Meaning of washing symbols: how to read clothing labels

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Meaning of washing symbols: how to read clothing labels

Have you ever tried to decipher the label of that garment that you like so much? Yes, we are talking about the many symbols that appear on it that are usually very difficult to understand. Triangles, crossed out circles, squares with circles inside, an iron shape… What does each of them mean?

Their use is quite obvious, as they tell us how we should properly wash a particular garment , or if we can iron it and at what temperature we should do it. For their part, they can also indicate if the garment can be bleached, if it can be dried in a dryer or if it is better to dry it in the open air… And all this in a single label!

Understanding clothing labels will make the job of doing laundry much easier . Because there are certain pieces that are too delicate, and since we don’t want them to be damaged easily, here is the meaning of the washing symbols and tricks to learn how to read clothing labels. We assure you: once you understand them, your life will be much easier. Let’s start!

What is each symbol for?

Before we begin, we must understand what each circle, square or triangle that we can find on each and every clothing label is used for. It is important to add that not all countries are the same , since each one is governed by its own system of symbols for washing clothes.

In general, five distinct systems can be found in the United States, Europe, Australia, Japan, and China. Each of them will be read differently, although if you pay attention to the meaning of the symbols, it will be quite easy for you to find similarities between them. Also, some garments have symbols of various systems on their labeling. For now, we are going to focus on the European system:

Washing – Represented through a bucket filled with water. Other symbols may appear within this figure, such as a hand (hand wash), the temperature at which to wash the garment represented in circles, or lines under the cube indicating that the garment is delicate.

Drying : you will be able to recognize it because it has a square shape. Machine drying will in turn have a circle inside that square, but in manual drying only a few lines will appear inside, the placement of which will indicate a specification of the garment.

Ironing : it is the simplest and the most obvious to recognize since it is represented through the shape of an iron. Inside, circles usually appear that indicate the ironing temperature to which the specific garment can be subjected.

Bleached: the symbol is a triangle and indicates those bleaching products that you may or may not use on the garment so that it does not get damaged. It is very important to look closely, otherwise, you could spoil your clothes.

Professional washing: professional washing indicates that you must take the garment to a specialist so that he/she can fix it for you. These indications are represented by a circle with letters inside, each of which indicates the products or the type of washing that must be followed.

Laundry washing symbols

As we have told you above, the symbols for washing clothes are shaped like a bucket of water and are recognizable with the naked eye. They can have various uses, from hand washing to temperature or many more, and you must pay close attention so that your clothes do not shrink or fade easily .


The temperature signals are quite recognizable. As a general rule, the exact temperature (30º, 40º) at which you should wash your clothes is written inside the bucket. But it can also be represented by points, from one to six as the temperature rises. Check it out on the chart!

Delicate clothes

The symbol for not doing laundry is with the crossed-out bucket, while the symbol for normal washing is represented by the uncrossed-out bucket. From there, lines may appear indicating the garment is a more delicate fabric just below the cube pattern.

Ironing symbols

The iron is the most obvious representation of the label of your garment, and surely you have seen it on more than one occasion. In it you will see at what exact temperature you should iron your clothes, or even if you should not use the iron with it. Let’s see it:

Can it be ironed or not?

Perhaps this is the easiest symbol of all. If you can use the iron , the symbol will appear as is, without any modification of any kind. But if you can’t use the iron in any way, it will be crossed out. What happens if it appears crossed out only at the bottom? It means you shouldn’t use the steam shot.

Iron temperature

As was the case with the bucket of washing water, with the iron the temperature can also be represented by means of dots. One dot means the lowest temperature, two the median and three the highest temperature.

How should you dry your clothes according to the symbols?

The square is the most consistent representation with the drying of clothes . It will indicate if you can put the garment in the dryer or, on the contrary, it is better to dry it outdoors. In the second case, you could indicate how it should be laid out or where to put the garment so that it dries better (in the shade, on a line…): 

Machine dried

Machine drying will always be symbolized by a circle within a square. Small dots may appear on it to indicate the temperature, lines below that indicate delicate garments or the crossed out symbol ensuring that you should not put the clothes in the machine.

Air drying

If machine drying has a circle inside the square, hand or air drying is represented by a single square. Of course, different lines may appear inside to indicate that it should be dried with ropes, in the shade, in the sun, let it drain…

The symbols of laundering your favorite clothes

On the label you will not only find out the washing, drying or ironing of the clothes. Also what products you can use or which ones you should discard if you want to whiten your clothes. There are certain bleaches that you should not use on certain fabrics, but the garment itself will warn you through its label .

When can you NOT use products?

The answer to this question is quite simple. All you have to do is check if the laundering symbol (in triangle) is crossed out or not. Sometimes it will be represented in black, and sometimes in white, everything will depend on the garment itself.

The type of products you can use

In this label, the triangle can also appear with lines or with very different letters inside. Depending on what kind of drawing appears, it will tell you if you can use oxygen or chlorine and bleach products .

What symbols are used for professional washing?

Symbols represented by circles with lines or circles with letters inside are for professional use only. However, if you want to know more about them, pay close attention to the following indications. With them you will be able to discover if your garment can be dry cleaned, if it can be washed with humidity, temperature, steam and a very long etcetera that only specialists will understand. Of course, do not try to do it yourself at home since it is better that you take the garment to your trusted dry cleaner : they will know what to do.