We all hope to keep our favourite items of clothing in immaculate condition and looking their best. The most effective way to achieve long-lasting garments to spend time understanding their requirements and care guidelines. All items, regardless of their type, include an inner care label which lists precise instructions when washing, drying, ironing, dry cleaning and bleaching.

While we are all familiar with the purpose of the care label, many would find it somewhat tricky to identify the difference in symbols and pinpoint their exact meaning. With this in mind, we have devised a comprehensive guide to answer the common question of, “what do cleaning symbols mean?”

What Do Cleaning Symbols Mean: A Full Guide

When purchasing a new item of clothing, it is vitally important to ensure that you take a quick look at the care label for attempting to wash it for the first time. Not all items can be refreshed as quickly as popping in the washing machine followed by the tumble dryer. More delicate materials such as silk and cashmere require meticulous care and must be taken to reputable dry cleaners – this will be clearly stated on the label.

To avoid incorrect care of your garments, we suggest taking a browse through our quick and easy guide to the meaning behind the various cleaning symbols.

Washing Labels

Washing symbols 1-4

1. Machine Washable

Machine washable is the most common washing label and is a simple bucket filled with water. In this case, it means that the item can be placed in a normal machine wash at any temperative using any detergent. If you are a little unsure on the best detergents to suit your requirements, we suggest taking a look at Expert Reviews.

2. Wash Cold

Temperature instructions differ based on the manufacturer and will be determined either by dots or numbers. Garments that require a cold wash will again, feature a bucket filled with water but inside will be either one dot or 30˚, indicating the ideal water temperature of this particular item.

3. Wash Warm

Any labels that feature a bucket filled with water and includes two dots or 40˚ require a warm wash at 40˚C.

4. Wash Hot

The last temperature symbol is for those that require a hot water wash. There are, again, two ways in which you can determine ‘wash hot’ items; you will see either four dots or 60˚.

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5. Synthetics Cycle

Fabrics that have been made using synthetic materials are commonly derived from plastic, which means that washing items on a high temperature can risk melting the fibres. A lower temperature will be required to protect garments from irreparable damage. You can spot a synthetic item through a symbol that features a water-filled bucket with one line drawn underneath. More information on how to wash synthetics can be found on the Persil website.

6. Gentle Wash Cycle

The gentle wash cycle symbol is incredibly similar to synthetic wash, but instead, there will be two lines underneath the bucket. A gentle wash cycle is for delicate items such as those made using wool. They require a short, cold wash with slow tumbling and spinning.

7. Hand Wash

The handwash symbol is pretty self-explanatory and features again, the bucket filled with water, but this time, with a hand reaching into the water. While some modern washing machines do have a hand wash programme, we recommend sticking to the traditional methods using a little elbow grease. If you’re yet to attempt to hand wash an item, we suggest taking a look at Better Homes and Gardens for a super easy to follow guide!

8. Do Not Wash

Some items can only be dry cleaned and are not suitable for the washing machine or hand washing. This symbol is easy to decipher and features a cross through the bucket of water.

10. Do Not Wring

Any clothing labels that include what looks like twisted fabric with a large cross through means that you should not wring the item. Wringing is commonly done when hand washing and means that the material is twisted and compressed. If the label states that you cannot do this, instead, opt for allowing the item to drip-dry.

Bleaching Symbols

Bleaching symbols

1. Do Not Bleach

Bleaching symbols are always triangle-shaped, making them easy to spot. Items that cannot be bleached simply feature a triangle with a cross through the middle.

2. Use Non-Chlorine Bleach

A triangle with diagonal lines inside in the right-hand corner means that the garment can only be bleached using non-chlorine products. Non-chlorine bleach is considerably less harsh and does not include chlorine as an oxidising agent. Alternatively, a more gentle oxidiser is used, such as hydrogen peroxide. You can pick up non-chlorine bleach from Ecover.

3. Bleaching Allowed

An empty triangle means that the item is safe to be bleached with any product type.

Drying Guidelines

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1. Tumble Dry Allowed

The most common type of tumble dry symbol is a square with a circle inside to replicate the appearance of a tumble dryer. However, in some cases, it may just be a circle. If you notice either of these and there is nothing extra inside the circle, the item is safe to be tumble dried on any setting.

2. Tumble Dry On A Low Heat

Any care labels that feature the above shapes, but there is one dot inside the circle indicate that the garment must be tumble dried on low heat. In doing this, you will minimise the risk of shrinking the clothing or misshaping its seams.

3. Tumble Dry On A High Heat

Again, this symbol is the same as when drying on low heat, but instead, the circle will feature two dots. Two dots mean that you can wash the item at medium or high heat without shrinking or misshaping.

4. Permanent Press/Synthetics

The permanent press/synthetics symbol features a circle, surrounded by a square with one line underneath. It means that the wash will be mild and on a lower temperature. The permanent press/synthetic cycle is ideal for perfecting a balance for items that do not need the agitation of a normal cycle but would crease too much on a delicate cycle.

5. Delicate/Gentle

If you notice the same symbol as above, but there are two lines underneath the square, then the item must be washed on a delicate/gentle cycle. During a delicate or gentle cycle, there will be a slower degree of agitation and slow spin cycle.

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6. Do Not Tumble Dry

A symbol featuring the same circle inside a square, but with a large cross over the top indicates that the garment cannot be tumble dried. Usually, items that cannot be tumble dried are susceptible to fading when exposed to regular drying using heat. Instead, opt for hanging the item out to dry.

7. Drip Dry

Any care labels that include a square with three vertical lines inside mean that the item must be drip dried. The garment can be dried by hanging them up and allowing the water to soak up natural – this method will not require ironing afterwards.

8. Dry Flat

A square with one horizontal line in the middle indicates that the garment must be dried flat. Once washed, the item must be laid flat on either a smooth surface or drying rack to avoid the weight of the material from misshaping the clothing. Kitted jumpers are often dried using this method.

9. Hang To Dry

The hang to dry symbol looks similar to an envelope and features a square with a drooped line inside along the top. This relates to items that must be dried in shape using a hanger, most commonly those made from cotton. Clothing that is hung to dry can be placed on the washing line.

Ironing Symbols

Ironing symbols

1. Iron Cool

Ironing symbols are super easy to spot as unlike the other care instructions; they are shaped exactly like an iron. If you notice an iron symbol with one dot inside, it means that the garment must be ironed cool. Cool temperatures must not be any more than 110˚C as exceeding this limit risk burning delicate clothing.

2. Iron Medium

Any ironing symbols that feature two dots relate to items that must be ironed on maximum heat of 150˚C.

3. Iron Hot

The last temperature instruction is iron hot. This symbol includes an iron with three dots placed inside and means that you can use any heat up to 200˚C. Items in this category are rarely damaged by heat.

4. Do Not Iron

Just as simple as the other ironing symbols, any items of clothing that cannot be ironed will feature an iron icon with a large cross through the middle.

5. Steaming Not Allowed

Some items of clothing cannot be steamed because they are prone to melting. These will feature a more complex symbol on their care label. It will include an iron icon with two lines shooting from the bottom; the lines will have a cross through them.

Dry Cleaning Instructions

Dry cleaning symbols

1. Dry Clean Only

Dry cleaning symbols always feature a circle. Care labels that include an empty circle indicate that the item can be dry cleaned without the need for any specialist treatments to preserve the condition of the garment.

2. Any Solvent

If you notice the circle above, but it has an ‘A’ inside, then it means that when taking the item to the dry cleaners, any solvent can be used when cleaning. The solvent is used to soak the clothing to remove stains thoroughly.

3. Any Solvent Except Trichloroethylene

A circle with a ‘P’ inside means that your chosen dry cleaner must not use trichloroethylene during any steps of the cleaning process. Trichloroethylene is a colourless liquid chemical which can be damaging to delicate items of clothing. They will instead use safer solvent alternatives.

4. Petroleum Solvent Only

Any care labels that feature a circle with an ‘F’ inside indicate that the garment can only be dry cleaner using a petroleum solvent. Petroleum solvent is used instead of water to clean the item.

5. Do Not Dry Clean

A circle with a large cross through the middle means that the clothing cannot be dry cleaned; this may be because the items are too delicate to withstand the chemicals that dry cleaners use.

Take Care When Cleaning Items

While the huge amount of cleaning symbols may seem somewhat overwhelming, they have been created to be as straightforward as possible to make them super easy to remember. Always remember to familiarise yourself with care instructions of new items of clothing, especially if they have cost you a considerable chunk of cash to purchase or are for a special occasion.

If you’re in need of dry cleaning or any alternative specialist clothing assistance such as alterations or laundry services, then please feel free to contact One Stop Dry Cleaners!