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What Do Laundry Symbols Mean? Ultimate Guide

Those tiny washing symbols can save your wardrobe. 

When you buy new clothes, we recommend looking at the clothing label. There, you’ll find little symbols which will tell you exactly how to clean the garment.

But what do laundry symbols mean? Don’t worry! We’re here to tell you about what all the washing symbols mean so you can protect your clothes well and wash them properly.

Key Takeaways

  • Laundry symbols on clothing labels guide proper care in five categories: washing, drying, bleaching, ironing, and dry cleaning.
  • Washing symbols indicate the method (hand or machine) and temperature for washing clothes.
  • Drying symbols provide instructions for tumble drying and air drying, such as heat settings and drying positions.
  • Bleaching, ironing, and dry cleaning symbols help ensure proper treatment to protect clothes and extend their lifespan.

What Do Laundry Symbols Mean?

Laundry symbols first appeared on clothes in Europe around the 1950’s (1). The USA hopped on the helpful trend in the 1970’s and since then, care labels on clothing have been the norm.

We’ll be using the International Organization for Standardization laundry symbols, which is the most common. Each symbol acts as guidance on how to properly care for your garment.

Laundry symbols are typically broken down into five categories: washing, bleaching, ironing, drying and dry cleaning. We’ll go through all five categories and explain what different washing symbols mean.

Washing Symbols

Washing symbols for laundry

First up — washing your clothes. These symbols will help you know what method of washing to use (hand or machine) and at which temperature.

Do Not Wash

This symbol means do not wash the clothes at home. When they get dirty, take them to a dry cleaners.

Hand Wash Only

The image with the hand means to handwash. Do not exceed 40°C or about 100°F. In fact, we recommend lukewarm water.

Wash Temperatures

The tubs with the numbers represent the recommended wash temperature for that garment. For example, 30°, 40°, 60° and 95°C. We recommend organizing your laundry loads based on the recommended temperatures.

If there are no lines underneath the tub, you may wash the garment in any cycle.

Something To Note

You may also find dots instead of temperature numbers. One dot means cool; two dots mean warm; three dots mean hot.

Low Spin Cycle

If there is one line underneath the tub as well as a number, wash at the specified temperature. However, use a low spin cycle, filling the drum only ⅔ full.

Hand Wash Cycle (Wool Cycle)

If there are two lines underneath the tub, as well as a number, wash at the specified temperature. However, use a hand-wash or wool cycle. Keep the drum ⅓ full and use low spin.

Bleaching Symbols

Bleaching symbols explained for laundry

Bleaching is a useful process for stain removal and whitening clothes. But not every garment can handle it. Check out what the different bleaching symbols mean.

Do Not Bleach

A triangle with a cross through it means don’t use any kind of bleach.

Bleach Allowed

An empty triangle means it’s okay to bleach this garment with any type of bleach.

Non-Chlorine Bleach Only

The triangle with diagonal lines means that you must only use non-chlorine bleach, such as oxygen bleach, for this garment.

Drying Symbols

There are two categories of drying symbols: tumble drying and air drying.

Tumble Drying

Drying symbols for tumble drying


The blank circle in a box means you can dry the item as you like, at your preferred temperature.

No Heat

The black circle in a box means to dry without heat. Many tumble dryers have an air-dry cycle which would be great here.

Low Heat

One dot means to use low heat which is typically for delicate and synthetic items.

Medium Heat

Two dots mean to use a medium heat cycle.

High Heat

Three dots mean you can use high heat. This is usually for strong fabrics like cotton and linen.

Do Not Tumble Dry

The symbol with the cross through it means do not tumble dry this item. If that’s the case, you’ll likely see air drying advice.

Air Drying

Drying symbols for air drying


The empty box means you can air dry this item how you like, whether that’s flat, on the line or drip drying.

Do Not Dry

If you find this X symbol, take it to the dry cleaners and let them do the work.

Do Not Wring

The cross through the twisted garment means don’t twist wring the item. Instead, put it through a hand wringer or roll it up in a towel to squeeze out excess moisture.

Dry Flat

A horizontal line means to dry the garment flat. This reduces stretching.

Dry in the Shade

Diagonal lines in the corner means to dry the garment in the shade, away from direct light.

Hang to Dry

The curved line means to hang it up on a clothesline or clothes rack to dry.

Drip Dry

More than one line means to let it drip dry. If these lines are vertical, hang them to dry. If they’re horizontal, lay them flat to dry. Don’t squeeze out any excess water before hanging it to dry.

Ironing Symbols

Ironing symbols explained for laundry

Iron at Any Temperature

A plain ironing symbol means you can iron the garment at any temperature, with or without steam.

Do not Iron

A cross through a plain ironing symbol means don’t iron it.


The iron with steam coming out means the garment can be steam ironed.

Do Not Steam

The steam iron with a cross through means iron without steam.

Low Heat

One dot means to use low heat.

Medium Heat

Two dots mean use medium heat.

High Heat

Three dots means you may use high heat to iron the garment.

Dry Cleaning Symbols

Dry cleaning symbols explained for laundry

Don’t Take It to the Dry Cleaners

If your garment has a circle with a cross through it, do not take it to the dry cleaners. It is not suitable for their chemical process. Wash it at home instead.

Suitable for the Dry Cleaners

If you have a plain circle, it means that it’s suitable for the dry cleaning. The other symbols will help the dry cleaners know what process to use. We’ll break it down for you anyway.

Different Letters

The P, A and F in a circle instructs the dry cleaners on which solvent to use.

Lines Underneath

One line underneath a circle means gentle cleaning; two lines mean very gentle.

Lines on the Side

You may also find symbols with a line on either side of the circle. A line on the right means to use a short cycle. A line on the right means to use low heat.

Top Tip

If you use an at-home dry cleaning kit, don’t worry about these symbols. These kits do not use the same harsh chemicals. Simply follow the package instructions on these kits.

How to Use Laundry Symbols

Always check the care label when you get a new garment. It’s important to know how to wash, dry and iron a garment so that you don’t ruin the item and waste money.

Garment labels also sometimes offer other advice, such as turning the garment inside out or washing with similar colors.

If, for some reason, you can’t adhere to the labels, do your best to stay as close as possible. For example, some washing machines don’t have a 30° cycle. Ours, in fact, only has 20, 40, 60 and 90°. When a care label says wash in 30°, we wash in 20° to be safe.

Follow the Rules

We know, rules are boring. But they’re there for a reason. When you learn how to read clothing labels, you’ll be thankful. Your clothes will stay in better condition for much longer!

If you do happen to find a symbol that’s not on our list, simply look it up online as it might be unique to that brand.

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism, and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!