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Laundry Basics: How to Read Laundry Symbols

Posted by Andres Jimenez on
how to read laundry symbols


If you’ve ever looked at the care labels on your clothing to figure out how to wash them (as you should do), then you’ve noticed lots of hieroglyphic-looking symbols that can be pretty confusing if you’ve never seen the before.  These symbols are actually extremely helpful since they’re universal, and provide clear, concise instructions about the washing needs for each of your garments. 

Jonathan Walford, who is the curatorial director at the Fashion History Museum, had stated that laundry symbols were being utilized in Europe since the late 1950s.  The concept didn’t take off in the U.S. until the mid-1970s, but present day, we notice laundry tag symbols on almost every article of clothing, towel, blanket and sheet, etc.  While there are modest variances between the European and American versions, a good majority of laundry icons of garment tags are universal.

What Do These Laundry Symbols Mean?

Of course, if you don’t know what each symbol means, you can feel pretty lost, and risk ruining your clothes and such because you didn’t follow their directions.  By going over the common laundry symbols then, which are found on care labels, you will be able to do your laundry properly and still be able to get done other chores around the house.

Tub with a Wavy Line Going Across the Middle

This symbol means “machine-washable”, so you can just throw the garment into the washing machine to clean it properly. 

  • If the symbol has one dot in the center, that means to wash it using cold water.
  • Two dots means warm water, and three dots means hot water.
  • Some may have a “30 degrees” in the middle which means that this is the temperature at which you should wash that garment.
  • If the tub symbol has no lines under it, that means that the garment can go into a “normal” wash cycle.
  • The tub symbol having one line under it means it requires permanent press.
  • Two lines means that it needs to be washed in the delicate cycle.

Tub with a Hand Over it

If you see the symbol above but there’s a hand covering the top portion of it, that means that your garment must be washed by hand.  This means that the clothing item is too delicate to handle the tumbling of a washing machine, and that you should keep the temperature of the water cool to warm rather than hot.

Tub with an X Through It

If the tub image has a large “X” through it, that means that you cannot wash it, or else it will likely get ruined.  This symbol essentially means that the garment must be dry-cleaned only, and so you will need to bring it to your local dry cleaner in order to get it clean.


A triangle symbol means that the clothing item can or should be bleached.  This usually applies to whites that are sturdy enough to handle bleach.  It also means that in general, you can use any bleaching agent, as there are many bleach alternatives out there. 

  • If the triangle has two diagonal lines running through it, then it requires a non-chlorine bleach.
  • If you see a triangle with an X through it, then that means that under no circumstances can you bleach the item.

Square with a Circle in the Middle

A square with a circle in its center means that the item can be tumble-dried in your dryer. 

  • One dot in the center means dry at a low temperature.
  • Two dots means the clothing can take a medium temperature
  • Three dots means you can dry the garment at a high temperature.
  • A square with a circle in the middle and an X running through it means that the item should air-dry, and not go into the dryer at all.
  • A large square by itself means the item should be air-dried.
  • If the square has two diagonal lines in the top left corner, the clothing item should be dried outside of direct sunlight.
  • A square with 3 vertical lines means to drip-dry.
  • A square with a curved line at the top means to hang-dry.
  • A square with a solid black circle means that no heat should be used to dry the item.
  • A square with one horizontal line in the middle means that the item should be dried flat.

Iron Symbol

The symbol that looks like an iron identifies whether or not you can iron garments. 

  • If there’s one dot inside, you can iron at a low temperature.
  • Two dots means you can iron at a medium temperature, and three dots means you can iron using a high temperature.
  • Three lines under the iron means that you can use steam.
  • An X through the symbol means you cannot iron and should get the item steamed professionally.


A circle means that the item must be dry-cleaned.  However, if there is an X through the circle, then the item cannot be dry-cleaned.  Other circles are:

  • A circle with a diagonal line in the bottom-left quadrant means the item should be washed using a short cycle.
  • A diagonal line in the upper-right quadrant means the item should not be finished with steam.
  • If the line is in the bottom-right quadrant, it should be exposed to only low heat.
  • The top-left quadrant means reduced moisture.
  • An x-ed out circle means the item should not be made wet to clean.

Circle with a Letter in the Middle

Circles with letters in the middle refer to solvents that may be present in certain laundry products. 

  • Circle with an A in the middle means you can use any solvent.
  • Circle with a P means you can use any solvent except for Tetrachloroethylene.
  • Circle with F means you can use petroleum-based solvents only.
  • Circle with a W in the middle means that the clothing requires wet cleaning.

Remember These Laundry Symbols Carefully

We recommend referring to these symbols the next time you’re getting ready to do your laundry, because you might be surprised by how you’ve been washing certain garments improperly over the years.  These symbols will make sure that you keep your clothing in great shape for years to come.

Grab Green laundry products, such as our 3 in 1 Laundry Detergent Pods, 3 in 1 Laundry Detergent Powder, Delicate Laundry Detergent Pods, Bleach Alternative Pods, and Stoneworks Laundry Detergent Pods are compatible with all kinds of care labels.  This ensures that no matter what symbols you find on your clothing items’ labels, you’ll be able to find the perfect products to get your clothes clean without damaging the materials, and of course, in an eco-friendly way.

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