After a few wears, it’s time to launder your new blouse and you’re unsure exactly how to wash and dry the delicate fabric. When you locate the tag inside the garment for its care instructions, you’re faced with a scramble of tiny symbols. Not only are the symbols hard to see, even with your reading glasses on, but they also aren’t always intuitive. And while the little ciphers may feel like a puzzle that’s impossible to solve, it’s important to persevere, encourages Ilya Ornatov, founder of Seattle-based cleaning company NW Maids. “The standardized symbols are universally recognized and provide important information on how to treat different materials during the laundry process.” Here, a complete guide to the laundry symbols chart.
That’s why we asked Ornatov and other laundry pros to break down the chart section by section so you can easily identify how to wash, iron, dry, dry clean and bleach even the trickiest of fabrics with just a quick glance at their care labels.
Wash bucket symbols on the laundry chart
The symbols on the chart that resemble a water bucket denote washing instructions, including the appropriate washing methods, wash cycles and water temperatures for fabrics or garments.
“It is important to follow these symbols because materials have varying tolerances to heat and agitation,” notes Ornatov. “Adhering to the recommended water temperature and wash cycle can minimize the risk of damaging the fabric or causing color fading, shrinking or stretching.”
He adds that the chart is especially crucial to follow when washing delicate fabrics, linens, bedding and other items that require extra care.
Washing method and cycle symbols
- Bucket icon with just the wavy line at the top means machine wash on a normal cycle
- Bucket icon with a line underneath means machine wash on permanent press cycle
- Bucket icon with two lines underneath means machine wash on delicate or gentle cycle
- Bucket icon with hand inside means hand wash
- Bucket icon with an “X” over it means do not wash
- Twisted towel with an “X” over it means do not wring out fabric
Washing temperature symbols
These symbols are identified by a number of dots or degrees in Celcius, inside each bucket
- One dot or “30º” inside means wash cold at no higher than 30ºC (86ºF)
- Two dots or “40º” inside means wash warm at no higher than 40ºC (104ºF)
- Three dots or “50º” inside means wash warm/hot at no higher than 50ºC (122ºF)
- Four dots or “60º” means wash hot at no higher than 60ºC (140ºF)
- Five dots or “70º” means wash in a hot sanitizing setting at 70ºC (158ºF)
- Six dots or “95º” means wash in the hottest possible setting at 95ºC (203ºF)
Iron symbols on the laundry symbols chart
The six iron-shaped icons indicate ironing directions and can be helpful when determining proper heat temperatures or steam settings for taking the creases out of different fabrics, says Ornatov.
While ironing can eliminate wrinkles and enhance the overall look of garments, it’s important not to use excessive heat or steam on delicate fabrics as it may lead to scorching, melting or permanent damage.
“By referring to the ironing symbols on the chart, you can ensure that you apply just enough heat and steam required while safeguarding your fabrics and achieving desired results,” he says.
- Iron icon with one dot inside means use low heat
- Iron icon with two dots inside means use medium heat
- Iron icon with three dots inside means the item can tolerate high heat
- Iron icon with nothing inside means an item can be ironed
- Iron icon with an “X” over it means do not iron
- Iron icon with an “X” below it means do not use steam
Square drying symbols on the laundry chart
The square symbols with circles inside typically refer to drying instructions and convey whether an item should be tumble-dried, line dried or laid flat to dry.
“Proper drying preserves the integrity and shape of your garments, while improper drying techniques can result in shrinkage, distortion or excessive wrinkling,” says Ornatov.
Not only will you avoid shrinking items so small that they could be worn by the little ones in your life, but you’ll also help prolong the lifespan of your clothes and maintain their original appearance.
- Square with just a circle inside means tumble dry
- Tumble dry icon with one dot in center means use low heat
- Tumble dry icon with two dots in center means use medium heat
- Tumble dry icon with three dots in center means use high heat
- Square with a horizontal line inside means dry item flat
- Square with two slanted lines in top left corner means dry item in the shade
- Tumble dry icon with circle filled in means no heat should be used
- Tumble dry icon with one line underneath means use permanent press cycle
- Tumble dry icon with two lines underneath means use delicate or gentle cycle
- Square with curved line inside means hang item to dry
- Square with three vertical lines inside means allow to drip dry
- Tumble dry icon with an “X” over it means do not tumble dry
Dry cleaning symbols on the laundry chart
The circular symbols are for dry cleaning and are often better left to be utilized by the professionals. “Dry-clean only instructions indicate that an item should not be washed with water, and instead be professionally dry cleaned,” says Ornatov. “It involves using special solvents to remove stains and clean delicate or sensitive fabrics that may not withstand traditional water-based washing methods.”
Instead of taking the matter into your own hands, it is best to send dry-clean only items to the dry cleaners to prevent potential damage to the fabrics and maintain their quality. But if you’re curious what to tell the dry cleaner, these will help.
Dry cleaning symbols
- Circle with a line near the bottom left means to dry clean on a short cycle
- Circle with a line near the top left means the item requires less moisture than a standard dry-cleaning process
- Circle with a line near the bottom right means to use low heat
- Circle with a line near the top right means no steam finishing should be used
- Circle with an “X” over it means do not dry clean
- Circle filled in with an “X” over it means do not wet clean
- Circle with an “A” inside means any dry-cleaning solvent can be used on item
- Circle with a “P” inside means any dry-cleaning solvent can be used on item except trichloroethylene
- Circle with an “F” inside means use petroleum solvents only for dry cleaning
- Circle with a “W” inside means wet-clean only
Bleaching symbols on the laundry symbols chart
The triangular symbols on the chart explain how to properly use chlorine and non-chlorine bleach on fabrics and garments. If you would like to use bleach on a particular item, be sure to check its care label before using to avoid unwanted splotches or holes in your fabrics.
- A triangle with nothing inside means you can use chlorine bleach
- A triangle with two angled lines inside means use non-chlorine bleach
- A triangle with an “X” over it means do not bleach