How to Read Laundry Symbols? - Decoding what common washing symbols mean

Ever stopped to take a closer look at the label on your clothing? It may be tempting to cut it off. Laundry symbols may feel like Greek and Latin- but once you learn them, they can tell you exactly how to wash, dry, bleach and roll your garments! Let’s learn more about the meaning of common laundry icons.

Clothing manufacturers provide symbols to instruct how best you can extend the life of your clothes. Just like clothing, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to washing clothes- the same method that may help one garment retain its shape, condition, color or size may be detrimental to another. For example, if you read our previous article on how to keep your winter clothes at their best , you would have learnt that hanging wool out to dry can stretch the garment and make it lose its shape. That's why it is important to follow washing instruction

The international symbols

As laundry is something done all over the world, the industry has come up with a set of five basic symbols that are internationally followed. They are always featured left to right. These symbols are:

  1. Washtub (for washing) 
  2. Triangle (for bleaching) 
  3. Iron (for ironing)
  4. Circle (for dry cleaning)
  5. Square (for drying)
    Laundry symbols

    Certain symbols indicate whether you can or cannot do certain things such as when a symbol has a large X on it, that's a NO sign, and the number of dots indicates the temperature that you can use. One dot means the water has to be cold; two dots, warm; three dots, hot water.


    The washtub symbol provides instructions for the washing process. Here are some different ways it could be presented:

    Laundry symbols

    Machine washing: If the washtub alone is present, it means the garment can be machine washed. If the garment can be machine-washed, there will be symbols that elaborate on the temperature and cycle it should be washed in:

    • Washtub with numbers: The numbers represent the temperature (in Celsius) that the garment has to be washed in. The number 30 indicates to use cold water, 40 means to use warm water, and 50 means a hot-water wash.
    • Washtub with dots: Dots, similar to numbers, indicate the temperature. The more dots there are (there can be up to six), the hotter the temperature that can be used.

    Similarly, there may be lines under the tub as well. The lines indicate:

    • No lines indicate to use a normal wash cycle.
    • One line means to use a synthetic wash cycle.
    • Two lines means to use a gentle, wool-wash cycle.

    As a rule, you can remember this as: the more lines that are present under the washtub, the more careful you have to be with the wash cycle. 

    Hand-washing: If the washtub has a hand reaching into it, that symbol indicates that the garment must be hand-washed only. Some more symbols that could be present are:

    • If there is a symbol that looks like a wrapped candy with an X on it, it is a sign not to wring or twist the garment. This may be seen in woolen garments or delicate sweaters, as wringing can distort the shape of the garment.

    Bleaching Symbols

     Triangle shape stands for bleach instructions. But triangles can stand for many things:

    • An empty triangle means that bleach can be used as needed- any type of bleach may be used.
    • A triangle with two lines through it means that only non-chlorine or oxygen bleach may be used.
    • A triangle with an X on it means that no bleach should be used at all.

    Drying Symbols

    The square stands for drying, it gives you instructions on whether your garment can be machine-dried and how to specifically dry it. It is important to know how your garment has to be dried- drying in too hot temperature may shrink your clothes. Those drying symbol may appear in two forms:

    A square with a circle in it: A square with a circle in it, means that the item can be machine-dried. Just like the washing symbols, these may appear with dots- the more dots there are, the higher the temperature you can use. There may also be lines beneath the square, which tell you what dryer settings you can use. 

    • One line indicates a permanent press cycle. 
    • Two lines indicate to use a gentle cycle.

    A plain square, with no circle in it: This means that the item should air-dry. The square will commonly have certain lines in it:

    • One horizontal line means to lay the item flat to dry.
    • Three vertical lines means you can hang the item, to let it dry in sunlight.
    • A square with a semi-circle through it means to dry the item on a clothesline.
    • Two diagonal lines indicate it must be dried in shade, away from direct sunlight.

    The air-drying symbols may also have dots in them, which tell you what temperature must be used to dry the clothing. For items with one or two dots, it is better to dry the item inside out, away from direct sunlight. This will prevent the garment from getting bleached in the sunlight.

    Ironing Symbols

    The iron is probably the easiest symbol to understand in your clothing tag. It comes with very simple interpretations:

    • Again, the number of dots in the center of the iron indicate the temperature to be used. More the dots, higher the temperature that can be used.
    • An X through the iron means to not iron at all.

    There are also certain symbols that are particular to the iron. These are:

    • Three little dotted lines under the iron means that the garment can be steamed. A steam press helps remove wrinkles.
    • An X over an iron which has three dotted lines means to avoid steaming the garment. It may be ironed, but not steamed.

    Dry-cleaning symbols:

    For those special garments, it's best to leave it to the professionals. A circle with no X through it means you can take your garment to the dry-cleaners, to ensure it looks and feels its best. Some additional information on dry cleaning symbols are:

    • A circle with an "A" in it means you can use any solvent.
    • A circle with a "P" in it means any solvent except Trichloroethylene can be used.
    • A circle with an "F" means to use petroleum solvents only.

    While these instructions aren't really things you need to know, they are of great help to your dry-cleaner, who gains additional information on how to treat your garments carefully.

    • A diagonal line on the lower left means to use a short cycle.
    • A diagonal line on the upper right means to use reduced moisture.
    • A diagonal line in the bottom right means to use low heat.
    • A diagonal line on the top left means to use no steam finishing.

      Some more general guidelines that are applicable to all fabrics, no matter the composition:

      • If no water temperature or dryer setting is mentioned, it means that it is safe to use any setting, even hot water and hot temperatures.
      • If no ironing instructions are given, this indicates that ironing is not necessary for the garment- specific instructions for ironing will otherwise be provided. If no temperature is mentioned, this means that regular use of hot temperature will not harm the garment.
      • If bleach is not mentioned, it means that any type of bleach may be used as and when needed. However, if bleach is unsuitable for the garment, it will be clearly mentioned to use no bleach.
      • If the label mentions not to dry-clean, do not assume you can do it anyway. If no solvent is specified, any solvent may be used.

      The overall rule of thumb is that- if instructions are not clearly specified, it is safe to use high temperatures or the regular processes of washing, drying, ironing and beaching.

      Laundry symbols are there to help guide you in washing and drying your clothes, so they get the care and love they deserve to stay as good as new. Learning the laundry symbols can help you make sure you prolong the life of your clothes. Similarly, make sure you use the right laundry detergent for your garments, such as PureCult laundry liquid, which is gentle, contains no bleach, and is suitable for a wide variety of fabrics. Your wardrobe sends a statement to the world about who you are- you look and feel your best, when your clothes feel their best!

      Last updated on: Jan11/2023

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