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Laundry · You Need To Know How To Read Laundry Symbols On Clothing Tags, And Here’s Why

You Need To Know How To Read Laundry Symbols On Clothing Tags, And Here’s Why

The symbols on the tags inside your clothes can tell you exactly how to wash it—as long as you know how to read them, that is! Learn the language of laundry symbols here.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a sweater for my husband at Costco. It quickly became one of his favorites. 🙂 So when it came time to wash it, he wanted to make sure he followed the laundry symbol “instructions” on the label hoping to avoid repeating a recent “shirt shrinking” episode.

He showed me some washing symbols on the care label of the sweater and asked me what they meant. I HAD NO IDEA! To be honest, I haven’t really ever looked at any of the laundry symbols to figure out what they meant.

When I talked to my friends, they confessed to the same level of laundry knowledge. We perhaps knew one or two of the most important ones that we’d seen on particular garments we wanted to take good care of, but beyond that, they were a mystery.

Related: How to Wash Silk Fabric at Home

So, I had no idea. But guess what? I have now! And now I can explain them to you. 🙂

(Trust me…you’re going to be glad to know this stuff!)

Where Do Washing, Ironing, and Drying Symbols Come From?

Way back in 1971, the FTC started requiring manufacturers to tag their clothing with at least one safe cleaning method. At this stage, these were generally words indicating whether a garment was suitable for the washing machine, hand wash, or dry cleaning. In 1997, they came up with SYMBOLS that could be used in place of words on labels. The universal symbols were developed by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and are used by the detergent, textile, apparel, and appliance industries around the world.

Today, clothing labels should tell you which fabric the garment is made from, and carry up to five care symbols.

What does this mean to you and me? It means we better know what these symbols mean if we want to get the most “life” out of our clothing…or at least avoid their early demise!

What Do Washing, Drying, and Ironing Symbols Mean?

While I was thoroughly confused when I first tried to decipher the symbols on Dave’s shirt label… I have since realized it’s a very simple system if you just take a minute to actually LEARN it. OR if you have a couple of “Cheat Sheets” like the ones I made up for MY laundry room that you can download for free using the button below! 🙂 The information comes from TextileAffairs.com which also has lots of other good information about caring for clothes.

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I found it was useful to think of laundry symbols as a different language; one that’s specifically created to tell you how to care for clothing.

This language has four main categories, which are:

  1. Washing
  2. Drying
  3. Bleaching
  4. Ironing

Washing Symbols

Wash symbols can be broken down into three sections: the method of washing, the temperature of the water, and the recommended cycle.

So, as an example, a sweater that requires a low-heat machine wash on a gentle cycle will have a label showing one spot inside the washtub, with two lines underneath. On the other hand, a white dress cotton shirt is likely to need a high-heat machine wash on a permanent press cycle, so you’d see the three spots in the bowl, with two lines underneath.

Drying Symbols

Beware! The drying stage of the washing process is often where shrinkage occurs!

As such, it’s important to fully understand the symbols you’re looking at. There will be at least one symbol on the label that tells you which drying methods you can use – and sometimes which you need to avoid.

For instance, some fabrics will need to drip dry or dry flat, where others will be perfectly suitable for the tumble dryer. Drying symbols use the same number of dots as washing symbols, indicating low, medium, and high heat settings.

Bleaching Symbols

Bleaching symbols on a piece of clothing are easy to read. An empty triangle means you can use bleach, and a crossed-out triangle means you can’t.

If there are two diagonal lines breaking the triangle into three sections, this means you can use a non-chlorine bleach – a gentler product that’s less harmful to your skin, clothes, and the environment.

Ironing Symbols

Finally, the care tag will give you advice about ironing.

Ironing symbols use the same heat indicators you’ll see on washing and dryer symbols, so you can decide whether to go for a high, low, or medium heat temperature setting.

If the iron symbol is crossed out, then the garment is not suitable for ironing. If the iron’s steam is crossed out, you can iron the garment with the steam setting turned off.

How to Read a Fabric Care Symbols Guide

Now that you have a good idea of what the individual symbols look like, it’s useful to get a feel for what they look like together:

Taking Good Care of Your Clothes

They might look intimidating at first glance, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you pick this laundry language up!

When you do, you’ll avoid a range of issues that ruin millions of garments in American homes each year, including:

  • Shrinking
  • Damaging
  • Misshaping
  • Fading
  • Pilling

It’s also worth considering how much it costs financially when you don’t understand laundry care labels. Sure, you might not be too upset if an old t-shirt needs to be retired to the trash, but what about shrinking brand-new jeans or a winter sweater? What happens if your favorite party dress loses its color because you use the wrong laundry detergent?

There’s an old saying about how “a dollar saved is a dollar earned”, and it couldn’t be more true than with our clothes. I’m not saying it isn’t nice to treat yourself at the store, but you’ll be able to treat yourself much more frequently if you don’t have to keep replacing items that are damaged by the wash!

I hope you all find these as helpful as I did! I feel like I “cracked the code” and now I am no longer intimidated by those cryptic-looking symbols on my clothes! Time to go buy some more to celebrate! 😉

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    Hi, I’m Jillee!

    I believe we should all love the place we call home and the life we live there. Since 2011, I’ve been dedicated to making One Good Thing by Jillee a reliable and trustworthy resource for modern homemakers navigating the everyday challenges of running a household. Join me as I share homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make life easier so you can enjoy it more!

    Every day I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

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