After you take your brand new shirt out of the shopping bag and prepare to wash it for the first time, because yes, you should wash your clothes before your first wear, you may notice a bunch of odd symbols on the tag. While you may have disregarded these laundry symbols in the past, they are there for a reason.

If you take the time to understand these laundry symbols, you can prioritize garment care. Even though laundry symbols may seem confusing, they are actually part of the universal laundry care language that allows people around the world to properly care for their overalls, saris, kilts, stockings, and more.

What is the Care Labeling Rule?

In 1971, the Federal Trade Commission issued the Care Labeling Rule to ensure that consumers had instructions to care for their clothing and other fabric items properly. As of 1997, textile manufacturers have been using laundry symbols in place of lengthy written instructions. Thus, the laundry care chart was born.

Because laundry machines are used all around the world, the symbols needed to be understood universally. Instead of written instructions, the textile industry has chosen to use five basic symbols as their language to describe how all clothing should be washed. In addition, laundry symbols are always displayed in the same order on each label, and are as follows:

  1. Washtub = Washing
  2. Triangle = Bleaching
  3. Square = Drying
  4. Iron = Ironing
  5. Circle = Dry Cleaning

How Do You Read Laundry Tag Symbols?

Because laundry symbols are their own universal language, reading them is a relatively simple process. Once you learn what garment care symbols mean, you will be a pro at knowing exactly how to wash your laundry.

How to Read Washing Symbols

Washing symbols tell you how to set the temperature correctly for clothing items as well as identify the different types of washing cycles that are safe for your clothing items. Typically the temperature is indicated by the number of dots on the washing symbol, and the more dots that are listed, the hotter the temperature. In addition, the cycles are represented by a tub with one or two lines underneath it:

  • Washtub with no lines: Normal wash
  • Washtub with one line underneath: Permanent press cycle
  • Washtub with two lines underneath: Gentle cycle
  • Washtub with hand: Hand wash
  • Washtub with an X across: Do not wash.
  • Twisted garment with an X across: Do not wring out the garment.

Wash symbols

How to Read Bleach Symbols

The bleaching symbols are relatively easy to read and are always represented by triangles. To know whether it is safe to bleach your clothes, know these guidelines:

  • Empty triangle: You can bleach as you please.
  • Striped triangle: Use only non-chlorine bleach.
  • Filled triangle with an X: Do not use bleach.

Bleach symbols

How to Read Drying Symbols

Drying is one of the tricker processes when it comes to cleaning your clothes. Yet, understanding the laundry symbols can help you ensure that your clothing will not shrink or be ruined by your dryer. Drying symbols are represented by squares, but you also want to pay attention to the circles that are in the squares:

  • Square with a circle in the center: Normal dry cycle
  • Square with a circle in the center AND and extra line underneath: Permanent press
  • Square with a circle in the center AND TWO extra lines underneath: Delicate cycle
  • Square with an X going through it: Do not put them in the dryer.
  • Square with a circle in the center and an X going through it: Do not tumble dry.

Similar to washing symbols, drying symbols also have dots that indicate the type of heat. You will see:

  • Blacked-out circle: no heat/air
  • 1 dot: Low heat
  • 2 dots: Medium heat
  • 3 dots: High heat
  • 0 dots: Any heat

Dry symbols

How to Read Ironing Symbols

The ironing symbol looks exactly like that: it is a picture of an iron. Like the washing symbols and drying symbols, you may see dots that indicate the temperature.

  • Iron with one dot: Cool
  • Iron with two dots: Warm
  • Iron with three dots: Hot
  • Iron with an X over it: Do not iron.
  • Iron with lines coming out from the bottom with an X over the lines: Do not steam.

Iron symbols

How to Read Dry Cleaning Symbols

A circle means the item needs to be dry cleaned.

  • Circle with an X through it: Do not dry clean.
  • Circles with letters on them: Indicates the types of chemicals that can or shouldn’t be used on the fabric.
  • Circles with lines on the outside: Indicates any additional instructions for the dry cleaner.

Dryclean symbols

What Information is Required on the Laundry Symbol Label?

Simply, laundry symbols must have that item’s washing, drying, and cleaning instructions. Even though the manufacturer is only required to list one safe way for the item to be cleaned, that same tag also has to inform you of how certain washing procedures could harm your new shirt, dress pants, tank top, or any other item of clothing.

ZIPS Commitment to Caring for All Garments

For those garments that have dry cleaning symbols on them, check out your local ZIPS locations for fast and professional cleaning. Even though reading through laundry care tips can educate you on garment care, sometimes you need a professional to do the cleaning for you, and your local ZIPS professionals are experts in knowing how to care for these items properly.