Laundry symbols, also known as care symbols, are small pictograms found on the tags of clothing and textiles that provide instructions on how to properly clean and care for the item.
They cover various aspects such as washing, drying, ironing, bleaching, and dry cleaning. Each symbol has a specific meaning designed to help users understand the best methods to maintain the quality and longevity of their garments.
Importance of Understanding Laundry Symbols
Understanding laundry symbols is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it ensures that clothing is cleaned in a way that won’t damage or degrade the material, preserving the item’s quality and lifespan.
Secondly, it can save money by preventing damage that could require the replacement of clothing.
Lastly, it helps consumers make more informed purchasing decisions, as they can choose garments that fit their lifestyle and laundry capabilities.
For example, those who prefer not to hand wash items can avoid buying clothing with a ‘hand wash only’ symbol.
History of Laundry Symbols
Origin and Development
The concept of laundry symbols, also known as care symbols, was first introduced in the early 1950s by the International Association for Textile Care Labelling (GINETEX).
The idea was to create a universal language of symbols to replace the multitude of written instructions in various languages found on clothing labels.
The goal was to simplify and standardize care instructions to prevent damage caused by improper cleaning methods.
Standardization across Different Countries
In the initial stages, different countries had their own sets of symbols which led to confusion. To address this issue, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) stepped in and published the first international standards for care labels in 1984.
The ISO 3758:2012 standard is currently in use, which provides a code of reference for the use of care symbols.
However, not all countries follow the ISO standard completely. For instance, the United States follows the ASTM care symbol system, which has some variations from the ISO system, particularly in the depiction of water temperature and ironing symbols. Similarly, Japan has its own system called the JIS L 0217 standard.
Despite these differences, the basic symbols indicating washing, bleaching, drying, ironing, and professional textile care remain largely consistent globally, ensuring that consumers can understand the basic care instructions for their garments, no matter where they are purchased.
Understanding Laundry Symbols
Washing Symbols and Their Meanings
- Bucket with a Wave: This symbol represents machine washing. If there are no other markings, it means the garment can be washed normally.
- Hand in the Bucket: This implies that the item should be hand washed only, typically at a temperature equal to or below 40°C.
- Bucket with a Single Line Underneath: This indicates that the clothing should be washed on a synthetic cycle which has a reduced spin speed and gentle wash action.
- Bucket with Two Lines Underneath: This suggests that the garment should be washed on a wool wash program. These programs are very gentle and designed not to agitate the clothes too much.
- Bucket with an ‘X’: This symbol means that the item should not be washed.
- Bucket with a Number Inside: The number inside the bucket refers to the maximum temperature that you should wash the garment at. For instance, if the bucket has a ’30’ inside, it means you should not wash it at temperatures above 30°C.
- Bucket with a Dot: A single dot inside the bucket indicates a cold wash or temperatures up to 30°C. Two dots mean the garment can be washed at 40°C, and three dots indicate it can be washed at 50°C.
Drying Symbols and Their Meanings
Drying symbols guide you on how to dry your clothes without damaging them. Here are the most common ones:
- Square with Circle Inside: This symbol represents tumble drying. If there are no additional marks, it means the garment can be tumble dried in any heat setting.
- Square with Circle and a Dot Inside: A single dot inside the circle indicates that the clothing should be tumble-dried at a low heat setting.
- Square with Circle and Two Dots Inside: Two dots inside the circle mean that you can tumble dry the clothing at a high heat setting.
- Square with Circle and an ‘X’: This symbol means that the garment should not be tumble dried.
- Square with a Line Inside: This symbol represents flat drying. You should lay the garment flat to dry rather than hanging it up.
- Square with a Semi-Circle on Top: This implies that the item should be drip dried, meaning the garment should be hung and allowed to drip dry.
- Square with Three Vertical Lines: This symbol indicates that the garment should be dried in the shade.
- Square with an ‘X’: This symbol means the garment should not be dried.
Ironing Symbols and Their Meanings
Ironing symbols provide guidance on how to iron your clothes without causing damage. Here are the most common ones:
- Iron Symbol: An icon of an iron indicates that the item can be ironed. If there are no additional marks, it means the garment can be ironed at any temperature.
- Iron with a Dot Inside: A single dot inside the iron symbol suggests that the clothing should be ironed at a low temperature, typically up to 110°C. This is suitable for clothes made from fabrics like acrylic, rayon, and polyester.
- Iron with Two Dots Inside: Two dots inside the iron symbol mean you can iron the clothing at a medium temperature, typically up to 150°C. This is suitable for clothes made from wool and polyester mix fabrics.
- Iron with Three Dots Inside: Three dots mean the garment can be ironed at a high temperature, typically up to 200°C. This is suitable for clothes made from linen, cotton, or viscose.
- Iron with an ‘X’: This symbol means that the garment should not be ironed.
- Iron with Steam Coming Out and an ‘X’: This symbol indicates that you should not use steam when ironing this garment.
Bleaching Symbols and Their Meanings
Bleaching symbols provide guidance on whether or not you can use bleach on your clothes, and if so, what kind. Here are the most common ones:
- Triangle Symbol: This symbol indicates that you can use bleach on the garment. If there are no additional marks, it means any type of bleach can be used when needed.
- Triangle with Two Horizontal Stripes: This symbol means only non-chlorine, color-safe bleach can be used on the item.
- Triangle with an ‘X’: This symbol indicates that you should not use any type of bleach on the garment.
Dry Cleaning Symbols and Their Meanings
Dry cleaning symbols provide guidance on how you should clean your clothes professionally. Here are the most common ones:
- Circle Symbol: A plain circle indicates that the item should be dry cleaned.
- Circle with a Letter Inside: A letter inside the circle provides additional instructions to the dry cleaner on what type of solvent to use. The letter ‘A’ means any solvent can be used, ‘P’ means any solvent except trichloroethylene can be used, and ‘F’ means petroleum solvent only should be used.
- Circle with an Underline: An underline beneath the circle suggests a milder or reduced process should be used.
- Circle with Two Lines Underneath: This symbol indicates that a very mild process should be used for the garment.
- Circle with an ‘X’: This symbol means that the item should not be dry cleaned.
Misunderstood or Confusing Laundry Symbols
Commonly Misinterpreted Symbols
- Square with a Circle: This symbol is often mistaken for a standard washing instruction, but it actually indicates that the item is suitable for tumble drying.
- Triangle with ‘Cl’ Inside: Some people mistake this for a standard bleaching instruction, but it specifically means that the garment can be bleached with chlorine.
- Circle Inside a Square: This symbol is often confused with the tumble dry symbol, but it actually means the garment can be naturally dried flat.
- Hand in a Tub: Many people think this means ‘hand wash only’, but it actually means ‘hand wash preferred’. The garment can still be machine washed on a delicate cycle.
- Letter ‘P’ Inside a Circle: This symbol is commonly misunderstood as a ‘do not dry clean’ symbol, but it actually instructs dry cleaners to use any solvent except trichloroethylene.
Clarification and Explanation
- Square with a Circle: This symbol means the garment can be tumble dried. If there’s a dot inside, it indicates the heat setting: one dot for low heat, two dots for medium, and three dots for high.
- Triangle with ‘Cl’ Inside: This symbol indicates that the garment can be bleached with chlorine. It’s typically found on white cotton fabrics.
- Circle Inside a Square: This symbol means the garment should be dried flat away from direct sunlight.
- Hand in a Tub: This symbol means the garment can be hand washed or machine washed on a delicate cycle. It’s usually found on delicate fabrics like silk or wool.
- Letter ‘P’ Inside a Circle: This symbol instructs dry cleaners to use any solvent except trichloroethylene. It’s typically found on garments made from synthetic fabrics.
The Impact of Ignoring Laundry Symbols
Potential Damage to Clothing
Ignoring laundry symbols can lead to potential damage to your clothing. For instance, if a garment’s care label indicates “no bleach,” using any kind of bleach could harm the fabric or cause discoloration.
Similarly, ignoring the “no tumble dry” symbol might result in shrinkage or warping of the item. Misinterpreting or disregarding these symbols can also lead to improper washing, drying, or ironing methods that could ruin the clothing.
In some cases, such as with velvet, silk, and leather, ignoring the “dry clean only” tag could even cause irreversible damage.
Environmental and Economic Implications
Apart from damaging individual garments, ignoring laundry symbols can have broader environmental and economic implications.
Using inappropriate cleaning methods may consume more energy and water, leading to higher utility bills and unnecessary environmental impact.
Additionally, ruining clothes due to improper care can result in more frequent replacement of items, contributing to increased textile waste and consumer costs.
Tips for Remembering Laundry Symbols
A. Handy Resources and Guides
- Laundry Symbol Charts: Keep a chart with all the laundry symbols near your washing machine for easy reference. You can print one out from online sources like Tide or Good Housekeeping.
- Laundry Apps: There are several smartphone apps available that can help decode laundry symbols. For example, ‘Laundry Day – Care Symbol Reader’ is an app where you can simply scan the tag on your clothes and it will tell you how to wash them.
- Sticky Notes: Write down the most common symbols and their meanings on sticky notes and place them in visible areas around your laundry room.
Strategies for Memorizing Symbols
- Association: Associate each symbol with a visual image or scenario that will help you remember its meaning. For example, a triangle might be remembered as a warning sign, which is used for bleaching symbols.
- Repetition: Practice makes perfect. The more you refer to the symbols and use them, the more likely you are to remember them.
- Flashcards: Make flashcards with a symbol on one side and its meaning on the other. Go through these regularly until you have memorized them all.
- Grouping: Group symbols based on their shape or purpose. For example, group all symbols related to washing (tub icons), drying (square icons), ironing (iron icons), etc. This way, you only need to remember what each group signifies.
In conclusion, understanding laundry symbols is crucial in maintaining the longevity and quality of your garments. These symbols provide important instructions on washing, drying, bleaching, and ironing processes that are suitable for specific fabrics.
Ignoring these symbols can result in damage to your clothing, unnecessary environmental impact, and additional economic costs.
With the availability of various resources such as laundry symbol charts, apps, and mnemonic strategies, remembering these symbols has become easier than ever.
Therefore, investing some time to familiarize yourself with these symbols can save you from potential mishaps, helping to conserve your wardrobe, and by extension, your wallet and the environment.
1. What are laundry symbols?
Laundry symbols, also known as care symbols, are pictograms that represent different methods of washing, drying, ironing and bleaching a garment. They provide guidelines on how to care for your clothing to prevent damage.
2. Why are laundry symbols important?
Laundry symbols are important because they guide the user in treating their garments correctly. Ignoring these symbols can lead to potential damage to your clothing, such as shrinkage, color fading, or even fabric degradation.
3. Where can I find laundry symbols on my clothes?
Laundry symbols are usually found on the care label or tag of your clothes. This tag is often located on the inside seam, collar, or side of the garment.
4. I’ve lost the label on my clothing. How do I know how to wash it?
If the label has been removed, it’s safest to hand wash the item in cold water and allow it to air dry. For future reference, it’s best to take note of the laundry symbols when you first purchase an item.
5. Are there any tools to help me understand laundry symbols?
Yes, there are many resources available to help you decipher laundry symbols. These include online guides, charts, and even apps that can scan and interpret the symbols for you.
6. Can I ignore the ‘dry clean only’ symbol?
It’s not advisable to ignore the ‘dry clean only’ symbol. This symbol indicates that the garment may be damaged by regular washing methods. Ignoring this symbol could result in irreversible damage to the item.
7. What does a triangle symbol mean on a clothing label?
A triangle symbol on a clothing label refers to bleaching instructions. If the triangle is empty, it means any bleach can be used when needed. A triangle with two slanted lines means only non-chlorine bleach should be used. A solid black triangle or one with an X through it means do not bleach.
8. What does a square symbol mean on a clothing label?
A square symbol on a clothing label refers to drying instructions. The various dots and lines inside the square provide further details, such as tumble dry, line dry, drip dry, dry flat, and the heat setting (low, medium, high, no heat).
9. What does a circle symbol mean on a clothing label?
A circle symbol on a clothing label refers to dry cleaning instructions. An empty circle means the item can be dry cleaned, while a circle with an X through it means do not dry clean. Other variations provide more specific instructions for professional dry cleaners.
10. Is it necessary to follow all the laundry symbols on my clothes?
While it’s not mandatory, it’s highly recommended to follow the laundry symbols on your clothes. They are designed to help you maintain the quality of your garments and prolong their lifespan. Ignoring them could lead to damage or shorten the life of your clothes.