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Laundry care symbols on a white t-shirt.

Your Guide to Laundry Care Symbols

By ShirtSpace | Oct 03, 2022 |  Updated Aug 15, 2023

Do laundry symbols have you totally confused, and your clothes are shrinking because of that? Have you ever pulled your favorite t-shirt out of the dryer only to find that it’s two sizes too small, and you may just have to pass it off to your child?  Before finding an actual guide to fabric care and washing symbols, one typically takes a peek at the care instructions on the tag (usually) and then makes an educated guess. Usually, that will result in washing in cold water, and drying using the permanent press/medium heat setting on your dryer, fingers and toes crossed, hoping for a miracle! Typically, this will work in your favor, load after load! We would be lying to ourselves if doing our laundry this way didn’t sacrifice a shirt or two (maybe even a sock, but we all know that’s a whole different story!) ShirtSpace has a really useful blog you can check out on how to keep those cotton clothes from shrinking! No more washing your clothes in hopes they won’t shrink! Decorators, don’t feel left out. We also have a guide on how to care for your newly decorated shirt.

How to Read Clothing Care Symbols

What is a Laundry Symbols Guide?

A laundry symbol guide is a way to decipher the symbols that appear on clothing tags. You can reference this key to see each symbol also described in words.  If you are not familiar with the symbols, then this can be an incredibly useful tool. 

We’ve all heard the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, but sometimes it's more confusing in text! Fortunately for us carefree, fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants laundry aficionados, there is an informative fabric care symbol guide created by the American Cleaning Institute that helps to eliminate the dreaded guessing game. From what machine wash cycle to select to whether or not to use bleach or fabric softener, this laundry tag symbols guide will help you decipher the laundry symbols you find on those pesky clothing tags. No more guessing games about the dos and don'ts of caring for your garments! Check out Whirlpools blog, a comprehensive guide on laundry tag symbols that has information on everything from washing and drying, all the way to ironing.  

Washing and Drying Symbols and Labels on Clothes Explained

Washing and drying symbols are universally known icons that often appear on a garment's tag, and are useful when cleaning your clothing so that they last as long as possible, helping you avoid unfortunate laundry mishaps.  

So, before you find yourself scrambling to figure out whether to use bleach or no bleach, high or low heat, cold or warm water, save this handy guide on washing symbols to your desktop or phone, to avoid the headache of how to wash your clothes!  For each t-shirt, sweatshirt, or a pair of pants that you don’t have to re-buy due to an unfortunate laundry mishap, that’s more money in your pocket!

What Do Laundry Care Symbols Mean?

Laundry care symbols are a set of icons that are widely recognized and help indicate the correct actions that you should take to best care for your clothes when washing, drying or ironing so that they are not damaged and have a long lifespan. This may include instructions involving heat, water and agitation exposure. 

Woman dissatisfied with shrunken sweater after machine drying.

Image Source: Utopia Cleaners

What Are Washing Instruction Symbols?

Machine wash symbols are icons that indicate the proper settings you should use on your machine washer, such as temperature and type of cycle. Or the symbols might show that you should handwash, or not wash at all. There might also be icons that tell you whether your piece of clothing can tolerate bleach. 

Machine wash laundry care symbol key

Image Source: Real Simple 

Has the tag inside your garment been torn off? Does it look worn from all of that carefree washing you have been doing? Well, do not panic! But also, don’t risk ruining another shirt or sweatshirt! Sure, you could handwash and hang dry your clothes, but who wants to do that when you have a convenient washer and dryer to do the work for you?! Washing symbols are the key to the proper care of your clothes. Without washing tag symbols, you may find you are doing it all wrong, and your clothes may shrink because of that. The site, Real Simple, has a convenient printable laundry symbol sheet for you to print off. Get crafty, frame it and hang it in your laundry room, so you can easily reference the washing tag symbols while doing your laundry! 

Drying Laundry Symbols

Machine dry tumble dry low laundry care symbol key

Image Source: Real Simple

Clothing care symbols can be easily found by doing a simple search on the internet! Want to dry your clothes the proper way? There are many ways to dry your clothes and save the headache of figuring out which setting to use. A square with a circle within it shows an item needs to be tumble dried. Two lines mean you will need to dry on a delicate or gentle temperature. This article by Homes & Gardens gives a detailed explanation. There are many convenient sites to navigate to find the laundry care symbols you need! Check out our handy blog on how to care for those delicate polyester shirts! So have no fear if your tag looks a little too worn, or if it has fallen off; you are sure to find many resources out there that will help you with clothing care symbols. Laundry care symbols don’t just apply to washing items in home appliances. They are also great for letting you know if you need to bleach or iron your clothing items, too.

Bleaching Laundry Symbols

Bleaching symbols laundry care key

Image Source: Tide 

To bleach or not to bleach, that is the million-dollar question! Bleaching is great for whitening, brightening, and removing stubborn stains. You will always want to read the fabric care label first before bleaching. Just because the item is white, it doesn’t always mean it is safe to bleach. The bleach symbol will be a triangle on your tag. If this appears on your garment, you can bleach as needed to make your whites even whiter! However, if you see a triangle with diagonal lines inside it, this will mean you can only use non-chlorine bleach. Study the cleaning institute's guide on bleaching before doing any bleaching of garments.

Ironing Laundry Symbols

Ironing symbols laundry care guide key

Image Source: Real Simple

Do people still iron their clothes? Nowadays, if we see something wrinkled, we throw it in the hot dryer for a few minutes and hope the wrinkles come out! Crisp, clean lines are still in style. Be sure to read your laundry tag symbols before doing any sort of ironing. Most fabrics will look great ironed, but delicate materials can be damaged if they are ironed. Some fabrics even need special care when ironing. Ironing symbols will depict an iron with dots inside, representing the maximum temperature that you should use to iron your garment. No dots? Feel free to iron your piece of clothing at any temperature. 

What Are Dry Cleaning Laundry Symbols?

A dry clean symbol is an icon that tells you whether the garment should or should not be dry-cleaned. If it is a dry cleaning friendly piece of clothing, there might even be additional symbols that tell you why kind of dry cleaning method to use.

Dry Cleaning Laundry Symbols

Dry cleaning symbols laundry care guide key

Image Source: CAITLIN-MARIE MINER ONG, appearing on Real Simple

Not every item can be simply tossed in the washing machine and dried at the temperature of your choosing. Sometimes garments are so delicate they need to be dry-cleaned. The laundry tag symbol for dry cleaning is a circle. This indicates that a garment is best cleaned by a professional dry cleaner. Avoid washing ANYTHING with this symbol in your washing machine, as it can damage or even destroy certain fabrics. Take it to a professional dry cleaner and enjoy your items for years to come!

What Are Your Best Laundry Care Tips and Tricks?

Now that you have read our blog on laundry tag symbols, please let us know what you think! Did we miss something that you still have questions about? Comment below with any questions or comments you have about laundry symbols or blank apparel! If you're still not finding the answer to your pressing laundry care question? Check out Porch's roundup of nifty tips and tricks on how to sort, wash and organize your clothing.



Leanna10/05/2022 10:45 pm

Amazing article. Super helpful information for everyone.


ShirtSpace10/05/2022 10:47 pm

Hi, Leanna. We are glad you found this article useful. Thanks for reading!


Mindy06/17/2022 12:58 pm

Oh THANK you thank YOU!!! No more guess work!


ShirtSpace10/05/2022 10:45 pm

Thank you for reading, Mindy!


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