Care labels explained: Quick guide on reading laundry symbols on care labels you didn't know before

Reading laundry symbols can feel daunting.

You thought that you’d follow the washing instructions for once, or maybe because it is a new, rather expensive dress you just bought and you decided that you will keep it for as long as possible. Aside from that you are convinced that you’ve only seen those square icons over-and-over again. There seems to be only a handful combinations of those garment laundry symbols anyway. You turned that dress inside out and found the 5 symbols on the label. Yeah, you can manage learning 5 new symbols today, right?

You went on to Google, typed “laundry symbols on clothing” and found this:

Laundry Symbols on Care Labels by SwapUp online consignment | thrift store | op shop

Hang on a minute! Each of those laundry charts show an 8x8 grid, which means that there are actually 60-70 symbols, not to mention that there are some symbols that appear on some charts but not others.

How many symbols can you have just describing how to wash a garment? After all, you have been throwing in all your clothes in the wash at 30 all these times and it turns out okay? You start matching those symbols one by one with a laundry symbols chart and the different settings button or dial on your washing machine.

Eventually, you decide that it is too confusing and resort to the usual way however you wash your clothes normally. Only this time you decide to turn off any temperature setting to cold-wash, because you read somewhere that it saves energy and costs; six minutes less in running time of this batch of wash, and is less likely to ruin the garment (not always the case).

Worry not, here's our complete guide on care labels and how to read laundery symbol.

 

DRY CLEANING

Dry Cleaning Laundry Symbols SwapUp online consignment | thrift store | op shop
The garment must be professionally dry cleaned. The letter inside the circle indicates whether the chemical to use is Perchloroethylene (P) or Hydrocarbon (F), or any (A) solvent. Hydrocarbon solvent (P) is more environmentally friendly.

Mild Dry Cleaning Laundry Symbols SwapUp online consignment | thrift store | op shop
Same as above, but the increasing number of bars under the circle indicates the milder process that should be performed by the dry cleaner

IRONING

Ironing Laundry Symbols SwapUp online consignment | thrift store | op shop
If there are no dots, iron at any temperature. A cross sign over the iron symbol means that you should not iron the item. The dots mean the following:
1 dot: cool iron for delicate items e.g. silk and wool (max 110°C)
2 dots: warm iron for synthetics (max 150°C)
3 dots: hot iron for linen and cotton (max 200°C)

TUMBLE DRYING

Tumble Drying Laundry Symbols SwapUp online consignment | thrift store | op shop
A box with a circle inside and no dots, means that you can tumble dry your items at any temperature. If there are any dots inside the circle, please refer to the following:
1 dot: tumble dry at low heat
2 dots: tumble dry at medium temperature
3 dots: tumble dry possible at high temperature

OTHER DRYING

Drying Laundry Symbols SwapUp online consignment | thrift store | op shop
Dry flat if there is a horizontal line inside the square. Drip dry if there are vertical lines inside the square.

HAND WASHING

Hand Washing Laundry Symbols SwapUp online consignment | thrift store | op shop
A tub with a hand symbol recommends that your item be hand-washed only, or put in a delicate setting machine-washed cycle. This gentle wash is to prevent shrinkage or snagging of the garment. The maximum temperature of the water is 40°C. Typical items in this category include cashmere and silk.

A twisted symbol indicates that your item can be wrung, whereas a cross over the twisted symbol means that you should not wring the item.

MACHINE WASHING

Machine Washing Laundry Symbols SwapUp online consignment | thrift store | op shop
The washtub symbol with no bar sign under the tub indicates that your item is suitable for machine washing, at maximum action with a normal spin. The number of dots inside the washtub means the maximum temperature that can be applied i.e. one dot is 30°C and two dots is 40°C.

Machine Washing Temperature Laundry Symbols SwapUp online consignment | thrift store | op shop
The washtub symbols with numbers inside refer to the same as above, indicating the maximum water temperature as displayed.

Delicate Machine Washing Laundry Symbols SwapUp online consignment | thrift store | op shop
The number of bars displayed under the tub icon indicate gentle (single bar) and delicate machine washing (double bars). For single bar, the machine should apply a mild spin and, for double bar, a very delicate machine action and spin.

BLEACHING

Bleaching Laundry Symbols SwapUp online consignment | thrift store | op shop
A triangle icon indicates that any bleaching agent can be applied if needed. A cross over the triangle caution you to strictly do not bleach the garment. Both two diagonal lines inside a triangle and a cross over letters CL indicate that bleach can be performed using non-chlorine bleach only.

GENERAL RULES - DOs and DON'Ts

There is not a universal rule on how to care for your clothes, as this would largely depend on the types of material of which the individual pieces are made, and so you should always refer to the care labels attached.

That being said, supplementing that here are a few things to consider if you are thinking about how to care for your clothes more sustainably:

  • Wash like-colours together
  • Wash gently and inside-out where possible
  • Wash items with metal parts (e.g. zippers that stick out) in a mesh laundry bag to avoid snagging
  • If you must iron the clothes, do it with water spray. As fabric materials have different heat tolerance levels dry overheating may damage the clothes, and
  • Fold clothes along the seams to maintain the shape of the item
  • It is recommended to wash items in low temperature or cold water, where appropriate, to save time and up to 80% of your energy costs for washing
  • Hang your clothes out to dry if possible to save energy
  • Use natural eco-friendly detergents, bleaches and softeners without toxins from sodium lauryl sulphate and brightening agents, which are also skin irritants
  • Wash as little as hygienically possible so as to minimise the pollutants from cleaning agent and microfibre particles that wash out to our waterways, and ultimately rivers and oceans
  • Use low-water settings on your machine, and make a front-loading washing machine the preferred option when you purchase your next washing machines, as they use considerably less energy and water in cleaning your clothes.