Updated March 12, 2021Laundry care symbols are instructions for how to properly care for your bedding and clothing. There are different icons for washing, drying, ironing, and dry cleaning, and deciphering between them all can feel a bit overwhelming. However, understanding what each means and following them closely will help maximize the lifespan of your favorite items.In this article, we will go over the meaning behind all laundry care symbols, what each looks like, and what they indicate when it comes to laundering your bedding and clothing.Washing SymbolsThis set of symbols is represented by a bucket of water. They illustrate the best way to wash an item—in a machine at home, by hand, or at a dry cleaner. The icons also tell us what machine setting to use and the ideal water temperature for washing.Machine Wash NormalWhat it looks like: A bucket icon with water inside.What it means: This item should be cleaned in the washing machine’s normal setting.During the Machine Wash Normal cycle, the agitation and spin are both fast making it a good choice for durable, everyday-use items.Machine Wash Permanent PressWhat it looks like: A bucket with a single horizontal line underneath it.What it means: The machine wash permanent press setting is recommended.Machine Wash Permanent Press washes with warm water, rinses with cold water, then undergoes a relatively slow spin cycle. It is designated for fabrics treated to withstand wrinkling, such as Tencel, polyester, and spandex.Machine Wash GentleWhat it looks like: A bucket with two horizontal lines beneath it.What it means: You will want to utilize the machine wash gentle cycle for your laundry item.Machine Wash Gentle setting creates slow agitation and spin to prevent any breakdown of delicate fabric. The icon can often be found on the care tags of silk and items containing lace or appliques.Hand WashWhat it looks like: A bucket of water with a hand inside of it.What it means: This piece requires gentle care and must be hand-washed.Do Not WashWhat it looks like: A bucket of water with an “X” marked across it.What it means: The item is too delicate to wash on your own and should be taken to a dry cleaner for specialized care instead.Bleaching SymbolsBleach is used for disinfecting purposes and/or brightening whites. However, it’s important to note there are two types of bleach—chlorine and non-chlorine—and different icons for each. If chlorine bleach is used on colored laundry, it will result in bleeding and likely ruin your item.Triangle icons denote laundry items’ bleaching instructions. This symbol determines whether or not you can safely use bleach on the fabric, and if so, what type.Bleach When NeededWhat it looks like: An empty triangle icon.What it means: Any type of bleaching agent, whether chlorine or non-chlorine, can be used safely as needed.Non-Chlorine Bleach When NeededWhat it looks like: A triangle with two diagonal lines located inside it. What it means: You should only wash the item with non-chlorine bleach. This type of bleach is considered color-safe.Do Not BleachWhat it looks like: A solid triangle with an “X” across it.What it means: This item should not, under any circumstances, be bleached. Otherwise, it will likely be ruined.Drying SymbolsSquare icons specify how to properly dry a laundry item. Different variations of the square illustrate the machine setting for optimal care—or whether a dryer is acceptable to use at all.Tumble Dry NormalWhat it looks like: A square with an empty circle inside of it.What it means: The item can be tumble dried in any standard dryer.Tumble Dry Normal setting creates high heat and high agitation, so it should only be used for durable, shrink-resistant pieces.Tumble Dry Normal – No HeatWhat it looks like: A square with a shaded circle inside.What it means: This icon means you can tumble dry an item, but only without any heat.Tumble drying without heat can be a good alternative to air drying.Tumble Dry Permanent PressWhat it looks like: A square with a circle and one horizontal line underneath.What it means: The tumble dry—permanent press dryer setting is recommended.The lower heat of the Tumble Dry Permanent Press setting will help release existing wrinkles and prevent future ones from forming.Tumble Dry GentleWhat it looks like: A square containing a circle with two horizontal lines beneath.What it means: Use the tumble dry gentle cycle for best results.This setting creates minimal agitation to prevent color fading or fabric from fraying.Tumble Dry Gentle – No HeatWhat it looks like: A square containing a shaded circle and two horizontal lines below it.What it means: An item can be tumble dried on the gentle no heat setting.This is reserved for use on delicate fabric as it produces very little agitation and zero heat.Line DryWhat it looks like: A square with a half-crescent shape at the top of it.What it means: When included on a care tag, the item is to be hung on a clothesline to dry.Line Dry in ShadeWhat it looks like: A square with a half-crescent at the top along with two parallel lines located at the top left-hand side.What it means: These pieces should be hung on a clothesline located in the shade to prevent colors from fading.Drip DryWhat it looks like: A square symbol containing three vertical lines inside.What it means: This item must be drip-dried.Drip drying is the process of hanging your laundry in the shower and allowing its excess water to drip into the drain.Drip Dry in ShadeWhat it looks like: A square with three vertical lines inside of it and two parallel lines across its top left-hand corner.What it means: Items with this icon on their care tag must be hung in the shower to dry in a shaded place. Without shade, the colors of the fabric could become faded.Do Not Tumble DryWhat it looks like: A square with a circle inside and an “X” marked across it.What it means: The item should not be placed in the dryer. Otherwise, you could compromise its fabric.Dry FlatWhat it looks like: A square with one horizontal line across its middle.What it means: The optimal way to dry this item is by laying it out on a flat surface.Dry Flat in ShadeWhat it looks like: Two parallel lines in the horizontal top left-hand corner.What it means: The item should be air-dried on a flat surface in a shaded area.Do Not DryWhat it looks like: A square with an “X” across it.What it means: This item should not be placed in a dryer.Do Not WringWhat it looks like: A twisted symbol with an “X” across it.What it means: Your laundry item should not be wrung out to dry.Ironing SymbolsIrons are used to remove wrinkles in clothing and bedding. When an item can be ironed, it will display an outline of an iron on its care tag. There are a couple of different variations of this icon to be aware of and they are as follows:Iron Any Temperature Steam or DryWhat it looks like: The outline of an iron.What it means: An iron or steamer can be safely used on this item without any special temperature or heat requirements.Do Not IronWhat it looks like: An iron symbol with an “X” over it.What it means: This fabric shouldn’t be ironed because it cannot withstand the extreme heat.Do Not SteamWhat it looks like: An iron symbol with an “X” across it and three wavy lines beneath it.What it means: This fabric isn’t suitable for steaming.Dry Cleaning SymbolsDry cleaning is a process involving cleaning bedding and/or clothing without any water. Instead, it involves soaking the item in a specialized solvent to remove any stains and reduce wrinkling.Common dry-clean only items include those made from silk, velvet, wool, and leather. A small circle depicted means this item will require dry cleaning.Dry-Clean Any SolventWhat it looks like: A plain circle with the letter “A” inside.What it means: This tells the professional dry cleaner they can safely use any solvent on the garment.Dry-Clean Petroleum Solvent OnlyWhat it looks like: A circle with the letter “F” in it.What it means: Petroleum solvents are the only acceptable type to be used in the dry cleaning process.Dry-Clean Any Solvent Except TrichloroethyleneWhat it looks like: A circle containing the letter “P”.What it means: Any solvent may be used while dry cleaning, with the exception of ones containing trichloroethylene.Do Not Dry CleanWhat it looks like: A circle with an “X” marked across it.What it means: The item should not be dry cleaned.Dry-Clean Low HeatWhat it looks like: A circle with a diagonal line on its bottom right-hand side.What it means: An item should be dry-cleaned with low heat only.Dry-Clean No SteamWhat it looks like: A circle with a diagonal line outside of its top right-hand side.What it means: This piece should not be steamed after the dry cleaning process.Dry-Clean Reduced MoistureWhat it looks like: A circle with one diagonal line just above its top left-hand cornerWhat it means: The garments’ optimal care requires less moisture than a standard dry cleaning process.Dry-Clean Short CycleWhat it looks like: A circle with a diagonal line pictured at the bottom left-hand sideWhat it means: The clothing or bedding should only be placed in the dry cleaning solvent for a very short period of time.Temperature IndicatorsThere may be a dot—or series of dots—located on the laundry care tag to serve as temperature indicators, and they are applicable to washing, ironing, and the dry cycle.As a general rule of thumb, the greater the number of dots, the higher the temperature the item will be able to withstand during different laundering processes.Bedding or clothing with one dot can be machine-washed cold, ironed at a low temperature, or dried on a low heat setting.Two dots mean warm water for washing and medium heat for ironing or drying is recommended.Items displaying three dots should be washed, ironed, and dried at high heat.FAQsIs there a laundry symbol for fabric softener?As of right now, there aren’t any laundry symbols to indicate whether or not fabric softener is acceptable to use. Instead, we suggest tossing a wool dryer ball or disposable dryer sheet in with the laundry load. These are both good alternatives to create the softness you’re after without compromising the material you’re drying.What happens if you wash clothes in cold water instead of warm?Washing clothes in warm water is typically suggested for white and/or moderately soiled items. On the contrary, cold water is generally used for colors and lightly soiled items. If you wash clothes in cold water, it’s unlikely you’ll experience any negative effects but the low, cool temperature may not clean the fabric as effectively as warm water would. This is the primary difference between the two settings.Do you really have to dry clean?As a general rule of thumb, if your tag says “Dry Clean Only,” then yes, you should. If it says “Dry Clean,” however, this is not a requirement, but rather the manufacturer’s recommendation for optimal care. You can use other methods but dry cleaning will be best at prolonging the life of your clothing or bedding.Certain fabrics require special, gentler care such as silk, wool, and velvet. You should always bring items made of these materials to the dry cleaners. Otherwise, you may risk damaging them.How do you use fabric softener in a machine without a dispenser?If your washing machine doesn’t have a designated slot for fabric softener, you can pour the suggested amount in during the rinse cycle. For best results, pour it into the water and not directly on the clothing or sheets themselves. Additionally, before you use fabric softener, be sure to review your item’s specific care instructions to be sure it is safe to use it on the material.What is the flower symbol on my washing machine?If you see a flower icon on your washing machine, this is where you will pour fabric softener in. Not all washing machines will have this, but it is helpful information to know if you ever use an unfamiliar machine and spot the flower symbol.ConclusionBefore laundering any item, it’s best to read its tag carefully. Each icon on the tag has a different meaning and will describe how to best wash, dry, iron, or dry clean the bedding or garment. By familiarizing yourself with these icons and following their specific care instructions, you will minimize the risk of fabric pilling, colors fading, and shrinkage of the material.We hope this article will help you navigate laundry day with more ease and confidence moving forward. Bookmark it for easy reference so the next time you are unsure about a particular symbol, you can quickly find its corresponding meaning.This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional. Comments Cancel replyLeave a CommentYour email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Comment Name Email I agree to the Terms and Conditions of this website.