Laundry Symbols and What They Mean By Abhijit Naik

We do notice them every day, but not many of us are aware of laundry symbols and their meaning. They are very easy to understand, and you don’t necessarily need to be a dry cleaner to understand them.

Laundry symbols, also referred to as ‘care symbols‘, are graphic symbols in form of pictures, that represent a particular concept related to the maintenance of clothes. These symbols are printed on labels, known as the ‘care labels‘, that are attached to the clothes. Basically, they indicate the best possible way of cleaning the clothes without harming the material. At times, these symbols are complemented by a set of written instructions as well.

Laundry Symbols

Although, they exist on almost all the clothes we wear, we are hardly aware about the presence of these laundry symbols – or their meaning for that matter. Certain symbols are used to depict a particular instruction of cleaning clothes. General symbols which are used on care labels internationally include:

  • Washing instructions are depicted by a bucket.
  • Bleaching instructions by a triangle.
  • Drying instructions by a square.
  • Ironing instructions by a symbol of iron.
  • Dry cleaning instructions by a circle.

Grasping these symbols will no doubt make your laundry work less intricate.

Universal Laundry Symbols and What They Mean

The general symbols are further modified in order to depict the different methods of cleaning clothes. For instance, a bucket with a single black dot in the center means ‘wash in cold water’, whereas a bucket with three black dots would mean ‘wash in hot water’.

Washing Instructions

Washing is symbolized by a ‘bucket’. The dots in the bucket indicate the temperature of the water, i.e. 1 dot indicates 30 degree Celsius, 2 dots 40 degrees while 3 dots 50 degrees. At times, the dots are replaced by numbers which represent the temperature of water to wash that particular linen. For instance, a bucket with the number 50 would mean wash it in 70 degree Celsius water. Given below is a list of different laundry symbols for washing, and their meanings.

Bucket with 1 dot – Machine wash with cold water.
Bucket with 2 dots – Machine wash with warm water.
Bucket with 3 dots – Machine wash with hot water.
Bucket with 1 dot and a horizontal line – Machine wash, cold water, permanent press.
Bucket with 2 dots and a horizontal line – Machine wash, warm water, permanent press.
Bucket with 3 dots and a horizontal line – Machine wash, hot water, permanent press.
Bucket with 1 dot and 2 horizontal lines – Machine wash with cold water and gentle cycle.
Bucket with 2 dots and 2 horizontal lines – Machine wash with warm water and gentle cycle.
Bucket with 3 dots and 2 horizontal lines – Machine wash with hot water and gentle cycle.
Bucket with a hand – Hand wash.
Bucket with a cross – Do not wash.

Bleaching Instructions

A ‘triangle’ is used to symbolize bleaching. Bleaching helps in making dull and gray textiles more lively, but it has to be used carefully. There are basically three laundry symbols for bleaching.

Triangle – Bleach as necessary.
Triangle with slanting lines within – Use only non-chlorine bleach.
Black triangle with cross – Do not bleach.

Drying Instructions

Generally, a ‘square’ is used to show the correct method of drying. There are four methods of drying and hence you will come across many drying symbols on care label.

Square with a black circle – Tumble dry without heat.
Square with a circle and 1 dot – Tumble dry with low heat.
Square with a circle and 2 dots – Tumble dry with medium heat.
Square with a circle and 3 dots – Tumble dry with high heat.
Square with a black circle and a horizontal line below – Tumble dry and permanent press without heat.
Square with a circle, 1 dot and a horizontal line below – Tumble dry and permanent press with low heat.
Square with a circle, 2 dots and a horizontal line below – Tumble dry and permanent press with medium heat.
Square with a black circle and 2 horizontal lines below – Tumble dry and gentle cycle without heat.
Square with a circle, 1 dot and 2 horizontal lines below – Tumble dry and gentle cycle with low heat.
Square with a circle, 2 dots and 2 horizontal lines below – Tumble dry and gentle cycle with medium heat.
Square with circle within and a cross – Do not tumble dry.
Square resembling an envelope – Line dry.
Square with 3 vertical lines within – Drip dry.
Square with 1 horizontal line within – Flat dry.

Ironing Instructions

Yet another significant part, ironing is symbolized by an ‘iron’. The dots in the ironing symbol represents the temperature at which the material can be ironed. One has to be careful though, as not all the cloth materials can be ironed.

Iron with a cross – Do not iron.
Iron with 1 dot – Iron, steam or dry with low heat.
Iron with 2 dots – Iron, steam or dry with medium heat.
Iron with 3 dots – Iron, steam or dry with high heat.
Iron with protruding line beneath and a cross on these lines – Do not iron with steam.

Dry Cleaning Instructions

Dry cleaning is represented by a ‘circle’ on the care label. Being an important aspect of cloth cleaning one has to be careful to check the label before sending it to dry cleaners.

Circle – Dry clean, you will have to take it to professional dry cleaners.
Circle with a cross – Do not dry clean.

Being well-versed with various laundry symbols and their meaning is of a great help when it comes to maintenance of your clothes. One thing to keep in your mind is that the treatment indicated by these care labels is the ‘the maximum permitted treatment’ and not a necessarily a compulsion. Treatment forms milder than the ones recommended on the care labels can be used. For instance, if the symbol says wash with hot water, you can also wash it in cold water.

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