What do the care symbols mean on laundry tags?

Have you ever put one of your favorite garments into the washing machine, only for it to come out shriveled and ruined? Don’t worry–this happens to more people than you’d think. Loads of us wash our garments incorrectly because there are just so many different types of garments, washing powders, and settings to think about. It’d be nice if we could just throw all our dirty clothes into a machine and hit a button to wash them all.

But the reality is that we need to care for our garments in different ways to ensure that they’re not getting destroyed in the washing machine or dryer. So how can we tell how we should treat our clothes? Do we just need to learn it and commit it to memory? Or is there a secret to remembering everything?

It’s all in those care symbols that you see on laundry tags.

Hilabels Care Tags
Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/aJN-jjFLyCU (CC0)

What are care symbols?

Care symbols are a set of basic icons that are printed on the laundry tags of our clothes. Clothing is worn all around the world and there’s a good chance that clothes from one country might end up being worn by someone on the other side of the world. As such, there are five basic symbols that create an international language that will teach us the best way to wash certain clothes. These are:

Washing icon

This usually looks like a bucket with water inside of it. This usually indicates that it can and should be washed with the number or icon on top of it. For example, the basic washing icon means that you can machine wash it, but sometimes there will be a temperature number on it or a series of dots. One dot means that you should cold wash it, two dots means warm, and three dots means hot. You might also see a washing icon with a cross over it. This just means that you shouldn’t wash it. If you see a hand, it means that you can (and probably should) hand wash the garment instead.

Triangle icon

The triangle icon indicates bleaching. If there’s a triangle, you should bleach it as you need. If there’s a cross, you shouldn’t bleach it. If you see a triangle with a few lines through it, then it means that you can bleach it if you avoid chlorine-based bleaches. This icon can seem a bit abstract at first, but it’s very important to remember.

Iron icon

This just looks like a regular clothes iron that you’d find. As with the washing icon, you should count the number of dots (if there are any) to see how hot you should iron it. One means cool, two means warm, and three means hot. If there’s a cross, you don’t iron it. You might also see an iron icon with many dots below it. This means steaming and will indicate if you should or shouldn’t use the steam function on your iron.

Square icon

The square icon represents drying. As with the other icons, a cross means that you shouldn’t dry it. There are a number of different icons that can be inside of the square, so here are the most common ones:

  • Circle inside square: tumble dry
  • Square with two lines in the corner: dry in the shade
  • Square with one horizontal line: dry flat
  • Square with three vertical lines: dry dry
  • Square with a semi-circle at the top: line dry

These are the most basic ones you’ll see and should give you an indication of how to dry the garment. You might also see the three dots that represent the temperature that it should be dried in.

Circle icon

Lastly, the circle icon represents dry cleaning. If there’s a circle, it can be dry cleaned. If there’s a circle with a cross over it, you should avoid dry cleaning. Sometimes, you might see the circle icon with text such as “dry clean only”. If this is the case, then you’ll want to leave it up to professionals to take care of your clothes. You might also see letters inside of the circle, but this is something for dry cleaners to look at because it represents the chemicals that can be used to clean the garment.


Hopefully, this article has helped you understand what these care instruction labels for clothing mean. They’re extremely important for helping people understand how to take care of garments and must be printed to avoid ruining clothes.

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