Laundering Mysteries

Have you ever looked at a tag on a garment and seen these little graphics you couldn’t understand?  They are laundry symbols and they tell you if and how the garment should be handled to wash, bleach, dry, iron, and dry clean.  You may not see these on many garments, but occasionally you may come across a foreign garment and these symbols come in handy; if you know how to read them. To help you out, I created a pictorial guide to show you what they are and mean.

Symbols mean, in order, machine wash cold, non- chlorine bleach as needed, tumble dry low, iron medium, do not dry clean

In this post I will explain the common symbols and what they mean, so the next time you see a tag with pictures, you will know how to care for your garment.

The international order of laundry symbols is: wash, bleach, dry, iron, dry clean (as shown above).


The base of the washing symbol is a washing tub.

Read the pictures left to right, starting at the top.

Washing Symbols
  1. This symbol means the garment may be washed normally, with the hottest water available, detergent, and agitation.
  2. Machine wash cold.
  3. Machine wash warm.
  4. Machine wash hot.
  5. Machine wash, permanent press. Garment may be machine laundered only on the setting designed to preserve Permanent Press with cool down or cold rinse prior to reduced spin.
  6. Machine wash gentle or delicate.
  7. This is another way to say machine wash cold or 30 degrees Celsius.  This symbol may be used in combination with the second symbol.
  8. This symbol means water at 40 degrees Celsius or warm.  This symbol may be used in combination with the third symbol.
  9. Water 50 degrees Celsius or hot.  This symbol may be used in combination with the third symbol.
  10. Hand wash.
  11. Do not wash.
Wash cold, non-chlorine bleach, tumble dry low, iron low


The symbol base for bleach is a triangle.

Bleach Symbols


  1. May use bleach.
  2. Use non-chlorine bleach as needed.
  3. Do not bleach garment.


This section is separated into two categories: tumble dry and natural dry.

The base for drying is a square.


Tumble Dry Symbols
  1. Tumble dry normally.
  2. Tumble dry normally with low heat.
  3. Tumble dry normally with medium heat.
  4. Tumble dry normally with high heat.
  5. Tumble dry normally with no heat.
  6. Tumble dry for permanent press.  This symbol has one line below it.
  7. Tumble dry gentle.  This symbol has two lines below it.
  8. Do not tumble dry.
  9. Do not dry.


Natural Dry Symbols


  1. Drying symbol.
  2. Line dry.
  3. Dry flat.
  4. Drip dry.
  5. Dry in the shade.
  6. Line dry in the shade.
  7. Dry flat in shade.
  8. Drip dry in shade.


The base for an iron is an iron.

Iron Symbols


  1. Iron any temperature, steam or dry.
  2. Iron low, steam or dry.
  3. Iron medium, steam or dry.
  4. Iron high, steam or dry.
  5. Do not steam.
  6. Do not iron.

Dry Cleaning

Since I don’t think it’s practical listing all of the professional dry-clean-only symbols, here are the common ones.

The base for dry cleaning is a circle.

Dry Cleaning Symbols
  1. Dry clean.
  2. Dry clean with petroleum solvent.
  3. Dry clean with any dry cleaning solvent (except trichloroethylene).
  4. Do not dry clean.
Do not wash, to not bleach, do not iron, dry clean with any solvent, do not tumble dry
Machine wash cold and gentle, non-chlorine bleach, dry flat, iron normal

I think it’s time that garment manufacturers better educate the public about these symbols as so many garments are made in other countries and the instructions aren’t written in English.

I hope that my post has helped you understand laundering symbols that you probably never noticed.

Just take note, there are other formats besides the international laundry symbols out there. One notable variation I came across was on a Japanese-made garment with this label:     

Japanese laundry symbols: hand wash cold, no bleach, iron low with pressing cloth, any dry-cleaning agent can be used

This is called the Japanese Care Labeling System.  It’s symbols differ from the international system, but don’t worry; there are plenty of resources online to help you decipher them.  Such as this website called The Indian Textile Journal.  It is a great resource for learning different laundering systems; the International Care Labeling System (GINETEX), ASTM Care Labeling System, British Care Labeling System, Japanese Care Labeling System, Canadian Care Labeling System and the Indian Care Labeling System.

Happy learning!

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