We all know to look at the labels in our clothes before we wash them, but some of those symbols can be a bit ambiguous at times.
With a bunch of different shapes with dots, crosses and lines… it can be hard to decipher what those little pictograms are telling you to do.
So here’s a post all about those tricky symbols and what each of them means.
UK Washing Symbols
There are quite a number of different washing symbols that can appear on the labels of our clothes, from recommended temperatures to hand washing only.
So, let’s take a closer look at these little graphics and discover what they mean.
This symbol is pretty self-explanatory as it shows a hand in some water. Items which require handwashing should be cleaned very gently by hand at 40°C or less.
Some washing machines do have a handwash function for delicate items, so you could opt to use this setting for cashmere and silk garments for example.
The handwash setting will tumble clothes much more gently – preventing shrinkage or snagging of the delicate fabrics.
Washing temperature symbols
Washing temperatures range from cold to hot and are suited to different fabric types.
The label on your clothing item will tell you which temperature you should not exceed when washing it, this avoids shrinking or other damage to the material occurring.
Labels which show the machine wash water symbol with numbers inside are much simpler and make it very easy to decipher:
- Washtub with 30°C or a single dot – Do not exceed 30°C or 80°F
- Washtub with 40°C or two dots – Do not exceed 40°C or 105°F
- Washtub with 50°C or three dots – Do not exceed 50°C or 120°F
- Washtub with 60°C or four dots – Do not exceed 60°C or 140°F
- Washtub with 70°C or five dots – Do not exceed 70°C or 160°F
- Washtub with 95°C or six dots – Do not exceed 95°C or 200°F
Synthetics and cottons symbols
For many items of clothing, there will be a simple machine washing symbol and a temperature, but there are a few more symbols to look out for:
- Circle – Dry clean only
- Circle with cross through – Do not dry clean
- Washtub – Machine washable and can be spun and rinsed as normal
- Washtub with cross through – Do not wash
- Washtub with one line under – Machine washable but at a reduced spin speed
- Washtub with two lines under – Machine washable with a mild wash action (for delicate clothing items)
Dry cleaning symbols
If a garment needs to be dry cleaned, this is usually done by professionals and they will require some extra dry cleaning symbols to ensure the item is cleaned correctly.
Additional to the circle outline which indicates an item should be dry cleaned, there may be some letters inside of this circle:
- F – The letter F indicates hydrocarbon solvent use only
- P – The letter P indicates tetrachloroethylene (PCE) use only
- W – The letter W indicates that a garment needs professional wet cleaning
When there are horizontal lines underneath the circle, this tells the professional dry or wet cleaner how gentle the cleaning level must be:
- Single line – Gentle cleaning required
- Double line – Very gentle cleaning needed
When it comes to drying instructions, the symbols are mostly for tumble drying clothes as most items can be hung up to dry.
Some items aren’t suitable for tumble drying and others will need to be dried at a cooler temperature – not all drying is as simple as it sounds.
Tumble drying symbols
Tumble dryers are such a helpful appliance to have in your home, but not all clothes are suitable for this form of drying.
Check the symbols on the label of your clothing to make sure you’re not about to shrink your wool jumper!
- Circle outline inside a square – Can be tumble dried
- Circle outline inside a square with a cross through – Cannot be tumble dried
- Circle outline inside a square with one dot – Tumble dry at a low heat
- Circle outline inside a square with two dots – Tumble dry at a medium heat
- Circle outline inside a square with three dots – Tumble dry at a high heat
- Filled in circle inside a square – Tumble dry with no heat
General drying symbols
Not everyone owns a tumble dryer, so these general laundry drying instructions are very handy to know.
Certain garments may be made from fibres that warp when hung up and this shape will remain after it is dry and others may be prone to bleaching in direct sunlight, so check the label to make sure you won’t ruin any of your items while drying them.
- Square outline – Can be dried
- Square outline with a curved line at the top – Can be hung to dry on a washing line
- Square outline with three vertical lines inside – Can be drip-dried inside on a drying rack or clothes horse
- Square outline with one horizontal line inside – Should be dried flat to help the garment keep its shape
- Square outline with two diagonal lines inside the top left corner – Should be dried in the shade to avoid contact with direct sunlight which may bleach the item or affect the fibres
- Twisted fabric with a cross through – This item should not be wrung out as it could damage the garment
Sometimes these drying symbols appear overlapped to indicate multiple instructions in one symbol – i.e. three vertical lines inside the square AND two diagonal in the top left corner indicated drip drying in the shade.
Irons have quite a few heat settings on their dials and often you may just find yourself using the same general one for all of your ironing because it seems to work.
But, these varying temperatures are available because certain fabrics need less heat than others and they could actually get damaged if too high a heat was applied to their surface. This is where the clothing label ironing instructions come in very handy.
Let’s have a look at these in a bit more detail.
- Simple iron outline – Can be ironed at any temperature and steam can be applied
- Iron outline with a cross through – Should not be ironed at all
- Iron outline with steam lines and a cross through the steam – Can be ironed but no steam should be used
- Iron outline with one dot – Can be ironed to a maximum temperature of 110°C or 230°F
- Iron outline with two dots – Can be ironed to a maximum temperature of 150°C or 300°F
- Iron outline with three dots – Can be ironed to a maximum temperature of 200°C or 290°F
There are certain fabric types which should not be bleached, so it is important to understand the laundry bleaching symbols to make sure you don’t ruin your favourite top or your new trousers.
- Triangle outline – Can be bleached if needed
- Triangle outline with a cross through – Should not be bleached at all
- Triangle with CL inside and cross through or Triangle with two diagonal lines inside – Non-chlorinated bleach should be used if bleach is needed
Are Laundry Symbols Universal?
If you tend to do a lot of shopping when you’re on your travels, you may have clothes from all around the world, so are the laundry symbols going to mean the same thing in the UK as they do in other countries?
Sometimes they do not. These little care label symbols can differ from region to region and sometimes they feature colours to help enhance the symbols readability – i.e. red used for crosses to really emphasise the “DO NOT” instruction.
An international standard has been agreed by the EU (for Europe) and the ISO, but copyrighting laws has made this difficult to universalise the symbols and their usage.
But, they are often very similar and resemble UK standard laundry symbols closely, so you don’t need to worry too much if you’re planning a shopping trip somewhere far-flung.
Don’t forget the standard UK laundry symbols
With many people creating dedicated laundry rooms in their homes, information-inspired decor is on the rise.
Why not get a poster or wall hanging with all of the laundry symbols on so you can just reference your wall art as you do the washing!?
This Laundry Guide poster has many of the main UK washing symbols on and would look fab in a simple frame that matches your interior design style.
Check out Etsy for an even bigger variety of laundry-themed wall decor and you’ll never shrink a jumper or damage your delicates again!
Thirty-something lady with a penchant for flowers and anything involving crafts. I like to clean using environmentally-friendly methods where possible and love sharing my findings, tips and tricks here on In The Wash!