to be laid down to dry flat:
Three vertical lines in a square means you should hang it to dry while wet and it must drip dry:
If you see a square with two diagonal lines in the top left corner it means to shade dry:
The rest of the drying symbols are combinations of the above symbols. Here are a few you may see.
A square with the line dry and shade symbols means that piece of clothing does best when you line dry in the shade:
Diagonal lines pictured with a single horizontal line indicates it should be laid flat to dry in the shade:
Lastly the symbol with two diagonal lines in the top left corner and the three centered vertical lines mean you need to drip dry in the shade:
If you see something that looks like an iron on a clothing label it tells you the...ironing instructions! Curveball, I know.
The simplest is a plain iron, which means you can iron:
An iron with one dot (usually found on fabrics that easily burn or scorch like nylon and polyester) can be ironed, but only on low temperature:
Two dots (found on wool, silk and others) in an iron can be ironed on medium temperature:
Three dots (mostly found on sturdy fabrics like cotton, linen and denim) inside an iron symbol means use high temp:
If you see an iron on your care label that has been crossed out (most likely on velvet items or those with sequins) it means do not iron:
Dry clean/Professional Clean
Most of these symbols won't be helpful while doing laundry tbh, they are for professional cleaners to ensure they use chemicals that won't ruin your clothes. The different letters represent chemicals that work well with your item. We'll explain them briefly, but if your garment says "Dry Clean Only" you should take it to your local expert.
An empty circle means the piece of clothing can be dry cleaned:
A circle with an "F" inside means your piece can be dry cleaned with hydrocarbon solvent only (HCS) :
The same symbol above with a line beneath it indicates it can be dry cleaned gently with hydrocarbon solvent (HCS) only:
When something has a circle with a "P" inside, it may also have lines underneath, it is telling your cleaner it can be dry cleaned with any solvent except Trichloroethylene (typically seen on more delicate items):
Any dry clean symbol that features a "W" means that it can be wet cleaned. This is a much more eco-friendly way to professionally clean clothes since it avoids the use of chemical solvents and is guided by computers, doesn't generate hazardous waste or air pollution. The final report of an EPA study explains more.
A "W" enclosed in a circle notes that the item can be wet cleaned:
If you see a wet clean symbol with a line under it, then it can be wet cleaned on gentle:
Following the trend we've seen the wet clean symbol with two lines underneath tells your pro to wet clean on very gentle:
An empty circle with an X through it means do not dry clean:
A filled in circle with an X tells your cleaner that the item should not be wet cleaned:
This is the general Bleach symbol, a triangle. This means that the garment can handle bleach:
There are 2 main types of bleach, some clothes are sensitive to one kind or another and may be ruined or permanently altered if you use the other. This can be done on purpose if you want to add designs or strategically destroy areas and is an effective way to easily update your closet without buying new clothes.
If you just want to remove stains then follow the manufacturer's recommendation for bleach type.
This Chlorine Bleach symbol is pretty straightforward, the bleach triangle with the letters "CL" inside, standing for Chlorine:
The other main type of bleach is oxygen bleach, but is usually just referred to as non-chlorine bleach or "color-safe bleach":
The Do Not Bleach symbol can appear in one of two ways, either a filled in black triangle with and X through it or the outline of a triangle with an X through it. They both mean no bleach please:
While laundry care symbols or garment washing instructions look super confusing, they're much easier to figure out if you know a few tricks.
- Buckets are washing instructions
- Squares are drying instructions
- Irons are ironing instructions
- Triangles are bleaching instructions
You can pretty much ignore any circles since you (probably) won't be cleaning them professionally yourself. Wet cleaning is the more environmentally conscious way to have a pro clean them so you should consider that unless you see the "no wet cleaning" symbol.
Most symbols are a combo of the above basic shapes with dots and/or lines
- More dots = higher temperature
- More lines underneath = more gentle
Lastly, anything with an X through it is telling you no no. Do not tumble dry, do not dry clean, etc.
Armed with this pictogram breakdown you can tackle any laundry day, or at least understand what the tags are trying to tell you.
Until next time, GLHF