laundry in a laundry basket
Tips & Tricks

Decoding Your Clothing Care Label Symbols

Understanding the care symbols in your clothing is key to getting the most out of each piece. Check out our guide to shed a bit of light on these important washing symbols.
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At first glance clothing care symbols found on care labels may seem like a foreign language, something no one has time for, but fear not! With even just a little bit of knowledge, you can begin to understand the meaning behind laundry care label instructions and let laundry mishaps be a thing of the past. Use this guide below to help crack the code.

 example care label symbols

Washing Symbols

Following correct washing instructions is the first step to keeping your items in their best shape. Check your care labels for guidance on the best wash method, cycle, and temperature to prevent any major mishaps to your favorite pieces. This tub symbol is normally the first symbol listed on your care label and can guide you to getting the best results.

 washing care labels for laundry

Base Washing Symbols

  1. Machine washing possible (there will likely be numbers, dots, and/or bars paired with this first symbol, but we will get to that a bit further down)
  2. Gentle hand wash in water below 104°F / 40°C only
  3. Do not wash with water
 washing machine temperatures for laundry care labels

Washing Machine Water Temperature Symbols

Water temperature will be shown with either dots if you are in the US or Canada, or a number (degrees celsius) that the item can be machine washed on.

 washing machine cycles on laundry care labels

Washing Machine Cycle Setting Symbols

  1. No bars underneath indicates a normal cycle is possible
  2. One bar indicates a permanent press or synthetic cycle should be used
  3. Two bars indicates a delicate wash cycle only

Bleaching Symbols

If you find your whites are going grey and want to attend to that, always check for the triangle symbol on your care label first. Many fabrics can be ruined by the smallest amount of chlorine bleach, so consult this important little triangle before even getting it out.

 3 bleach symbols that are used in laundry care labels

Bleaching Symbols

  1. Any Bleach possible
  2. Non-Chlorine Bleach Only (oxygenated bleach products)
  3. Do not bleach

Drying Symbols

Like washing, there are a fair few different guidelines for when it comes to drying your items correctly. From throwing towels straight into a hot dryer to keep them fluffy to drying your woolen jumpers flat to prevent them from becoming misshapen, it is crucial to know the meaning of these. Look out for the square symbol to save yourself from any unfortunate doll-sized sweater moments.

 drying symbols used in laundry care labels

Base Drying Symbols

  1. Do not use clothes dryer
  2. Line dry
  3. Dry item flat
  4. Dry in shade
  5. Drip dry only (do not wring or spin)
  6. Do not wring
 drying temperature symbols used in laundry care labels

Clothes Dryer Temperatures Symbols

  1. Any temperature possible
  2. Low temperature only (maximum exhaust temperature 140°F / 60°C)
  3. Medium / Normal temperature possible (maximum exhaust temperature 176°F / 80°C)
  4. High temperature possible
  5. No heat only
 delicate drying cycles in laundry care labels

Clothes Dryer Cycle Setting Symbols

  1. Permanent Press Cycle
  2. Delicate Cycle Only

Ironing Symbols

The iron symbol may just be the most straightforward of the symbols as it is, well, an iron shape. Check this symbol to see whether your freshly laundered pieces are okay to iron or not. Some delicate fabrics can be crushed or burnt by doing so, while others just desperately need it. 

 Ironing symbols found in laundry care labels

Base Ironing Symbols

  1. Ironing possible
  2. Do not iron
  3. No steam allowed
 Different Ironing temperatures in laundry care labels

Ironing Temperature Symbols

  1. Low iron temperature only (230°F / 110°C)
  2. Medium Iron Temperature possible (300°F / 150°C)
  3. High Iron Temperature possible (390°F / 200°C)

Professional Dry Cleaning Symbols

Some items just need to be dry cleaned to look their best. Look for the circle symbol to confirm your items are suitable to take to a professional cleaner.

 Different dry cleaning symbols found in laundry care labels

Dry Cleaning Symbols

  1. Dry cleaning possible
  2. Dry cleaning allowed using any solvent
  3. Dry cleaning using any solvent except Trichloroethylene
  4. Dry cleaning using petroleum solvent only
  5. Do not dry clean
 dog in a laundry basket

Laundry Label FAQs

If you've gotten this far and still have questions about those care labels, here are some of the most frequently asked questions that we've encountered working with laundry labels and care labels:

What Are Laundry Symbols

Laundry symbols are used to indicate the best way to launder an item as per the manufacturer's recommendations. The symbols are broken up into 5 different subsections: washing, bleaching, drying, dry-cleaning, and ironing, each with their own unique symbol and variations of those symbols.

What Is the Symbol for Tumble Dry?

The symbol for tumble drying is a square with a circle inside of it. The dots inside the inner circle indicate the temperature setting for that item - one dot is a low heat setting, two dots is a medium heat setting, and three dots is high heat.

What Does the P & F Symbol Mean on Laundry Labels?

A circle on your washing label indicates that the item needs to be dry-cleaned. Sometimes this circle will have the letters, A, P, or F inside of it, which tells the dry-cleaner which particular solvents should be used in the cleaning process.

What Does a Triangle With a Cross Mean On Clothes?

A triangle on a washing label shows whether the item is allowed to be bleached or not. A plain triangle with no lines says that the item can be bleached using any type of bleach, a triangle with diagonal lines means non-chlorinated (oxygenated) bleach only, and a triangle that is crossed out means you should not bleach this item at all.

What Is The Symbol for Dry Clean?

The symbol for dry-cleaning is a circle. Inside the circle there may be letters such as A, P, or F, which indicate to the dry-cleaner which solvents to use. If your care label has a circle with a cross through it, this means the item should not be dry cleaned at all.

What Does Wash 40 Mean?

The wash bucket symbol indicates that the item is approved for machine washing. The numbers within the bucket let you know the maximum temperature to wash the item at in degrees celsius. The number 40 inside a wash bucket means the item should be washed at a maximum of 104°F, or a colored wash setting.

Is 40 Degrees Hot or Cold for Laundry?

The number 40 corresponds to 40°C, or 104°F. This is a warm wash setting that is often used for a colored wash. The number on the wash symbol indicates the maximum temperature the item should be washed at.

If this feels like a lot to remember, there are also a few great apps available that can do all this for you. Our current favorite Laundry Lens (available on IOS), makes it so easy to understand care labels by decoding them for you. All you have to do is download and open the app, take a snap of the troublesome care label, and it will break down the symbols for you, giving you clear instructions about what to do! So easy.

If you are designing your own laundry labels for items you have made, it is important to get these symbols correct for both brand integrity and to help customers get the most out of your pieces. Use our Dutch Label Shop Care Label Builder to create your own custom care labels, specific to your needs.