Establishing a perfect laundry day routine is about more than separating and sorting items by fabric or color and deciding how you plan to wash and dry your clothes. Before you prepare clothes by color and fabric type, you should also start by looking at your garment’s care label.
While the care label commands a small footprint, it’s important for cleaning clothes, and often goes overlooked.
Think of care labels as an “industry” standard – they’re enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the symbols are always printed in the same, convenient order.
While the symbols may at first feel like modern day hieroglyphics, they’re actually pretty straightforward.
The laundry care label tells you everything from whether an item is machine washable, to temperature settings and more. Because of its standard format, once you know how to read one laundry care label, you’ll be able to read them all. Each care label should have five sections: washing, bleaching, drying, ironing, and warnings.
The first icon on the care label is the wash tub. It gives the basic care instructions for washing the garment. Sometimes the wash tub will contain degree numbers, or temperature recommendations, which indicate the maximum washing temperature the garment can withstand without damage. You may also notice labels that have points or dots within the wash tub, the points correlate to temperature recommendations, for example:
- 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 on a permanent press cycle, which is a cycle designed to minimize wrinkles. If the wash tub has two lines, the item should be washed on a delicate or gentle setting. If there’s a hand shown on the wash tub, it means the item requires hand washing. A tub with an “X” marked through it means that the item is not meant to be washed.
What does the triangle mean in laundry? Situated next to the wash tub in second place, the triangle indicates whether the garment can be bleached. If the triangle is empty, it means that it is safe to bleach. If the triangle has two parallel diagonal lines, it means that bleaching should only be done with oxygen. If the triangle has an “x” drawn through it, it means the garment should not be bleached.
The third symbol on the care label is a square, which represents how the product should be dried. If a circle is shown inside the square, then tumble drying is generally permitted. Dots marked within the circle on a square dryer icon indicate heat recommendations. One dot corresponds with low heat, two dots with medium heat, and three dots means you can use the high heat setting.
Like the wash tub icon, there are multiple additional variations available for the square dryer icon. An additional dot means you should use a gentle dryer setting. In addition to the dots to denote heat settings, the dryer icon may also have lines through it. An “x” marked through the square clearly communicates that the item should not be machine dried, however, other lines indicate specific placement for air drying, including:
- Three Vertical Lines: the garment should be “drip dried” or hang-dried
- One Horizontal Line: the garment should be dried flat on a surface
Two Left-Justified Diagonal Lines: the garment should be dried in the shade (if line drying outdoors or drying flat outdoors)
Like the washtub, this iron is one of the more straight-forward symbols, as it is depicted literally as an iron. An empty iron means that you can iron the garment, whereas an “x” marked through the iron means you should not iron the item. Like the other symbols on the label, when dots are present, they provide temperature guidance, with one dot suggesting low heat settings, two dots medium, and three dots high heat settings.
An empty circle on the care label means that your garment requires dry cleaning. There may be additional symbols marked for direction, including (but not limited to):
- A: The textile can handle any solvent
- P: The textile can only tolerate hydrocarbons or perchloroethylene
- F: The textile should only be cleaned with hydrocarbons
Now that you know how to decipher the icons on your care labels, you’re better equipped at helping to maximize the lifetime of your clothes and other household textiles.