How to Read Fabric Care Symbols

How to Read Fabric Care Symbols

Don’t cut off that label! No matter how itchy it may seem at first, it’s important that you keep the labels in the clothes that you buy. This is because these labels provide crucial instructions on how to clean the fabric, and these instructions take the form of care symbols.

Specific instructions on how to clean these fabrics are often included as symbols in the tags that are sewn into fabrics or included in the label. They can be confusing at first, especially because different countries have different labeling systems used for clothes.

However, more and more clothing lines around the world are adopting towards an international labeling system to make cleaning much easier, as commercial companies are required to label their textile products correctly.

Whether you’re new to doing laundry on your own or have been doing laundry for a long time, fabric care symbols are an important guide for you to follow to keep your clothes in good condition. Even though some clothes can appear similar, they can be made from different fibers or blends.


The symbol indicating that the fabric should be washed is a stylized washtub with water, with the number in the water indicating its maximum wash temperature in degrees Celsius (this number should not be exceeded, but temperatures under the number are perfectly acceptable).

Having one bar underneath the symbol indicates gentle washing in the washing machine.

A hand in the washtub indicates that the fabric should be hand washed. If the washtub symbol is crossed out, that means that the fabric could not be washed normally.

A dot inside the washtub symbol means that your curtain is made of a permanent press fabric. Permanent press fabrics are fabrics that have been treated with special chemicals to make sure that they keep their original shape.


Bleaching requires the use of an oxidizing agent, which may include chlorine or oxygen products that come in a wide spectrum of both activated and non-activated systems. This improves stain removal and increases whiteness in certain fabrics.

Bleach is indicated in the tag or label as a triangle. An empty one indicates that the fabric can be treated with chlorine or non-chlorine bleach.

If the triangle has two lines inside it, it means that the fabric should be treated with non-chlorine or color-safe bleach.

A crossed-out triangle means that bleach should not be used on the fabric as its dye is sensitive to the cleaning agent. 


The drying process is represented by as square. While a plain square indicates air drying, a circle inside indicates tumble drying.

For air drying, the symbol is a straight horizontal line in the middle of the square, while drip dry has two or three vertical lines parallel to each other in the middle of the square. A curved line directly connected under the top side of the square indicates that the fabric should be dried on the clothesline.

A dot inside the circle indicates drying at a low temperature, and two dots indicate tumble drying under a normal temperature. The crossed-out clothes dryer symbol means that the fabric is not suited for machine drying.


The iron symbol is straightforward. The dots indicate the temperature ranges for ironing, and particular fibers are often associated with these temperature ranges.

One dot inside the iron indicates that the fabric should be ironed at a low temperature. Two dots are for medium heat, three dots for high heat. A crossed-out iron symbol means that the fabric should not be ironed.

Professional Cleaning

There are certain clothing items that need to be maintained by professional cleaning. In professional dry cleaning, solvents are used instead of water and detergent. These chemical solvents are often organic or water-based. Dry cleaning is indicated by a blank circle.

The letters inside the circle indicate the kind of cleaning solvent that needs to be used – “P” for perchloroethylene, or PCE, and “F” for hydrocarbon solvent. The “W” inside the circle indicates wet cleaning, a process similar to dry cleaning except that it avoids chemical solvents.

Bars under the circle indicate gentle cleaning, and a crossed-out circle indicate that the fabric should not be dry or wet cleaned.