How to Decode Laundry Symbols So You Can Care For Your Clothes Like a Pro
Looking at a garment tag can quickly make you feel like you've forgotten how to read. Most of us didn't learn the laundry symbols alongside our ABCs, so these modern-day hieroglyphics can be pretty hard to decipher. That's why we've taken the time to break down all the most common laundry symbol meanings with images and descriptions, so you can find out exactly how to wash, dry, iron, bleach, and dry clean your clothing items.
Follow the guide—complete with tips from laundry experts—below and bookmark this page for all your laundry days.
Machine wash, normal
Wash the item in a standard wash cycle, with no water temperature restrictions.
Machine wash, permanent press
Wash the item in a permanent press cycle, intended to protect garments prone to wrinkling, color-fading, shrinking, and stretching.
Machine wash, delicate
Wash the item in a delicate cycle, which uses cold water and low agitation to be gentle on fabrics like silk, wool, and synthetic materials.
Machine wash, cold
Wash the item in cold water, or between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This symbol may also be depicted with the number 30, instead of the single dot, to depict a maximum temperature of 30 degrees celsius.
Machine wash, warm
Wash the item in warm water, or between 90 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. This symbol may also be depicted with the number 40, instead of the two dots, to depict a maximum temperature of 40 degrees celsius.
Machine wash, hot
Wash the item in cold water, or 130 degrees Fahrenheit. This symbol may also be depicted with the number 50 or 60, instead of the three to five dots, to depict a maximum temperature of 50 or 60 degrees celsius.
Wash the item by hand, with detergent and warm water in a small tub or sink, and should not be washed in a machine.
Do not wash
Do not wash the item by hand or in a machine. Look to the dry clean symbols on the tag for further care instructions.
NOTE: If you're unsure about the specific washing requirements for your garment—for example, if the tag has faded or come off—it's always smart to opt on the gentler side. "The best thing you can do is to use warm water and an express cycle," cleaning expert Patric Richardson, host of the HGTV series The Laundry Guy, says. "The short cycle will clean your clothes without damaging them, but you need the warm water to make sure your soap or detergent is working at peak performance."
Hang the item on a line to air-dry. The line-dry symbol is sometimes also notated with a vertical line inside a square.
Line-dry in shade
Hang the item on a line to air-dry, but keep out of direct sunlight.
Lay the item on a flat, horizontal surface to air-dry. This helps protect fabrics like wool or knitwear, from stretching out and getting misshapen when wet.
Hang the item on a line to dry, without any smoothing and shaping. Items with this symbol on the tag are made of fabric that dries free of creases and wrinkles.
Tumble-dry, any heat
Dry the item in a dryer in a standard setting. No temperature restrictions.
Tumble-dry, low heat
Dry the item in a dryer on low heat, or around 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tumble-dry, medium heat
Dry the item in a dryer on medium heat, or around 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tumble-dry, high heat
Dry the item in a dryer on high heat, or around 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tumble-dry, no heat
Dry the item in a dryer with no heat. The setting on your machine may also be called "air fluff" or "air dry."
Do not tumble-dry
Do not dry the item in the dryer. Look to the accompanying drying symbols on the tag for further care instructions.
NOTE: The dryer is a huge time saver, but if you care about the longevity of your items, it helps to hang dry or dry for only short amounts of time, when possible. "Too much time in the dryer wears your clothes out much quicker," Richardson says.
Dry Cleaning Symbols
Have the item professionally dry-cleaned. Do not wash or dry the item in a machine.
Dry-clean, low heat
The item should be professionally dry-cleaned on low heat.
Dry-clean, no steam
The item should not be steamed after the dry-cleaning process.
Dry-clean, short cycle
The item should be professionally dry-cleaned on a short cycle.
Dry-clean, reduced moisture
The item should be professionally dry-cleaned on a reduced-moisture cycle.
Do not dry-clean
Do not professionally dry-clean the item. Look for other washing and drying symbols on the tag for further instruction.
NOTE: A lot of laundry experts aren't so keen on the popularity of "dry-clean only" tags. "[Dry-cleaning] is the biggest misconception in modern-day laundering," Jelina Saliu, the president of home care line Safely and former expert of The Laundress, says. "With the right formulas, you can launder almost any material." Richardson agrees with Saliu's sentiment. "Usually, the fibers that are most [often labeled] dry-clean only, like wool, for example, have been around much longer than dry-cleaning," he says. "Wool has been washed for hundreds of years, and I go for it. The trick, he says, is to not overdo it. He recommends washing on a short cycle, with a small amount of soap, and hanging or laying flat to dry.
Bleach can be used on the item.
Only use non-chlorine bleach, which uses hydrogen peroxide instead of sodium hypochlorite, on the item.
Do not bleach
Do not use any kind of bleach on the item.
Iron, any temp
The item can be ironed at any temperature.
Iron, low temp
The item can be ironed at a low temperature, up to 230 degrees Fahrenheit.
Iron, medium temp
The item can be ironed at a medium temperature, up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Iron, high temp
The item can be ironed at a high temperature, up to 390 degrees Fahrenheit.
Iron, no steam
The item should be ironed without the use of steam.
Do not iron
Do not use an iron on the item.
More things to consider:
Laundry symbols on tags can be a great guide on how to care for your individual items, but having your own understanding of how different fabrics, garments, and machines work will make you even more equipped on laundry days. "The key here is to know your tools and yourself," Richardson says. "If you are someone that is willing to slowly and meticulously wash your favorite items, even your wedding dress, and you know how your machine handles things and how your soap or detergent performs, then you can wash just about anything based on your own knowledge. If, on the other hand, your approach is to toss everything in one load and hope for the best, reading the care labels is a lot more important to you."