We know that cleaning our clothes properly can help them last longer and look better, so we often turn to the tags inside of them to tell us what we need to do; no one wants to open the dryer to find a shrunken sweater or open the washer to find a shredded dress.
Some tags on our clothes and linens spell out their washing instructions pretty clearly for us: “Gentle Cycle. Cold water. Line dry.” But others, especially when the tags are particularly tiny, feature only symbols. If you aren’t super familiar with what these symbols mean, a quick load of laundry can suddenly feel like deciphering ancient hieroglyphics. Luckily, you no longer have to take your best guess at what a random circle inside a square is trying to tell you about how to care for your favorite blouse. There are a few resources bouncing around online that list an extensive collection of laundry symbols, and we’ve taken the liberty to include some of the most common and the most perplexing here along with their meanings.
So read on, and happy washing!
Some of the most common symbols
If you see what looks like a flat-bottomed, open-topped bin with a waterline near the top, that is supposed to represent a washing machine (via Tide). So if you see this bin with only that waterline, it means the clothing item in question is machine washable. If, however, you see that same water-filled bin with a big X over it, that means the item in question is not machine washable. If you see that same water-filled bin with a hand in it, that doesn’t actually mean anything about a hand in a washing machine. Confusingly enough, that actually means you need to hand-wash that item, usually in a sink or other basin. Tossing something hand-wash-only into a washing machine can spell disaster for delicate fabrics.
Now, if you see that same bin with not only the water line at the top, but also a line underneath it, it means the item can be washed on permanent press, which is a heavier cycle (via The Maids). If, however, you see two lines underneath the bin, then it means the article of clothing needs to be washed in the delicate cycle. If you see a number inside the bin, it indicates water temperature.
Triangles and circles and squares, oh my!
If you see a triangle, it represents bleach (abstract, we know). If you see a triangle with an X through it, do not bleach the item in question (via The Maids). If you see a triangle that looks like it’s separated into three even sections with diagonal lines, the label is calling for non-chlorine bleach. Weirdly, if you see a triangle with “CL” in the middle and a line through it, it also means non-chlorine-bleach only.
When you see a square with a circle in the center, it represents a dryer. If you see that symbol alone, it means you can put that item in the dryer (via Tide). If there’s a single dot in the center of the circle, use low heat. If there are two dots, you can use medium heat, and if there are three dots, you can use higher heat. If the circle is completely filled in, you can use the dryer, but on a just-air cycle, no heat.
If you see something that looks like hard candy in a bow-like wrapper, that indicates it is safe to wring out the item. If there is an X over the same symbol, then do not wring it out. If you see a plain square with a little lip at the top, it means you need to line dry that item, and if you see a square with a dash in the middle, lay that item flat to dry.
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