Laundry Symbols: A Complete Guide to Clothing Care Labels

Laundry Symbols: A Complete Guide to Clothing Care Labels

Picture this. You’ve found the dress of your dreams, the jacket of your dreams or any other piece of clothing which you just love. You wore it and felt amazing in it. But now you need to wash it and you feel a shiver down your spine.

Well, you’re not alone when having the fear washing your favourite clothes. No matter how much you have spent on the item of clothing, maintaining its condition is of paramount importance when reducing waste and saving you money.

But how are you supposed to do this when the washing instruction symbols, otherwise known as laundry care symbols, on the care tag are just funny shapes? We’ve got you covered.

This blog is a straightforward guide on what the washing instruction symbols mean and how you can use the care tag to your advantage. You’ll never fear laundry again.

Download our free, complete care label guide. Save it in your files or camera roll so you can easily refer to it in the future.


Why is it important to understand washing instruction symbols?

You don’t want to ruin your item

It goes without saying, you don’t buy an item to then stick it in the wash with the intention of ruining it so you can never wear it again. The care symbols aren’t there to trip you up or give you more work, they are designed to help you correctly care for your clothing.

It reduces textile waste

Incorrectly caring for your items can speed up the decline in its quality and increase the likelihood that you will get rid of it sooner. By caring for your item, you will maximise its lifespan and reduce needless textile waste to landfill.

It will save you money

Throwing your item in the bin sooner than necessary also costs you money. You will have to replace that item much quicker and in a year, you could buy the same or similar items multiple times. If you correctly care for your clothes, by following the care instructions, you will maximise your item’s life span so you can truly get your money’s worth.


Why do retailers use symbols instead of words on their care labels?

Did you know that care symbols are actually a registered trademark and retailers have to pay to use them on their labels?

Knowing this, you are probably thinking “why don’t they just use words so they don’t have to pay, and everyone can understand the instructions easier?”

For international retailers like Zara, Nike, and ASOS, it will actually be cheaper for them to pay for the trademark as opposed to using text because they would need to have a different label with a different language on for each market they sell into.

This could mean the care label on the inside of your item, could be 20+ labels thick. They are already irritating enough; we don’t want that!

Instead, they use the international language of care symbols.


Problem Fabrics

The problem of how to wash your clothing correctly is made even more difficult when you are dealing with complex, possibly problematic items of clothing or fabrics. I am talking down jackets, wool jumpers, suede jackets, and cashmere anything. With these items it is especially important to understand your laundry instruction symbols because you may do irreversible damage to the item otherwise.


Tips & Tricks

Before we dive into the nitty gritty of what the care symbols mean, we first want to point out a couple of sneaky tricks you can use when washing your clothing without ever needing to understand the washing symbols.

 Use the information on the label

Some, emphasis on the word ‘some’, retailers actually convert the symbols into text on the label so you don’t need to. You are more likely to find this with retailers who sell into markets with only one or two languages.

motel clothing care label showing the text instructions

The tag on this Motel shirt has actually converted the symbols into text so you can correctly care for the item without needing to know what each care symbol means.

So next time you come to wash or iron your clothes, check the care label as the answers you need may be more easily found that you first anticipated.

Additional Information

Other retailers may not necessarily convert the symbols into text for you, but they may provide some additional tips on caring for your clothes, on the tag itself. Here is an example from a Topshop cropped jumper.

topshop care label showing additional instructions


In this example, the label is advising you to wash this item at 30 degrees, wash with similar colours and reshape when damp.

These are handy tips for caring for your clothes, which the washing instruction symbols don’t tell you. It is certainly worth following these additional instructions and also applying the same steps to similar items of clothing.

Be aware that not all retailers will provide you with this additional guidance for caring for your clothes, and they are not obliged to either. This is why it is still very important to understand what the care symbols mean.


Washing Instruction Symbols Simplified

Let’s get down to it. We have split out the care symbols into each stage of caring for your item so you can quickly find the answers you need.


The following symbols guide you on how to wash your item. This is a crucial step in caring for your clothing.

Machine wash

machine wash laundry symbol

Machine wash, permanent press

machine wash permanent press

Machine wash, delicate

machine wash delicate laundry symbol

Hand wash

hand wash laundry symbol

Do not wash

do not wash laundry symbol 

Water Temperature

There are two ways the temperature at which you should wash your item is shown, either with the temperature in degrees Celsius or in dots which represent temperatures.

Water temperature 30°C

water temperature degrees laundry symbolwater temperature 30 degrees laundry symbol

Water temperature 40°C

water temperature 40 degrees laundry symbolwater temperature 40 degrees laundry symbol

Water temperature 60°C

water temperature 60 degrees laundry symbolWater temperature 60 degrees laundry symbol

Water temperature 90°C

water temperature 90 degrees laundry symbol

Water temperature 95°C 

water temperature 95 degrees laundry symbol


Bleaching anything can be risky, we would advise you only do it where absolutely necessary and only if the item care label advises you so.

Do not bleach

do not bleach laundry symbol


bleach laundry symbol

Non-chlorine bleach

non-chlorine bleach laundry symbolnon-chlorine bleach laundry symbol



Although air drying may seem like the safest bet, some clothes need to be air dried in a particular way to prevent damage to the item.

Do not wring

do wring laundry symbol

Hang to dry

hang to dry laundry symbol

Drip dry

drip dry laundry symbol

Dry flat

dry flat laundry symbol

Dry in the shade

dry in the shade laundry symbol

Do not dry

do not dry laundry symbol




Tumble drying

Tumble dry

tumble dry laundry symbol

Low heat

low heat laundry symbol

Medium heat

medium heat laundry symbol

High heat

high heat laundry symbol

No heat

no heat laundry symbol  


The job we all hate to do but if we are going to do it, let’s at least do it right.


Do not iron

do not iron laundry symbol

Low temperature

 low temperature iron laundry symbol

Medium temperature

medium temperature iron laundry symbol

High temperature

high temperature iron laundry symbol

No steam

no steam iron laundry symbol 

Dry cleaning

Unless you have got professional dry cleaning capabilities at home, we would strongly advise leaving this to the professionals. If your item is dry clean only, there will be a pretty good reason why.

Dry clean

dry clean laundry symbol

Dry clean any solvent

dry clean any solvent laundry symbol

Dry clean petroleum only

petroleum solvent only laundry symbol 

Dry clean, any solvent, except trichloroethylene

dry clean any solvent except trichloroethylene laundry symbol 

 Do not dry clean

do not dry clean laundry symbol

Wet clean

wet clean laundry symbol

Do not wet clean

do not wet clean laundry symbol

Dry clean, short cycle

short clean laundry symbol

Dry clean, reduced moisture

reduce moisture laundry symbol

Dry clean, not steam

no steam finishing laundry symbol

Dry clean, low heat

low heat laundry symbol


My Clothing Item Doesn’t Have a Care Tag

When shopping preloved and vintage items this can be the case. If your item doesn’t have a care label it isn’t a free pass to care for it using the easiest method available, you still want to care for your clothes just the same. In this scenario, we suggest taking the following steps.

Check your wardrobe to see if you have any similar items

Do you have an item in your wardrobe which is very similar in material composition and has a care label on it? You can use this care label information to guide you on caring for similar items which don’t have a care label.

Contact the second-hand retailer you bought the item from

Although they won’t have access to the original retailer’s care information, with their knowledge of preloved and vintage items they should be able to advise you on the best course of action.

Visit your local dry cleaners

If after taking the action we have advised above, you still feel very uncertain about the best way to care for your item we would recommend visiting your local dry cleaners. They are the ones in the know. They will be able to offer advice and care for your item on your behalf. Whilst this will come at a cost, the cost will be worth it when your item is returned to you in excellent condition. 

It just isn’t worth the risk guessing how to care for your items. There are people out there with more knowledge who will be more than happy to help you.


Final Thoughts

Next time you're faced with a pile of laundry and a bunch of confusing symbols, refer back to this guide to decode the clothing washing instructions icons and symbols.

By understanding what each symbol means, you can confidently care for your clothes and keep them looking their best. Happy laundering!

Download our free, complete care label guide. Save it in your files or camera roll so you can easily refer to it in the future.

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