Here's What The Laundry Symbols On Clothing Tags Mean

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Person reading clothing label
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We've all been there. You're standing next to the washing machine, glasses on, puzzling over the tag on your brand new shirt, trying to figure out what a circle inside a square might mean. With a hat tip to the experts at Whirlpool and Tide, we have put together a guide to interpreting those laundry-room hieroglyphics.

Before we dive into the details, here's a quick cheat sheet to clothing tag symbols:

  • Wash basin indicates washing
  • Triangle indicates bleach
  • Square is drying
  • Iron refers to ironing
  • Circle indicates dry cleaning
Laundry Symbols
Kailey Whitman/Southern Living

Machine Wash Symbols

The wash basin symbol references washing instructions. Of course, if the wash basin has an X through it, that means the garment should not be machine washed at all.

Water Temperature

There are two ways that water temperature is indicated on clothing tags. One is through numbers, specifically the numbers 30, 40, 50 and 60. Those refer to the maximum recommended water temperature for the garment, but in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. To translate, 30°C (85°F) indicates a cold wash; 40°C (105°F) indicates a warm wash; 50°C (120°F) means a warm/hot cycle; the 60 refers to a hot of around 140°F. These temperatures should be considered the maximum recommended for safely washing that garment.

The other indicator of water temperature is the number of dots inside the basin. The number of dots gives a fairly specific temperature guide, if you know how to interpret it.

  • Wash basin with no line under it: item can be washed
  • Wash basin with one dot: machine wash in cold water; around 30°C or 85°F
  • Wash basin with two dots: machine wash in warm water; 40°C or 105°F
  • Wash basin with five dots: machine wash in hot water; 50°C or 120°F
  • Wash basin with one line under: item should be washed on the Permanent Press cycle
  • Wash basin with two lines under it: item should be washed on the Gentle or Delicate cycle
  • Wash basin with an X symbol: item should not be washed at all
  • Wash basin symbol with hand: item should be hand washed

Bleach Symbols

If there is a triangle on the item's label, that is a reference to bleach.

  • An empty triangle: bleach can be used
  • A triangle with two parallel, diagonal lines inside: only non-chlorine bleach should be used
  • A triangle with a cross through it: do not use bleach on that item

Dry Symbols

While squinting at the laundry tag, look for a square with a circle in it, which tells you it's okay to dry the item in the dryer. Like with the washing instructions, the number of dots inside the square indicate drying temperature.

If the tag on your item has a square, but no circle, that means it should not be tucked in the dryer, but instead left to air-dry. Luckily, there are symbols to help air dry the time in the correct manner.

  • One curved line in square: line dry
  • Three vertical lines in square: hang to dry
  • Two diagonal lines in square with curved line: dry in the shade, not direct sun
  • One horizontal line in square: lay flat to dry
  • Circle in square: tumble dry with any heat
  • Filled circle in square: tumble dry with no heat
  • Circle in square with two dots: tumble dry on medium heat
  • Circle in square with three dots: tumble dry on high heat
  • Circle in square with X through it: do not tumble dry
  • Circle in square with one dot: tumble dry on low heat

Iron Symbols

If the tag has the symbol of an iron on it, that means the garment can be ironed. If the iron has an X through it, do not iron. Like with the washing and drying instructions, look for dots to indicate the temperature for the iron:

  • Iron symbol: iron on any temp
  • One dot: cool iron; around 110°C or 230°F
  • Two dots: medium iron; around 150°C or 300°F
  • Three dots: hot iron; around 200°C or 390°F
  • Iron with an X under it: steam function should be turned off
  • Iron Symbol with an X through it: do not iron

Dry Cleaning Symbols

If your clothing tag has a circle (sometimes shown as a circle inside a square), that means that an item should be only be cleaned by the professionals. If the tag has a circle with an X through it, that means it should not be dry cleaned.

  • Circle: dry clean only
  • Circle with line on bottom right corner: dry clean on low heat
  • Circle with line on top right corner: dry clean with no steam
  • Circle with an X through it: do not dry clean
  • Circle with line on bottom left: dry clean short cycle
  • Circle with line on top left: dry clean with reduced moisture
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