What Do the Washing Symbols on Clothing Labels Mean

What Do the Washing Symbols on Clothing Labels Mean

"How should I best wash and care for my cute new top or dark-wash jeans?" you may ask. The obvious answer is, "Check the care label", right? Ummm, not necessarily. A dirty little secret about laundry care labels is that they don't always tell you how to best clean the clothes.

Why, you might ask, would the manufacturer bother to include them? Because they're compelled by law. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) mandates that clothing companies meet federal agency regulatory requirements. Sadly, because sometimes laundry care labels are created with only the letter of the law in mind, they do not always communicate optimal instructions for care.

The mission then becomes how to interpret the secret code on these labels to know what you really can and cannot do to get your clothes clean. In some cases, clothing tags advise us to "dry clean only" or "machine wash, tumble dry". Making it still more confusing to average citizens, these phrases often have a different legal meaning versus practical meaning.

Practical Advice for Heeding Words on Common Laundry Care Labels

Some directions in the labels are more meaningful than others. You may have to ignore some of the more poorly written labels and use common sense. Still, it's always worth checking, and here's some translation to help you wade through:

• Check the label for important instructions like "wash separately" or "dryclean only". These instructions are intended to lengthen the life of your clothes and prevent them from being ruined (see When to Dry-Clean).

• Don't forget to look for drying instructions like "air-dry" or "tumble dry low." The way in which you dry your clothes is just as important as how they are washed, and placing delicate items in a hot dryer can ruin them. When in doubt, dry fragile items on a line or a drying rack.

• Interpret any laundry label symbols. (This can be daunting if you're not a visual person.) The system is intended to be a straightforward guide to give instructions on washing, bleaching, and drying. If you don't feel you understand what the symbols are trying to tell you, check other laundry care advice in this book such as How to Hand-Wash or How to Care for a Sweater.

Universal Visual Symbols for Laundry Care

Recently, a new layer of complexity has been introduced to us from European standards and practices, in the form of labels featuring no words, only laundry symbols. These symbols can be confusing. Many clothing labels provide only pictograms and omit written instructions and important details for keeping our garments looking their best. Familiarize yourself with the chart, before you attempt to do your first load of laundry. I've included a common-sense translation of the symbols you'll most often find.


What Do the Washing Symbols on Clothing Labels Mean