Many of us are guilty of simply throwing our garments into the washing machine and choosing the general wash setting without looking at the care instructions on the label.
And sometimes even if we do take the time to look at the label, more often than not we become so confused with all the symbols that we still revert back to the same old cycle.
To ensure that you can maintain your garments properly, the manufacturer includes a label with washing instructions. These instructions best outline how to care for the different materials in your clothes.
Thanks to our easy washing symbols guide, you’ll never need to worry about shrinking your favourite jumper or damaging that delicate blouse.
So, let’s get to grips with those complicated symbols, put your feet up and relax – safe in the knowledge that your clothes will be clean, fresh, and intact at the end of their washing cycle.
Washtub with Hands
This symbol means the item should be hand washed.
Many garments made of silk or cashmere contain this symbol on the care label. It shows a hand in a tub and means that you should wash the garments gently by hand at 40°C/104°F or less. Ignoring this leaves your clothes susceptible to shrinking or tearing. It is essential to wash delicate items with additional care.
Many washing machines have different options for delicate items, such as a handwashing programme. The hand wash setting will wash your garments more gently to prevent snagging.
Washtub with Numbers or Dots
This dictates the best temperature to wash at.
Different types of fabric require different temperature settings. Most washable garments have these symbols on their labels, and it signifies an image of a tub with water and numbers on the inside.
The numbers indicate the maximum temperature that is suitable for washing the garment. The symbol is easy to read, and the temperature usually ranges from 30°C to 95°C.
In some instances, they also use dots to represent the temperature:
- One dot = 30°C
- Two dots = 40 °C
- Three dots = 50°C
- Four dots = 60°C
- Five dots = 70°C
- Six dots = 95°C
If you do not wash the fabric according to the temperature on the label, the tougher stains may not come off, or if you exceed the maximum temperature you might end up damaging or shrinking your favourite piece of clothing.
Washtub with Lines Underneath
Indicates the spin speed and rinse cycle that is suitable for the item.
Indicates the spin speed and rinse cycle that is suitable for the item.
As a rule of thumb, more bars mean less spinning and rinsing. Following that logic, no bars mean the item can be washed as normal.
If the washtub symbol has a single bar underneath, it suggests a reduced spin speed. In most cases, this will be the permanent-press option on your machine.
When the washtub symbol has two bars underneath, you should use a mild wash, but the spin speed and rinse cycle can be normal. For this kind of garment, it is best to use the delicate cycle.
Dry Clean Symbols – Circles
If your garment care label has a circle, it is suitable for dry cleaning; however, specific garments might need more professional care.
The circle can sometimes have a letter in it which stand for the different ways it can be cleaned – more on this below.
If you have a circle and letter with a line underneath, this usually means you can dry clean it in the recommended way, though it is encouraged to sought advice from a professional dry cleaner.
The letters inside the circle represent the kind of dry-cleaning products you can use on your garments, below are some of the labels you may come across.
- A in a Circle: The letter A means use any solvent
- P in a Circle: The letter P means use tetrachloroethylene (PCE)
- F in a Circle: The letter F means use petroleum solvent only
- W in a Circle: The letter W means that the garment needs professional wet cleaning
- Single Line Under Circle: Clean gently
- Double Line Under Circle: Extra gentle cleaning
Lastly, when the label has a circle with a cross through it, you should not dry clean the item.
After washing your clothes, drying your clothes is usually the next step. Just like washing, there are specific symbols for drying you should consider.
It is not always as easy as just hanging your clothes on a line or an airer as different fabrics require different types of care. Therefore, various garments come with varying drying symbols to ensure we are drying our clothes correctly without damaging our fabric.
A simple square symbol with a circle inside it indicates that the item is suitable for tumble drying, and the same symbol with a cross through it means that it is not. This is a vital symbol to check for fabrics like wool that can shrink severely in a dryer.
Drying Symbol with Dots
Dictates the most suitable heat level for drying.
Just like when washing, the dots relate to temperature. The number of dots ranges from one to three, meaning the heat level increases from low to high. On the other hand – a filled circle inside a square tells us to tumble dry the fabric with no heat.
Square Symbol with Lines
A simple square outline indicates that fabric should be air-dried. However, it’s not always as simple as throwing your clothes up on a line and letting nature do its thing. These square symbols inform you how best to allow your fabric to dry to avoid losing shape and colour.
- Square with a curved line at the top: The curved line means you can dry your piece on a washing line. There is also a variation of this symbol with the curved line and two diagonal lines across the top left corner. (It can also just have two diagonal lines in the corner). When the diagonal lines are present, it means the item can be dried on a washing line but recommended to be in the shade.
- Square With Three Vertical Lines: Indicates that the clothing item should drip-dry. Sometimes this symbol is depicted with two diagonal lines across the top left corner. In those instances, the garment should drip dry in the shade.
- One Horizontal Line in the Middle of the Square: The horizontal line means the fabric should be laid flat to dry. Additionally, this symbol is sometimes shown with two diagonal lines across the top left corner. When present, it means the item should be laid flat in the shade away from harmful UV rays.
These symbols demonstrate whether it is appropriate to wring the fabric or not. The label on your clothing will show a twisted piece of fabric – alone this means you can wring it out before hanging it up to dry. However, if it has a cross through it, it indicates that you should not wring or twist the material. Doing so when it is not recommended can risk damaging your clothes.
There is a reason why your iron has a dial with various heat settings. Each type of fabric can sustain a certain heat level, and some materials need a lower level to avoid getting damaged.
A simple iron outline will mean that your item is suitable for ironing. Whereas, that same symbol with a cross through it means do not iron.
Iron with Dots
Indicates the best temperature to set your iron.
In order to prevent damage and to ensure your item looks its best, you want to use the right iron setting. The dots will tell you how high of a heat you should use.
- One dot = Maximum heat of 110°C for items like wool or silk
- Two dots = Maximum heat of 150°C for synthetic materials
- Three dots = Maximum heat of 200°C for linen and cotton
Iron Symbol with Three Lines Coming Out
You’ll find this symbol on items that are suitable for steam. Whenever you see this symbol with a cross through it, it means that you can iron the garment but should not apply any steam.
This is represented by a triangle symbol. If there is a cross on it, that means do not bleach the garment.
Another variation of this symbol is if there is CL written inside the triangle with a cross through it, you can use non-chlorinated bleach when washing.
Are Laundry Symbols the Same Everywhere?
Due to the rise in trade and international traveling, you often come across a piece of clothing from a foreign country. However, the care label symbols can differ from one country to the next. Therefore, we cannot assume that the same UK washing symbols are applied everywhere. Copyright laws make it difficult to standardise these symbols. Still, in most cases, they are very similar.
It is essential to know what the care labels on clothing items mean to take proper care of them. This is especially true when you love to buy expensive items like cashmere or silk that need to be handled with special care and washed according to specific instructions.
You can avoid damaging your clothing by carefully reading the care labels and following the instructions. We hope this guide has been useful and that next time you are looking at the labels, you can confidently follow the symbols and keep your clothes looking and feeling like new.
Meet our reviewer
Jimmy Pearce is our resident expert on domestic cleaning appliances. Having managed a large electrical retail store for over 10 years and with a family that includes 3 kids, there is little Jimmy doesn’t know or hasn’t seen when it comes to domestic cleaning. When he’s not spending time with the family or reviewing domestic appliances, Jimmy is often found in his man cave jamming on his bass guitar.