man thinking about washing symbols and their compatibility with the machine

Do you know how to read washing symbols on your garments? It sounds like a silly question, but if you take a look at your care labels there are at least several symbols on each of them. Some of them are obvious, like ironing sign, but others look rather cryptic. Dots, circles, squares, and triangles resemble shapes in intelligence tests, only there’s no question. If you really know all of the signs, kudos to you, I’m impressed. However, if you don’t, you should learn them because every single laundry symbol has a meaning or instruction how to take care of your garment. 

So, it is not like you have two important signs and the rest is there just to look complicated. If you don’t follow care instructions you may ruin your garment, make it shorter or affect its durability. Pre-washing your fabric for sewing is a good idea, and again, you should follow the instructions. You probably think that it’s quite hard to remember all of the symbols, but it’s actually pretty simple. First, you need to remember the basic symbol for each of five caring procedures. These are washing, drying, ironing, bleaching, and dry cleaning. Once you know these basic symbols the rest is more or less easy to figure out. So, let’s see it.


Washing symbols

The basic symbol of washing is a simple drawing of a bucket full of water. Adding symbols like a cross, dot, numbers, and hand to it determines the proper procedure.

washing symbol

Hand in a bucket is a ‘Hand Wash’ sign. So, don’t machine wash the product with this sign.

hand washing symbol

If you see some numbers inside the basic symbol they denote the temperature you should use.washing temperatures symbolsDots are just symbols used instead of numbers and correspond to common washing machine programs or cycles. 1 dot stands for 30℃, 2 dots – 40℃, 3 dots – 50℃, 4 dots – 60℃, 5 dots – 70℃, and 6 dots – 95℃.

dot temperature symbols

Beside added symbols placed inside the standard symbol there may be a line or two below the symbol. 

lines under washing delicate fabrics symbol

One line stands for synthetic or any other permanent press fabric cycle. Just to make sure, permanent press fabric is a piece of material that doesn’t wrinkle.

Two lines designate gentle or delicate cycle. It is used for delicate fabrics like wool, silk, chiffon, moire, and more. You don’t really have to know the fabric of your garment. Simply, if it has two horizontal lines beneath the symbol, choose a gentle cycle. Three lines are for very delicate fabrics.

dry cleaning symbol

A cross across the basic symbol means no washing at all. Dry cleaning is an option for these garments, and there will be a sign to help dry cleaning professional to choose a proper procedure.

Drying Symbols

The basic tumble dryer symbol is a circle inside of a square.

tumble dryer symbol

Once again added dots determine the temperature.

If the circle is all black it means you should dry it without heat. 

tumble dryer no heat symbol

One to three dots denote low, medium, and high heat.

drying symbols low medium and high heat

‘Do not tumble dry’ sign means you shouldn’t put the garment into the dryer. Air drying is a solution for clothes with this symbol.

do not tumble dry symbol

Drying symbols can have a line or two beneath the standard symbol. It is basically the same principle as with symbols for washing. Lines designate gentle or permanent press settings for your dryer.

drying delicate and very delicate symbols

Ironing Symbols

These are pretty obvious, so I’ll get straight to the point.

Basic ironing symbol

ironing allowed symbol

Use low-heat level when ironing up to 110℃ or 230℉

low heat ironing

Medium temperature ironing up to 150℃ or 300℉

medium heat ironing symbol

High temperature ironing allowed, up to 200℃ or 390℉

high heat ironing symbol

Do not iron

do not iron symbol

Bleaching symbols

Your white clothes tend to lose brightness and turn drab and grayish over time. Bleaching will revive and brighten your whites, but make sure to follow the instructions. Bleaching can cause  irreparable damage when you don’t use it in a proper way. 

The basic symbol for bleaching is a triangle. An empty triangle means that you can use any kind of bleach.

bleaching basic symbol

A triangle with two diagonal lines means that you can use non-chlorine bleaches only.

non chlorine bleach only symbol

A black or empty triangle with crossed lines is a ‘do not bleach’ symbol. 

do not bleach symbols

Dry Cleaning Symbols

The basic symbol is a circle. You don’t really need to distinguish all dry-cleaning symbols apart from ‘Dry clean’ and ‘Do not dry clean’. Other symbols are meant for professionals to determine a proper method of dry cleaning.

Dry clean

dry clean symbol

Do not dry clean

Circle with letters denotes a kind of solvent that should be used.

dry clean solvent f and p

Natural Drying Symbols

The basic symbol is an empty square.

basic natural drying symbol

 ‘Line dry’ symbol means you should hang the garment from the line or bar.

natural drying on a hanger or a bar symbol

‘Drip dry’ – hang dripping wet garment.

natural drying by dripping

‘Flat dry’ – don’t hang the garment, dry it flat.

natural flat dry symbol

‘Dry in shade’ – Avoid direct sunlight.

dry in shade drying symbol


There you go. Now you can show off your extensive knowledge of garment care symbols. While there are many symbols, it is not so difficult as it seems. If you know only a couple of symbols you can get away with it most of the time. But, if you ruin a beautiful new piece of garment just because you weren’t careful enough to check out the symbols, you’ll be sorry. So, it’s not a great effort to figure out all of the symbols, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing that you know exactly how to wash/clean your clothes.Laundry Symbols Infographic