How to Read Laundry Label Icons: Wash Your Clothes So They’ll Last

How To Read Laundry Label Icons Featured

I still cringe at the mistake I made six years ago.

I’d just bought a chunky knit sweater with an amazing cabled pattern from Gap, and unlike most things from Gap, it fit me perfectly. The color was beautiful, the material was comfortable. Let’s just say I’ve yet to score something as perfect as that chunky knit sweater was.

But six years ago, I was still an overall newbie to style, fashion, and taking care of myself. I didn’t know about the nuances of laundry and how different articles of clothing and different materials have different needs when they’re washed. So, I threw that chunky knit sweater in the washing machine with some hoodies. It shrank. I couldn’t salvage it. I tossed it.

People are bound to learn that lesson the hard way so I don’t beat myself up over it anymore, but if you can help it, learn from my mistake and avoid it for yourself. Learn to read the labels on your clothing, learn what the icons mean, and treat your wardrobe right!

Laundry Label Icons for Dry Cleaning

Do not dry clean
Dry clean only

Laundry Label Icons for Washing

Do not wash
Hand wash only
Machine wash on cold
Machine wash on cold (permanent press)
Machine wash on cold (gentle)
Machine wash on warm
Machine wash on warm (permanent press)
Machine wash on warm (gentle)
Machine wash on hot
Machine wash on hot (permanent press)
Machine wash on hot (gentle)

Laundry Label Icons for Bleach

Do not bleach
Non-chlorine bleach acceptable
Bleach acceptable

Laundry Label Icons for Drying

Line dry only
Drip dry only
Flat dry only
Do not tumble dry
Tumble dry without heat
Tumble dry without heat (permanent press)
Tumble dry without heat (gentle)
Tumble dry on low heat
Tumble dry on low heat (permanent press)
Tumble dry on low heat (gentle)
Tumble dry on medium heat
Tumble dry on medium heat (permanent press)
Tumble dry on medium heat (gentle)
Tumble dry on high heat

Laundry Label Icons for Ironing

Do not iron
Do not iron with steam
Iron on low heat (steam acceptable)
Iron on medium heat (steam acceptable)
Iron on high heat (steam acceptable)

There are only five things you really need to remember:

  • Circle is for dry cleaning
  • Cup is for washing
  • Triangle is for bleaching
  • Square is for drying
  • Iron is for ironing

If you know those by heart, then everything else is pretty self-explanatory and you can figure it out from the context of each icon.

Now that you know how to read specific laundry label icons, it’s time to learn the general guidelines when it comes washing common clothing types. To save time when doing laundry, use these general guidelines except when dealing with expensive or favorite items.

What to Do If The Label Is Missing

Sometimes, the laundry label didn’t print correctly and everything’s blurry or it’s missing entirely. A missing label often happens in stores and especially if you’re buying from thrift stores, even though that is a smart way to save money. But, without the icons, what can you do?

First, check to see if the type of fabric is listed somewhere inside. Often, the care guidelines and the fabric content labels are two separate items. This can help you decide whether it’s machine wash, hand wash, or dry clean only.

Fabrics like leather, fur (even faux-fur), polyamide, and viscose should never go in the washer. Any fabric that shrinks easily, like cotton, shouldn’t be washed in hot water or dried on high heat.

Ideally, cashmere, wool, and silk should be dry cleaned or hand washed only. You can try laundry mesh bags that keep your delicates and hand wash fabrics separate from everything else. This 4-pack from Kimmama work really well for sweaters and blouses.

For most other fabrics, if you’re not sure, stick to cold water only and a low-heat setting on the dryer. If you’re worried about shrinking, hang the item to dry versus using your dryer. Avoid bleach and use a mild detergent only.

If the clothing item has any embellishments, turn it inside out, use a laundry bag, or hand wash it only.

Frequently Asked Questions

I followed the laundry label perfectly. Why did my clothing's color bleed onto everything?

Laundry labels don’t always mention everything, including the fact that some colors tend to bleed. This means your new red shirt might just turn all your white clothes pink.

If you’re washing a dark or bright colored item for the first time, add in a color catcher sheet to prevent the color from staining other items. Shout Color Catcher Sheets are a life saver.

Can you wash dry clean only clothing?

Sometimes. Washing on a gentle cycle by itself, using a protective laundry bag like mentioned above, and hand washing may work. Some dryers have a dry clean setting that works well too.

Image credit: PlanetCare via Unsplash

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Crystal Crowder

Crystal's spent over 15 years as a tech geek who writes about everything from gadgets to lifestyle and everything in between. She not only wants to live her best life, but help others do the same.