Laundry symbol meanings you definitely need to know

Welcome to washing 101

Mint green laundry basket with clothes in it
(Image credit: Annie Spratt / Unsplash)

Understanding laundry symbols is major when it comes to caring for clothes, bed sheets, bath linens, and more. To prevent issues such as shrinkage and color fading, it’s important to keep a lookout for what each symbol means.

Laundry symbols are important for understanding crucial washing info like bleaching and drying, as well as all stages of the laundry process. Knowing what you're looking at will help you feel more confident the next time you’re putting a load in and save yourself some frantic Googling during your Sunday reset.

Check out our guide specifying the meaning behind all laundry symbols to help you wash everything from a hefty puffer coat to delicate undies. Plus, the advice of organization expert Jane Abrahams of Jane’s Addiction Organization.

 Explanation behind laundry symbols 

Reading the label on your washing machine for directions when doing laundry is important because your items will experience a longer lifespan, since certain pieces may require specific care. Comprehending laundry symbols will also assist you with washing towels properly to keep them soft, in addition to couch cushion covers. 

 Laundry symbols for machine washing clothes 

The washtub symbol portrays instructions for all steps of the washing process, no matter the washer you’re using. If your clothing is machine washable, you’ll see dots or numbers inside the tag, which represent the water temperature you should be washing them in.

Washtub with numbers: As the temperature is displayed in degrees Celsius, the number 30 specifies a cold-water wash, 40 specifies a warm-water wash, and 50 specifies a hot-water wash.

Washtub with dots: When there are dots inside the washtub, it shows the same thing as a number, which is the water's temperature. The more dots the washtub has, the hotter the temperature. If you see just one dot, wash your clothes in cold water. Three dots mean clothes must be washed in hot water.

Lines under the washtub mean that the clothing needs to be washed on a special cycle.

No lines: Normal wash cycle

One line: Permanent press cycle

Two lines: Gentle cycle

 Laundry symbols for hand-washing clothes 

If you see an image of a hand delving into the washtub, this means your clothing should be hand-washed only and shouldn’t be thrown in the washing machine

The other washing symbol specifying how to hand-wash clothes is the icon that resembles a wrapped candy with an X through it, which means you shouldn’t twist the article of clothing. Instead, squeeze the water out after hand-washing it very gently.

Laundry symbols for bleaching clothes

The triangle symbol will tell you all you need to know about bleaching a garment. Here’s how to depict the symbols:

Empty triangle: Use any type of bleach

Triangle with two lines crossing through it: Use non-chlorine or oxygen bleach only

Triangle with an X: Bleach shouldn’t be used at all 

 Laundry symbols for drying clothes 

After you wash your clothes, all the information on drying an item can be located in the square on the garment care label. Be sure to read the label on the garment before throwing it in the machine to prevent shrinking. 

Always search for a circle within the square first, which will give you the green light to dry the garment in the dryer. If the square has a circle in the center with an X on it, putting the item in the dryer isn’t recommended. 

Exactly as the washtub, the number of dots symbolizes the highest temperature to be utilized:

One dot: Cold

Two dots: Warm

Three dots: Hot

To add on, you might notice lines under the square. Just like the washtub icon, lines specify the appropriate dryer settings to utilize.

One line: Permanent press cycle

Two lines: Gentle cycle

All of this explains how to machine dry clothing. If your square doesn’t contain a circle, it will be better to air-dry. Discover how to decipher the many air-dry laundry symbols:

One horizontal line: Lay garment flat to dry.

Three vertical lines: Hang garment to drip dry.

A square depicting an envelope: Line dry the garment.

Two diagonal lines: Dry the garment in the shade only.

Now that you have the ins and outs of laundry symbols for when it comes to actually washing and drying your clothes, Abrahams has provided newbies with her tips on how to do laundry.

Tips for first timers doing laundry 

1. Sort laundry into categories, such as color’s, i.e.: dark colors, light colors, and whites.

2. Check clothing labels for washing instructions, i.e: cold water, hand wash, dry clean, delicates. Clothing should have symbols that provide washing instructions. You can easily print or reference a laundry symbols guide on your phone. All product labels will determine the water temperature.

3. Place laundry inside the washing machine. Don't overload the machine! Liquid or powder detergent gets placed into the dispenser. Detergent pods get thrown into the washing machine with the clothes. Follow the directions on the laundry detergent packaging to determine the quantity of liquid or powder. 

4. When using fabric softener or bleach, place it inside the washing machine dispenser. Do not put fabric softener or bleach directly into the machine with the clothes. Use a pre-stain treatment remover on clothing prior to putting it inside the washing machine. Read the directions on the bottle before spraying on the stain. 

5. When the washing cycle is finished, hang up clothing that doesn't go into the dryer. Read the clothing labels so clothes do not shrink. Use a separate clothing drying rack to hang clothes or use hangers. Place clothing into the dryer and reference clothing labels to choose the setting and temperature. Designate a basket for garments to be ironed or dry cleaned. 

6. Lastly, fold laundry immediately once you take it out of the dryer to avoid wrinkles. Designate a laundry basket for your clothing, which makes sorting and putting everything away easy and attainable.

Aida M. Toro
Freelance Writer

About Me:

Hello! My name is Aida M. Toro and I am a freelance writer that loves cultivating stories about amazing people, fashion, interiors, art, and food. I currently write for Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam, The House Magazine, Hobnob Magazine, The C-Word, and Real Homes. I live in West New York, New Jersey, which is literally a 10-minute ferry ride or 20-minute bus ride away from New York City. Although I was born and raised in West New York, I consider NYC my home, as I believe it to be the place where all dreams come to fruition, and of course, spend most of my time in. When I’m not writing, I love perusing the city streets and taking snaps with my iPhone of street art along with random things, scoping out new restaurants as well as their spaces, shopping at some of my favorite stores, spending time with family and friends, walking my cockapoodle Benji, and working out at Lifetime or DOGPOUND, which are some of the top fitness spaces in Manhattan and overall the U.S.

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