clothing labels

What do the symbols on your clothing labels really mean?

Washing care decoded

We’ve all been there. Got a fab new cashmere top, worn it once, put it in the wash and completely shrunk it, because we put the washing machine on the same old cycle we always use.

It sounds totally obvious, but the symbols on your clothing labels are there for a reason, and you could avoid so many clothing disasters just by reading them carefully.

So here’s a quick breakdown of what they mean – and if you’re curious, we’ve decoded the symbols on all your beauty products here.

Filled in basin

This symbol is for washing cotton garments, and is usually filled with a number which indicates the maximum temperature you can wash out, e.g., 40 degrees.

Filled-in basin with a single bar underneath

This applies to synthetic items, which should be washed in mild conditions, so not over 40 degrees.

Filled-in basin with two bars underneath

Applies to wool products, so should be washed on the wool cycle at a low temperature

Basin with a hand

As you might have guessed, this means you need to wash the item by hand, with water temperature at a maximum of 40 degrees.

Crossed-out basin

This means it’s not suitable for washing full stop.

Square with a circle in it

This means the item can be tumble dried at a normal heat setting.

Square with a circle and a dot

You can tumble dry this, but at a low temperature.

Square with a circle and two dots

This is suitable to be tumble dried at a high heat.

Square with a crossed-out circle

Not suitable to tumble dry.

Square with a line in it

If you’re hand washing items, this symbol means these should be laid flat to dry, as hanging them might affect their shape.

Square with a semi-circle

This means you can hang the items on a line or rack.

Square with three vertical lines

This means you can let the items drip dry. This tends to be synthetic items that aren’t likely to lose their shape.

Iron with one dot

For delicate items, this means basically using a ‘cool’ iron, so less that 110 degrees, and no steam.

Iron with two dots

Mid-heat, i.e., temperature of less than 150 degrees.

Iron with three dots

This is the hottest setting, with a temperate of 200 degrees. Usually for denim, linen and cotton.

Crossed-out iron

This means you won’t be able to iron the item at all, even if it’s just steaming it.


This only applies to whites, if your item has gone a bit grey, you can black it with chlorine based bleach.

Triangle with two lines

You can bleach the garment, but with a non-chlorine bleach.

Crossed-out triangle

Avoid bleach altogether.


If you’re more of a dry cleaner person, then these are the symbols you need to look at. The circle means your garment can be dry cleaned.

The letter in a circle

This is for the dry cleaner’s use, to know which process is required to clean the item.

A crossed-out circle

Not suitable for dry cleaning.

A twisted garment symbol

You can wring the garment to get rid of excess water.

A crossed-out garment symbol

You can’t wring the item or you’ll damage it.


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