Understanding the Meaning Behind Laundry Symbols

What do laundry symbols mean

  Reading time 5 minutes

Laundry symbols, often found on clothing care labels, are enigmatic pictograms that offer crucial instructions on how to properly care for your garments. These symbols guide you through the dos and don’ts of washing, drying, ironing, and bleaching your clothes. Knowing what these symbols mean can significantly extend the life of your clothing and keep them looking new for longer.

Washing Symbols

Washing symbols are usually depicted as a bucket filled with water. These icons provide specific guidelines on how to safely wash your clothing item. Here are some common washing symbols and what they mean:

  • Machine Wash: A bucket filled with water indicates machine washing is appropriate. Numbers inside the bucket refer to the ideal temperature in Celsius.
  • Hand Wash: A hand symbol inside the bucket suggests hand washing. Doing otherwise may ruin the fabric.
  • Do Not Wash: A bucket with a cross over it signifies that the garment should not be washed and might require dry cleaning.

Drying Symbols

Drying symbols guide you on how to properly dry your clothes. Misinterpreting these icons can lead to shrinking, misshaping, or damaging your garments. Look out for these common drying symbols:

  • Tumble Dry: A square with a circle inside it indicates the clothes can be tumble-dried. Dots inside the circle signify the heat setting (one dot for low heat, two for medium, and three for high).
  • Do Not Tumble Dry: A square with a circle inside it crossed out means tumble-drying is prohibited.
  • Line Dry: A square with a curved line at the top signifies that the garment should be line dried, usually best for delicate items.

Ironing Symbols

Ironing symbols are crucial for understanding how much heat can be applied to a garment without causing damage. The iron symbol, often depicted as an actual iron, will guide you:

  • Iron at Low Heat: An iron symbol with one dot allows for low heat.
  • Iron at Medium Heat: Two dots inside the iron symbol indicate medium heat is safe.
  • Iron at High Heat: Three dots mean high heat can be used.
  • Do Not Iron: An iron with a cross over it means that ironing could damage the fabric.
Decoding Laundry Care Icons: What They Indicate

Bleaching Symbols

Bleaching symbols are represented by a triangle. They specify whether or not bleaching agents can be used and under what conditions. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Bleaching Allowed: A plain triangle indicates that any bleaching agent can be used.
  • Non-Chlorine Bleach: A triangle with two diagonal lines means only non-chlorine bleach can be used.
  • Do Not Bleach: A triangle crossed out signifies that bleaching is not recommended.

Dry Cleaning Symbols

Dry cleaning symbols are circular and generally specify whether professional dry cleaning is necessary. They also provide additional guidance on the types of solvents to be used:

  • Dry Clean: A plain circle indicates that the garment should be professionally dry cleaned.
  • Specific Solvent Requirements: Letters within the circle (like ‘P’ or ‘F’) denote the type of solvent that can be used.
  • Do Not Dry Clean: A circle with a cross through it means the item should not be dry cleaned.


Understanding laundry symbols can save you time, money, and the disappointment of ruined garments. While these symbols might seem trivial, they offer specific instructions that ensure your clothes are treated with the utmost care. Make sure to always read these labels and follow the care instructions to maintain the longevity and appearance of your clothing.


What does a circle inside a square mean?

This symbol indicates that tumble drying is allowed. The number of dots inside the circle will suggest the heat setting.

Can I ignore the “Do Not Wash” symbol on my clothes?

No, you should not ignore this symbol. It often means the garment is delicate and requires special care, such as dry cleaning.

What does a triangle with diagonal lines mean?

This symbol indicates that only non-chlorine bleach can be used when necessary.

What does one dot on an iron symbol mean?

One dot on an iron symbol indicates that the garment should be ironed at low heat.

How do I know if I can line-dry my clothes?

Look for a square symbol with a curved line at the top. This indicates that the garment should be line dried.