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How to decipher laundry symbols

How to decipher laundry symbols

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Your clothes shrink regularly, and you don't feel like passing on your favorite pieces to your little nieces and nephews? We finally bring clarity to laundry and explain the most important washing symbols on the care label!

These are the most important washing symbols

Sometimes clothes are little divas: Different materials need different washing processes and different detergents to keep them looking good for a long time. The best way to sort laundry is not always easy to figure out. The care label gives you the appropriate care instructions in the form of washing symbols. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the body that enforces care label rules. These laundry symbols were introduced by GINETEX (the International Association for Textile Care Labelling), are standardized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and are, conveniently, always printed in the same order on the care label:

  • Washing (wash tub)
  • Bleach (triangle)
  • Drying (square)
  • Ironing (iron)
  • Dry cleaning (circle)

Tip: There is no laundry symbol for the use of fabric softener yet. If you have sensitive skin, then our guide on laundry tips for sensitive skin can help you out. It might be a good idea to use a fabric softener specially designed for sensitive skin like the all® Free Clear Fabric Softener, which is fragrance- and dye-free.

Stood in front of the washing machine confused? That's where the wash symbols on your clothes come into play to help you out!

The most important wisdom of experienced launderers: Cold always works! You can wash any fabric colder than the label says—but never hotter. So, if you've already cut out the care label in the heat of the moment, you're on the safe side with a lower wash temperature such as a cool or cold cycle. The label is still on? Then no need to guess anymore what the washing symbol used to be!

The wash tub

First on the care label is the wash tub. It gives the basic care instructions for washing the textile. The degree numbers in the wash symbols indicate the maximum washing temperature the garment can withstand without damage; the range here is from 85°F to 200°F.

Here in the U.S., instead of the degree Celsius number on labels, a points system can also be given to indicate the maximum temperature that the garment can be washed at. One point means washing at about 65°F to 85°F (which is about 30°C).

  • Two points 105°F (40°C)
  • Three points 120°F (50°C)
  • Four points 140°F (60°C)
  • Five points 160°F (70°C)
  • Six points 200°F (95°C)

If there is a line under the tub on the care label, the garment should be washed gently and hardly spun—for example on the gentle program. If the tub is marked with two lines, the textile should be treated as a delicate wash or washed on the wool cycle. Is a hand shown in the wash tub? This is the hand-wash symbol and means you should hand wash at a maximum of 105°F. A crossed-out washing tub means that washing is completely taboo: Jump directly to the symbol for dry cleaning, which is the circle.

 The triangle

In second place on the care label is the triangle pictogram. It indicates whether the textile may be bleached. An empty triangle means a free pass for bleaching! Two diagonal lines in the triangle mean that bleaching should only be done with oxygen. Is the triangle crossed out? Then the textile must not be bleached. However, this wash symbol also means that the garment should not be washed with normal detergents containing oxygen bleach. Instead, use a more natural plant-based detergent such as Purex® Natural Elements™ Linen & Lilies—it’s dye free.

 The square

Now you just need to know how the textile should be dried. The washing symbol for drying, the square, can be found at position three on the care label. If a circle is shown inside the square, then tumble drying is generally permitted. An additional dot recommends the use of a gentle program with a hot washing cycle. If there are two dots in the square washing symbol, the standard hot program may be used. If the dryer symbol is crossed out, the textile should not see the inside of the drum. A square with an additional line suggests that you dry the garment in the open air:

  • One vertical line: The garment belongs on the clothesline
  • Two vertical lines: The textile should dry dripping wet on the line
  • One horizontal stroke: Dry the textile lying down so that it does not get deformed
  • Two horizontal strokes: Dry the textile lying down and dripping wet
  • One diagonal line in the upper left corner of the wash mark: The fabric is sensitive to light; the clothes rack should therefore be in the shade

 The iron

The laundry symbol for the ironing instructions is, appropriately enough, an iron. An empty iron gives you the basic permission to iron, a crossed-out iron imposes a ban on ironing. The dots in the symbol for ironing provide information about the temperature at which you can start ironing without worrying about damaging your garment:

  • One dot: Iron the textile at a maximum of 230°F and do not use steam
  • Two dots: You can iron the textile at a maximum of 302°F
  • Three dots: Ironing at 392°F is allowed

 The circle

An empty circle on the care label calls for dry cleaning. The symbols printed in addition to the wash symbol give the dry-cleaning staff further care instructions:

  • One bar: The textile should be gently cleaned
  • Two bars: The textile is very sensitive and should be cleaned very gently
  • P: The textile can only tolerate hydrocarbons or perchloroethylene
  • F: The textile should only be cleaned with hydrocarbons
  • W: The textile requires professional wet cleaning

Hopefully, with this explanation of laundry symbols and cumulative washing knowledge, there will be no more unwanted clothing donations. Want to master how to wash white clothes? Or do you want to get a few more tips and tricks on how to wash clothes? Then we’ve got it covered for you!