Most of us would have an easier time reading ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs than deciphering the symbols on laundry care tags!
Triangles, lines, dots and all sorts of shapes, they are truly a language all their own but those crazy symbols are the key to keeping your clothing looking fresh and making them last.
Way back in 1971, the FTC started requiring manufacturers to tag their clothing with at least one safe cleaning method. At this stage, these were generally words indicating whether a garment was suitable for the washing machine, hand wash, or dry cleaning. For all you vintage and thrift shoppers this is a quick way to identify vintage clothing- if it doesn’t have any care instructions it was most likely made before 1971.
In 1997, they came up with SYMBOLS that could be used in place of words on labels.
The symbols were developed as part of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Symbols or pictograms are used rather than words because internationally it’s easier to identify. The symbols have some variations in Europe, Asia, and the US. But, it’s not a big deal, you can still understand it easily even though there are slight differences.
The Laundry Care Symbol Chart based on ISO uses five basic icons for: washing, drying, dry cleaning, ironing, and bleaching. Once you understand the basic icon shape, you’ll easily understand if there are slight differences. For example, the letter ‘X’ in any icon means ‘Don’t do it’.
I’m going to break down the basics of Laundry Care Symbols but I also have a little cheat sheet you can print out and keep in your laundry room.
Let’s jump in.
The Washtub: The thing that looks like a bucket, that’s the washing instructions.
A washtub without any number at the centre means that you may wash that garment in your washer at any cycle or temperature you prefer. If there is a number inside the tub, that means that you should use that temperature (in Celsius). If there is a hand, you should either wash these delicate garments by hand or on a gentle cycle. Dots inside the tub also refer to heat levels. The more dots the more heat can be used. One dot means wash in cold, two wash in warm and three wash in hot. Lines underneath the tub refer to the cycle you should wash in- no line is wash in regular cycle, one line wash in permanent press and two lines gentle. A crossed out washtub means that you should not wash your item. Ever.
The Triangle: that’s the bleaching instructions.
Bleaching care symbols are meant to indicate which type of bleach is safe to use with your clothes. Bleaching symbols on a piece of clothing are easy to read. An empty triangle means you can use bleach, and a crossed-out triangle means you can’
If there are two diagonal lines breaking the triangle into three sections, this means you can use a non-chlorine bleach – a gentler product that’s less harmful to your skin, clothes, and the environment.
The Square: (which kind of looks like a dryer) is the drying instructions.
These symbols are divided into 2 main categories: natural drying and tumble drying. Natural drying symbols mean that the garment should be left to air dry. Tumble drying symbols mean that the garment should be dried in the dryer. Crossed out symbols mean that it shouldn’t be dried. Drying symbols use the same number of dots and lines as washing symbols, indicating low, medium, and high heat settings.
The Iron: (the most straightforward) instructs on safe ironing temps.
These are easier to remember and are always represented by the outline of an iron. Ironing symbols use the same heat indicators you’ll see on washing and dryer symbols, so you can decide whether to go for a high, low, or medium heat temperature setting.
If the iron symbol is crossed out, then the garment is not suitable for ironing. If the iron’s steam is crossed out, you can iron the garment with the steam setting turned off.
The Circle: Dry Cleaning instructions.
Chances are, if you see a letter on the label of your garment, it’s intended to be professionally cleaned. The letters ‘F’ and ‘P’ are used to describe chemical washes and the letter ‘W’ means a wet clean. But you don’t need to worry about that, your dry clean professional will handle it. All you need to know is that if the garment has a circle or written words that say “dry clean only” take that piece to the cleaners!
Now that you have the main symbols down the variations are easy! In General, the more bars you find underneath your laundry symbols the more gentle the wash and the more dots the hotter the temp.
Still need a bit of help?
Click HERE to DOWNLOAD My FREE Laundry Care Symbols Chart