In the past, doing the laundry meant separating lights from darks. No longer. These days, tags in clothing are covered with symbols for washing, drying, and ironing instructions.
Initially, these hieroglyphics can seem confusing. But once you see the pattern, they’re easy to understand. Knowing and following the instructions will prolong the life of your clothing and get the best results.
The washing symbol looks like a washtub with water; there’s usually a wavy line at the top.
- Plain tub: Machine wash
- Tub with a hand: Hand wash
- Tub with an X: Do not wash
- Tub with one dot: Machine wash with cold water (maximum 80°F)
- Tub with two dots: Machine wash with warm water (maximum 105°F)
- Tub with three dots: Machine wash with hot water (maximum 120°F)
- Tub with four dots: Machine wash with very hot water (maximum 140°F)
- Tub with five dots: Machine wash with very hot water (maximum 160°F)
- Tub with six dots: Machine wash with very hot water (maximum 200°F)
- Tub with one line underneath: Use the permanent-press function
- Tub with two lines underneath: Use the gentle or delicate function
There are three types of triangles. A plain triangle means it’s OK to use any bleach. A triangle with an X indicates that you should not use bleach. If there are two lines in the triangle, use bleach without chlorine. You might also see a triangle with an X over the letters CL to indicate using non-chlorine bleach.
If you see a knot of fabric with an X, do not wring the clothing after washing. Drying directions are squares; many have a circle in the center. In short, they’re rudimentary drawings of a front-loading dryer.
- Square with a circle: Tumble dry any heat, usually normal
- Square with an X: Do not tumble dry (may also have a circle)
- Square with a circle and a line underneath: Tumble dry, permanent press
- Square with a circle and two lines underneath: Tumble dry, gentle, or delicate
- Square with a circle and one dot: Tumble dry on low heat
- Square with a circle and two dots: Tumble dry on medium heat
- Square with a circle and three dots: Tumble dry on high head.
- Square with a dark circle: Tumble dry but do not use heat—just air
NON-MACHINE DRYING SYMBOLS
Not all fabrics fare well in the dryer, so review these symbols carefully.
- Empty square: Dry naturally—do not use the machine
- Square with a clothesline “smile” at the top: Line dry
- Square with one line inside: Dry flat; do not use a dryer
- Square with three vertical lines: Drip dry
- Square with two lines in one corner: Dry outside but in the shade—the drawing may also have a clothesline or half sun
This symbol is easy to identify because it’s an iron.
- Iron: Use any temperature to iron, and steam is OK
- Iron with an X: Do not iron
- Iron with one dot: Use low heat (maximum 230°F)
- Iron with two dots: Use medium heat (maximum 300°F)
- Iron with three dots: Use high heat (maximum 390°F)
- Iron with spray: Steam recommended
- Iron with an X underneath: Do not use steam
This icon is a circle, and some of the symbols are directions for the professional dry cleaners, not the owner.
- Plain circle: Dry cleaning recommended
- Circle with an X: Do not dry clean
- Circle with an A: Dry clean using any solvent
- Circle with a P: Use any solvent except tetrachlorethylene
- Circle with an F: Dry clean only with a petroleum solvent
- Circle with a W: Wet cleaning
- Circle with a line at the bottom right: Dry clean with low heat
- Circle with a line at the bottom left: Use a short cycle
- Circle with a line at the top right: Dry clean with no steam
- Circle with a line at the top left: Use reduced moisture
Several websites offer instructions or printable explanations, including Tide and The Laundress.
You can also buy wall art that is as attractive as it is instructional. You’ll find some choices at Wayfair, Amazon, and Etsy.