Washing Machine: What do those symbols mean?

Getting into bad habits with laundry can be easy. Simply tossing all of your items together – into the same load – can wreak havoc on your wardrobe, however. What may be good for a silk blouse could be the literal undoing of a hand-woven sweater. That’s why it’s essential to take some time to read those cryptic symbols on the tags of your clothing; a little time spent before a load can prevent costly mistakes. See what each of these codes really mean, and ensure your apparel is getting the star treatment with each laundry session!

Is It Washable?

First, it’s vital to know if an item is even safe to wash. Some apparel can’t get wet and may need dry-cleaning only. Use the following symbols to see what’s ideal for each item in your wardrobe.

  • Washable – A tub with water in it
    • A tub with no lines under it indicates it’s safe for a normal cycle
    • A tub with one line under it indicates permanent press cycle
    • A tub with two lines under it indicates delicates or gentle cycle only
  • Not-washable – A tub with water in it and an “X” over the top
  • Hand wash only – A tub with water in it and a hand inside
  • Dry clean only – A circle
  • Do not dry clean – A circle with an “X” over the top

Often, you’ll see two symbols together. A “do not dry clean” symbol may be accompanied with a “hand wash only” symbol, for example.

What Temperature?

Since most washing machines only come with three water temperatures, most clothing will have one of three temperatures indicated. Assume, however, that it’s OK to wash items in temperatures lower than what’s on the label. (You can, for example, wash hot-water items in cold water, but you cannot wash a cold-water item in hot water.) Here are the symbols and guidelines that indicate safe water temperatures:

  • Cold wash – Use your machine’s cold cycle, or keep the water between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s indicated by a full wash tub symbol with one dot.
  • Warm wash – Clothes are safe to wash up to 105 degrees or your machine’s warm cycle. The symbol for this is the wash tub with two dots.
  • Hot wash – Clothing can tolerate water heated up to 120 degrees. This symbol is the wash tub with three dots.

While most machines will stay within these temperatures guidelines automatically, conditions within the home (such as the settings on your hot water unit) can cause variations. Be careful washing in extremely hot temperatures, even if indicated as safe by the clothing label.

Is Bleach OK?

Never assume you can use bleach on your clothing, especially if it contains chlorine. Color-safe bleach may only be used on appropriate items, as well. Symbols for bleach safety, include:

  • A triangle indicates that bleach is OK
  • Don’t ever use bleach for a triangle with an “X” over it
  • Consider color-safe (non-chlorine) bleach for items with a triangle containing two diagonal lines inside it.

How to Dry

Most of the horror stories we’ve heard about clothing have to do with improper drying. Shrunken cashmere tops are a common tale, but they can be avoided if you take time to read labels. The following symbols will tell you when it’s OK to toss a piece in the dryer – and what to do in the case that it’s forbidden.

  • Tumble dry OK – A square with a circle inside says that you can toss it in the dryer – at the temperature indicated by another symbol. These temperature symbols include:
    • Empty circle: any heat is OK
    • Circle with a dot: Low heat only
    • Circle with two dots: Medium heat is OK
    • Circle with three dots: High heat is OK
    • Filled-in circle: Dry only with no heat (air only.)

Also, lines underneath the square will tell you what type of cycle you can choose:

    • One line means that you can dry on permanent press
    • Two lines indicate you can use the delicate/gentle cycle only
  • Don’t tumble dry – The same icon with an “X” over it indicates you should skip the tumble dry cycle entirely.
  • Hang dry only – The square with the dip at the top means you should put this on a hanging clothes rack or clothesline to dry.
  • Dry flat – The square with the horizontal dash inside means that you should set this item on a flat surface to dry.
  • Do not wring – Squeezing this item is a no-no, as indicated by the twisted clothing icon with an “X” over it. Allow the water to leave the material naturally.

How to Iron

If after drying, you find your item needs pressed, consult the tag to see what’s appropriate. The following iron symbols will tell you if ironing is safe.

  • Iron on low only – One dot inside the iron
  • Iron up to medium – Two dots inside the iron
  • Iron up to high – Three dots inside the iron
  • Never iron – An “X” over the iron
  • Iron without steam/water – An “X” underneath the iron

By following the care secrets contained within your clothing tag symbols, you can keep your clothes looking great – longer!