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Laundry Care and Symbol Guide With Free Printable

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It’s easy to take laundry symbols for granted, but they are actually very important in order to ensure that your clothes are properly cleaned. Laundry symbols indicate the level of care that a particular garment needs in order to be properly washed and dried. By understanding these symbols, you can avoid ruining your clothes by improperly washing or drying them.

The most important laundry symbol to pay attention to is the wash symbol. This symbol will tell you the water temperature that your garment should be washed in, as well as whether or not you should use bleach. It’s important to follow these instructions carefully, as washing a garment in water that is too hot can cause shrinkage and damage the fabric.

Another important symbol to pay attention to is the dry symbol. This symbol will tell you how a particular garment should be dried. For example, some garments should be hung to dry while others can be tumble dried on low heat. Again, it’s important to follow these instructions carefully in order to avoid damaging your clothes.

Finally, you’ll also see a symbol that indicates whether or not a particular garment can be ironed. This is important to know if you want to avoid ruining your clothes with an iron that is too hot.

By understanding these laundry symbols, you can ensure that your clothes are properly cleaned and cared for. Pay attention to these symbols the next time you do your laundry and you’ll be sure to keep your clothes looking their best.

Washing symbols

Washing symbols fall into three categories: How to wash, water temperature, and bleach usage. There are several symbols to know for each category.

How to Wash

The basic symbols of how to wash will be depicted with tubs of water. A hand inside the tub will symbolize garments which will need hand-washing, while others may have lines underneath to indicate the different wash cycles.

One line underneath the tub means machine wash, permanent press.

Two lines underneath the tub indicates to machine wash on gentle cycle.

A tub with no lines underneath can be washed with no special considerations.

Water Temperature

Numbers in laundry symbols

Numbers refer to the water temperature in which your garment should be washed. 30 is the lowest water temperature, while 95 is the highest. Several numbers are in between. It’s important to follow these instructions carefully, as washing a garment in water that is too hot can cause shrinkage and damage the fabric.

It’s also important to know that these numbers are noted in degrees Celsius.

Dots Instead of Numbers

Sometimes garments have dots in place of numbers to show water temperature. The lower the number of dots, the lower the temperature. One dot will start at 30 degrees Celsius, and it will go up in increments of ten until you reach 5 dots, or 70 degrees. Then, it will jump to 6 dots, or 95 degrees.

Hand Washing

One final note on hand-washing. There are two extra symbols that you’ll need to know when handwashing is required. Since this is mostly for delicate items like cashmere and silk, you may have extra care requirements. You’ll need to know whether or not it is okay to wring out these items or not. Some items it is fine to rinse and wring out before drying to remove excess water. However, this can damage certain fabrics, so you will want to be sure to check before attempting.

Bleach Usage

Bleach care is signified by a triangle symbol. An open triangle means the garment is safe to bleach, which a crossed out triangle means that you should not bleach it. There are also two other triangles, one with two diagonal lines and one with a CL in in it. The CL means you may use a chlorine bleach, while the two lines mean a non-chlorine bleach is required.

Non-chlorine bleach is what most machines and fabrics use these days, as they are safe on colored clothing and won’t harm machines. They are also much less aggravating for sensitive skin.

The downside is that they are not sanitizing, so some people do not like using them for towels or bedding.

Dry Cleaning Symbols

Dry cleaning is a simple process that cleans clothing without the use of water. It uses organic solvents to lift stains without damaging fabrics. This is professionally done for best results.

It is not especially important for you to know all of the dry cleaning symbols since they are only truly useful to the professional cleaners who do the cleaning, however it is certainly important for you to recognize when your clothing is dry clean only.

Dry cleaning is represented by circles, so if you see an open circle on your garment, or a circle with an A, P or F, you will need to take it to a dry cleaner for professional cleaning.

Drying Symbols

There are a great many drying symbols you can learn, however it is usually enough to familiarize yourself with the basics. Drying symbols are represented with squares.

Air Dry or Tumble Dry

The first symbol to look for is the tumble dry vs do not tumble dry. This is represented as a square with a circle in the center. If it is crossed out, it will mean do not tumble dry.

In either case, you will have several decisions to make, and the label will help you on your way. But the first step always begins with this knowledge.

Tumble Drying

For tumble drying, it’s pretty straight forward. The main care instructions will be in the form of a heat setting. Mainly, your options will be low, medium, or high heat, and in some cases, it’ll be no heat at all! The heat settings will be denoted by dots.

As with the wash cycles, you may sometimes see lines underneath the dry symbols. One line will mean permanent press, and two lines means gentle cycle.

More modern machines also have some settings that have been built in for certain situations, such as bedding, towels, extra heavy loads, delicates, or other things. Check your manufacturers settings and your user guide to see what modern marvels are at your fingertips.

Permanent Press

Have you ever wondered what the permanent press cycle is? It is simply a wrinkle control method. It gives a gentle final cycle of low air to help “iron out” the wrinkles in a load of laundry. It is slightly helpful, but you really need to make sure you take out the load and hang it up right when it’s done for maximum effect.

Gentle Cycle

If you don’t really know what the gentle cycle entails, let me explain. The gentle or delicate cycle is a very low heat cycle that helps with more delicate items that are more fragile. Things like lace or crochet baby blankets that might fall apart if battered around and blasted with heat can be gently fluffed for a longer time over a lower heat.

Think about it like putting in a tougher cut of meat into a low and slow oven. It takes longer, but it comes out more tender. It’s the same sort of thing. Your items will stay in better condition if you use the gentle cycle.

Fair warning, though – it does take more energy usage.

Air Drying

When it comes to air drying clothing, you’d be surprised by how many different ways there are to do it. It’s not like in our grandparents’ day when they would simply hang things up on the clothesline with some cute wooden pegs and let the sun shine down on them.

I mean, it’s an option of course. But it’s not the ONLY option. It’s not even always the BEST option.

In fact, some air dry symbols will have two diagonal lines in the upper left corner denoting that the item needs to be dried in the shade!

The main air drying options are line drying, drip drying and flat drying.

Line Dry – Line drying, or hang drying, is drying your laundry just like grandma used to – on a clothesline. This can be inside or outside, depending on where you live. You can place the garment on a hanger first, or just put it straight onto a taut cord until it is completely dried.

Drip Dry – Many people get confused about the difference between hang drying and drip drying, and it’s a small distinction. Drip drying involves placing your garment, still soaking wet, in a wet room or shower stall to literally drip its excess water off and dry itself. These types of garments won’t wrinkle or become misshapen and so are fine to dry this way, saving energy and making use of available space.

Flat Dry – Flat drying is when you spread your garment flat on a surface to dry in the sun or shade. Some garments will specify the surface you need to spread your fabric on. For instance, some types of knitwear will have you spread them out on towels to dry.

Ironing Symbols

Some people go their whole lives never owning an iron. We don’t talk about those people. Other people spend half their lives at an ironing board and have the burn marks on their fingers to prove it. We pray for them.

For the rest of us, we have a love/hate relationship with the iron. So many settings, and how to know which ones we need?

The iron symbol is the easiest to recognize, as it’s actually an iron. If you see it, it’s safe to iron. If it’s crossed out, don’t try it.

An iron with dots will give you a clue as to the heat settings, with either one, two or three dots signifying low, medium or high heat.

If it looks like the iron has legs, you should use steam. If it looks like someone crossed out the iron’s legs, don’t use steam. The purpose of steam in an iron is to help get out stubborn wrinkles. Sometimes the heat of the iron isn’t quite enough to get out the folds in a garment, so slightly wetting it down with a bit of steam will offer some extra help.

Free Printable Laundry Symbol Guide

To make it even easier to remember everything you need to know, I created this free printable guide. It has all of the laundry symbols that you need to know (even the dry cleaning ones you probably will never have to worry about!). Feel free to print it out and hang it in your laundry room for easy access the next time you do a load of laundry.

Do you have any laundry tips to share? Let me know so we can pass them along!

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  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Admittedly, I usually ignore these symbols. Today, for the first time in my life, I came across a garment with symbols and nothing else on the care tag to tell me how to actually wash the piece. This post about laundry symbols was able to keep my attention through its entirety (and I have ADHD, so that’s a miracle). As I was reading, I thought, “hmm… what on earth is permanent press?”, and then you answered it. There was even more to these symbols than I thought and I really appreciate your thorough explanation!

  2. Thank for this free printable and VERY thorough laundry guide. I gift most of my crocheted projects and try to include laundering information. Your guide will make laundering information much clearer and I think it will help recipients with other laundry challenges as well.

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