Wash care label symbols (meaning explained!)

Why are machine wash guideline tags important? Why do we ignore it most of the times?

Machine wash label on a woolen cloth

Machine wash label on a woolen cloth

Most of us ignore wash care labels because we don’t understand what these symbols mean.

I was looking at my monthly budget when I realized I need to cut down on clothing expenses. I decided to buy cheaper clothes and take extra care so that they last longer. This simple strategy would save me quite a lot of money which I can then spend somewhere else.

Cheaper clothes + wearing them for months, is that even possible?

Apparently yes, that is why I am writing this post. Special care of clothes so that they don’t get torn or faded quickly.

My job involves sitting on a chair in an airconditioned office, listening to call recordings and typing my observations… Luckily I do not have to travel by Mumbai’s overcrowded trains, and hardly any sun exposure throughout the day. No chance of tearing/ pulling clothes or fading of colors this way.

In short, the only thing that might harm my clothes was the washing bit. That is when I decided to wash, dry and iron clothes the way they are supposed to be treated.

Wash care label or laundry symbols (whatever you would like to call them) give instructions on how to BEHAVE, nicely with that cloth so that it stays with you… happily, ever after…for centuries to come.

Before you get bored, let me start with the today’s topic – Wash Care Symbols.

What are Wash Care Symbols/ Wash care label or laundry symbols?

Today’s topic.

Kidding, have a look at this –

Clear instructions on how to take care of Levi's jeans

Clear instructions on how to take care of Levi’s jeans

The first symbol gives washing recommendation, the second symbol tells how to dry the jeans, and the third one advises how to iron the jeans. The fourth symbol is for the sake of humanity; I like that!

Three core expects of laundry are covered precisely – how to wash? How to dry? How to iron? And as a bonus – how to dispose?

Look at another laundry care label – this time from a shirt –

Wash care symbols on a shirt

Wash care tag on a shirt

Not as easy as the tag on Levi’s jeans right?

Basically, tags can show the following instructions –

  1. Washing (with a suitable temperature of water either in Celsius or Fahrenheit)
  2. Drying
  3. Bleaching
  4. Ironing
  5. Dry cleaning

A wash care label may not have laundry symbols of all the categories. Example – most of my jeans only show washing, drying and ironing symbols. There are no symbols for bleaching or dry cleaning. Of course, who would bleach jeans?

Since we are learning to read laundry symbols – we will learn about each one of them. I am sure you will encounter each of these symbols few times in your life.

Washing Symbols

The Washing Symbol

The Washing Symbol

The washing care symbol is a bucket with water.

The number inside the bucket is recommended temperature either in Celsius or Fahrenheit (depending on the country where it is available). Dots also represent the temperature. One dot is 30*c; each additional dot represents the temperature of +10 degrees Celsius. So a bucket with two dots will be 40 degrees (30 degrees for the first dot + 10 degrees for the second dot). If there is neither a dot or a number inside a bucket – it means you can use regular water to wash the clothes.

Hand symbol inside a bucket recommends that you wash that cloth with hand only, washing in a machine may damage the fabric.

As a matter of fact, a stubborn stain is best removed if soaked in a tub with detergent and then hand washed. You can also apply liquid detergent to the spots of stains and presoak for few hours for better results.

Common Wash Care Labels

Common Wash Care Labels – Washing

Next, you may also see a line or two lines below the bucket. One line under the bucket is for permanent press also called as Perm Press. This tag is mostly found on clothes with blended fibers designed to resist wrinkles. Example – cotton + polyester fabric. Most of the washing machines have a wash program for permanent press, check buttons on your machine which may read Perm Press or Perma Press or something similar. Washing permanent press clothes on permanent press setting can prevent wrinkling and save your time as you do not have to iron such garments.

Two lines under the bucket mean that the fabric is delicate. Again, most of the washing machines have a wash program for delicate clothes. To prevent damaging delicate cloth, ensure that you select delicate wash / gentle wash / gentle cycle on your machine.

Drying Symbols

The Drying Symbol

The Drying Symbol

The drying symbol is a square with either a circle or line(s).

The basic rule is – circle means tumble dry (in a washing machine) is recommended and lines indicate not to spin dry clothes in a washing machine.

If you use one of the advanced (but expensive) washing machines, you may have an option to select drying temperature. Spinning clothes at higher heat can speed up the drying process and save your time. The dots in the circle represent temperature setting – one dot is low temperature, two is medium, and three dots mean high temperature.

Do not worry if you use a washing machine without temperature settings. Even my machine does not support this, but you can still tumble dry the clothes usually without heat.

Common Wash Care - Drying Labels

Common Wash Care Labels- Drying

Seeing a line dry option is a pain. It means I should not dry clothes in a washing machine.

Use traditional rope/ clothesline to dry clothes. I know it takes at least a day, sad. To add to the pain, for colored clothes – the tag may recommend drying in the shade – away from direct sunlight.


The Bleaching Symbol

The Bleaching Symbol

The bleaching care symbol is a triangle.

I do not prefer bleaching I would suggest you the same.

For plain white clothes, bleaching is ok. For colored garments, do not use regular bleach.

Common Wash Care Labels - Bleaching

Common Wash Care Labels – Bleaching

The symbol would suggest whether you can use commonly available chlorine bleach or one of the more expensive non-chlorine bleaches like Vanish Oxy Action for India Or Clorox 2 for the US. Most of the non-chlorine bleaches are safe on colored clothes.


The Ironing Symbol

The Ironing Symbol (the faceless guy went on a break)

The ironing symbol – surprisingly is an iron.

I hate ironing. I usually give washed clothes to the local istri wala (Iron Man).

The Iron Man (Istri Wala)

The Iron Man (Istri Wala)

Beware!! The Iron Man does not understand the below symbols, his iron uses burning coal for the heat and does not come with a temperature control knob. Therefore, do not give him delicate or expensive clothes to iron.

Common Wash Care Labels - Ironing

Common Wash Care Labels – Ironing

The dots inside the iron symbol represent temperature. And the spray like three lines below the iron represents steam.

Pretty much self-explanatory.

Dry cleaning

The Dry Cleaning Symbol

The Dry Cleaning Symbol (the guy is back)

The dry clean care symbol is a circle.

Do not dry clean at home. Dry cleaning does not mean – dusting off dust or scratching off gravy from your clothes. Yeah, literal meaning may say the same, but the professionals with their professional equipment do the actual dry cleaning. It requires particular chemicals too.

Common Wash Care Labels - Dry Clean

Common Wash Care Labels – Dry Clean

If the piece of cloth has one of the above symbols and you decide to dry clean, show the dry cleaning guy the wash care symbols. If he is professional and knowledgeable and loves clothes, he will follow the specific dry cleaning instruction or else, he may give a sh** about it. Always choose professional dry cleaners.

So, what is the conclusion? – Now that you know what clothing care symbols mean, would you follow instructions on the wash care labels from now on?

I would suggest you start following the instructions on wash care labels for loads of reasons – clothes last longer, look better & feel better even after multiple washes. All these benefits with just one step – reading the labels on clothes!

Also, read – Which is the best washing machine detergent in India?

Comment your answer below in the comments box.

Heres a handy resource for you:

Printable PDF Guide to wash care symbols and instructions 

Courtesy – textileaffairs.org