Laundry Symbols 101


Have you ever wondered exactly what all those laundry symbols on the tags of your clothes really mean? Do you ever feel like you're trying to decipher ancient hieroglyphs when you're in the laundry room? Perhaps you can guess at some of them, but are totally stumped by others. I have to admit, I didn't know some of them either.

We don't learn how to do laundry in school, let alone how to read laundry symbols. Plus laundry symbols can differ slightly in different parts of the world. For example, In North-America, the maximum washing temperature is usually signified by a number of dots inside the washing symbol, compared to a two-digit number in Europe for the maximum degrees Celcius of the wash water the item can be washed in.

It is a good idea, however, to take a look at the washing symbols before throwing caution to the wind. The manufacturer of the garment really does want you to properly wash it so that you can enjoy it without potentially ruining it.

The current symbols developed by the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) are in black & white, whereas if you purchase vintage clothing that was made prior to 2003, the symbols will likely be either green, amber or red.

To start, there are five basic types of apparel and textile care symbols:


washing instructions


bleaching instructions


drying instructions


ironing instructions


dry-cleaning instructions


Now that you know what the basic laundry symbols are, next you need to learn the variations of the symbols. The various dots or numbers will tell you about the maximum water temperature, a line or two lines underneath the washing symbol communicate the agitation or wash setting, a hand in the washing instructions symbol tells you to wash the item by hand, whereas an X over the symbol serves as a warning to not perform a certain action.

Fewer number of dots mean cooler wash water; more dots mean you can use warmer water; whereas more lines below the washing symbol will tell you to wash more gently. No lines below the washing symbol means you can wash at a normal setting. Are you confused yet? Here are a couple of examples:

laundry-symbol-example-A Wash in domestic or commercial machine in water not exceeding 50°C, at delicate/gentle setting.
laundry-symbol-example-B Wash in domestic or commercial machine in water not exceeding 30°C, at permanent press setting.

Permanent press setting? If you're unlucky and your front-load washing machine doesn't have a permanent press setting like my washing machine, you'll need to check with the manufacturer as to which cycle to use, or manually select a cycle that has a medium washing agitation, cool or warm water, with a cool water rinse and a slower spin cycle so that wrinkles are not set in to synthetic fibres or cotton fibres that have a wrinkle-resistant treatment.

The following chart is a quick reference guide for selecting the right maximum washing temperature:

one-dot-symbol 30°C Cool
two-dots 40°C Warm
three-dots 50°C Hot
four-dots 60°C Very Hot
five-dots 70°C Extremely Hot
six-dots 95°C Near Boil


 If you need to use bleach, there are only three symbols to know:

use-any-bleach-symbol Use any bleach when needed.
non-chlorine-bleach-symbol Use only non-chlorine bleach when needed.
do-not-bleach-symbol Do not bleach.

Most of the symbols for drying the clothes in a tumble dryer are illustrated by a square with a circle inside the square and a number of dots to show the drying temperature: one dot for low temperature, two dots for medium temperature, and three dots for high temperature. As with the washing symbol, one line underneath the drying symbol will tell you to use the delicate cycle in the tumble dryer, and two lines for the permanent press setting. If the drying symbol does not have a circle inside, then the symbol will tell you if the item should be or can be dried on a clothesline or should be laid flat to dry. Here are some examples:

tumble-dry-on-low-symbol Tumble dry at a low heat (not exceeding 55°C) at delicate cycle
line-dry-symbol After extraction of excess water, line dry/hang to dry.
lay-flat-to-dry After extraction of excess water, dry the article on a suitable flat surface.

Do you iron your clothes? If so, you'll need to pay attention to the number of dots inside the ironing symbol: one dot for low heat, two dots for medium heat, and three dots for high heat.

I have not listed all of the laundry symbols here since I wrote this blog post more for educational and entertainment purposes. For a complete list, please refer to the Guide to Apparel and Textile Care Symbols on the Office of Consumer Affairs website. There you will also find a downloadable and printable pdf file.

You can also look for a handy laundry symbols app for your smartphone, although I have noticed slight variations on some of the laundry care symbols on some apps.

It is possible of course that a garment has been labeled incorrectly, which may lead to shrinking or fading.

But if you read this far, then hopefully now you'll have a better understanding what some of those laundry symbols actually mean, instead of something about bumper cars or eating candy:)

ironing-symbol-high-temperature Iron with or without steam by hand, or press on commercial equipment, at a high temperature (not exceeding 200°C). Recommended temperature for cotton and linen textiles.
do-not-wring Do not wring.

Disclaimer: the information contained in this blog post is intended for entertainment purposes only and may have omissions or contain errors. If you are uncertain as to how to wash or care for an item, please consult the manufacturer of the item.

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