Decoding Your Laundry Symbols

To many of us, they just look like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs… but the symbols on our clothing labels are there to help us look after our items and ensure we are washing them correctly.

Fewer than one in seven of us can correctly identify the most common washing symbols on our clothing care labels, while one third of us admit to never actually checking labels before throwing them in the washing machine.*

This lack of familiarity around how our clothes should be cleaned could be costing you money. For example 70% of people confessed they had in the past, machine-washed items that should have been taken to the dry cleaners because they failed to look at the care label. It’s all too easy to ruin items of clothing in this way. 

Time for an intervention.

So, here’s our best round up of the most common laundry symbols and what they mean for you and your clothes.


If you see a hand in a tub of water, like the below, that means your item should be handwashed only.

They need a gentle clean at 40°C or less. Your washing machine may well have a handwash cycle so you could use this - they tend to have slower spins plus the drum will rotate more slowly through the wash cycles and turn much less to prevent shrinkage or snagging.

Can it go in the machine?

This is the machine wash symbol and will let you know immediately if your item is safe to go in the machine. It will usually have a number inside or some dots to let you know the maximum temperature it can be washed at also… more of those later…

The machine wash symbol with a single line beneath means it can be machine washed with a permanent press cycle. What is a permanent press cycle? This cycle will wash your clothes while causing minimal wrinkling. The cycle uses warm water to relax any creases and a slow spin to prevent new ones from forming. Most clothes made of synthetic material will have this symbol. If you can’t spot a specific permanent press cycle on your machine’s settings, just make sure the temperature is cool and adjust the spin cycle to a slower one.

The machine wash symbol with two lines beneath it means your clothing can still be machine washed, but you will want to use a cycle for delicate items.

And, if there’s a big cross through the washing symbol then do NOT put it in your machine. 

Washing machine cycle temperatures.

Labels which have the machine wash symbol along with some dots or a number inside, let you know the temperature you should not exceed when washing your item. 

Symbol with 30°C or a single dot – do not exceed 30°C 

Symbol with 40°C or two dots – do not exceed 40°C 

Symbol with 50°C or three dots – do not exceed 50°C

Symbol with 60°C or four dots – do not exceed 60°C

Symbol with 70°C or five dots – do not exceed 70°C

Symbol with 95°C or six dots – do not exceed 95°C

Dry cleaning.

A simple circle means your item should be dry cleaned only.

And the same circle with a cross through it means… you guessed it, do NOT dry clean.

In addition to the circle to show an item needs dry cleaning you might see some letters inside the circle. This tells the professional dry cleaner important information about the chemicals to be used. The letter F indicates hydrocarbon solvent use only. P indicates tetrachloroethylene (PCE) use only and a W means the clothing needs professional wet cleaning. Any horizontal lines under the circle indicates how gentle the cleaning level must be.

So what are all the triangles for?

An empty triangle on your care label means you can safely use bleach on your clothing if you need to. If there are diagonal stripes inside the triangle you can only use non-chlorine bleach. And if the whole triangle is crossed out by two lines, you mustn’t use bleach at all on your item of clothing. 

But don’t panic if you can’t use bleaching agents on an item. Always remember smol stain gel gives you great stain removal without using any bleach at all. It’s saved the life of many items of clothing for so many of our customers, so remember to have some in stock for your laundry challenges! 

Ironing things out.

This is the symbol you need to see to know it is safe to iron your item. It’s apparently the one symbol that is most well understood (perhaps unsurprisingly) but still 6 out of 10 of us just use a high heat setting with steam when we iron, without actually checking the ironing temperature guide.

Your iron symbol should have 1, 2 or 3 dots inside it to indicate the maximum ironing temperature for that garment.

1 dot means a max temp of 110°C, 2 dots means a max of 150°C and 3 dots means you can iron up to a max temperature of 200°C.

If you see this ironing symbol then make sure you have turned off the steam function on your iron. 

And if you see this symbol… put the iron away!

Remember to check new items of clothing.

It’s worthwhile understanding the main laundry symbols to avoid any mishaps and washing machine disasters. One top tip is to check the care labels before you buy any items… you could be saving yourself a lot of time and effort by avoiding items that are going to be high maintenance! And we’re all for that.