What Do Laundry Symbols Mean?

Clothing label

Have you ever wondered about those illustrations on your clothing tags? They’re care instructions, and they are there to help you take good care of your clothes. Read on to find out what the most common laundry symbols mean. (See the chart at the end of the article for a complete list.)

Machine wash symbolWASH
If you see a symbol that looks like a bucket with water in it, it’s okay to wash that item in the washing machine. If there is one dot in the middle of the bucket, use cold water. Two dots in the middle of the bucket mean warm water is the way to go. Three dots mean hot water is best. A bucket of water with an X through it means you shouldn’t wash that item in the washer — handwashing or dry cleaning (indicated by an open circle) is called for. Wool, linen and washable silk are usually safe for handwashing, but check the label to be certain.

An open triangle means the item is safe to bleach. A triangle with two lines in it means use non-chlorine bleach. Non-chlorine bleach is generally safe for colors. Remember that some machines have a bleach dispenser, and some do not.

A square represents the best way to dry your clothing. One dot inside the square means tumble dry on low heat, two dots mean medium heat, and three dots mean high heat. If you see a square around a fully colored-in circle, it’s okay to tumble dry — but don’t use heat. If you see a square around an open circle with an X through both: skip the dryer altogether, and line dry (this symbol looks like an envelope) or lay the item flat to dry (a square with what looks like a minus sign through it).

When ironing clothing, you need to use the right heat for a given fabric. Some fabrics can be damaged by very high heat; other fabrics won’t let go of wrinkles without it. As with washing and drying symbols, the number of dots inside an iron icon tells you the amount of heat to use on an item of clothing. One dot: low heat. Two dots: medium heat. Three dots: high heat.

There are quite a few other laundry symbols you may see from time to time. This handy chart will help you decipher them — and help you keep your clothes looking their best.

Icon set of laundry symbols