Understanding labels

What do those laundry symbols actually mean?

Unpick the mystery of your clothes’ laundry labels with our washing symbol guide

Trying to figure out a laundry label can feel like playing a game of Pictionary – badly (‘Is that a crown? And what do all those lines mean?’). Don’t panic: we have cracked the code so you don’t have to.

Take a look at the list below (and perhaps bookmark this page for future reference!) for a simple and successful laundry day.

To machine wash or not to machine wash?

Washing Machine

This group of symbols lets you know if your garment is safe to put through the washing machine, or if it needs more delicate treatment.

If it is safe to machine wash, you will see the little tub with wavy water. The number inside the tub then signifies what temperature you should wash the garment at.

If you want to keep temperatures low to help save money and the environment, use Ariel Washing Powder, which offers outstanding stain removal at low temperatures.

If you’re thinking: ‘I already know what those symbols mean,’ here’s where things get a bit more complicated…

If the tub has peaked waves (the thing that looks like a crown) and one line drawn beneath it, this means you must wash this garment on a synthetic cycle. With two lines beneath it, it should be a wool wash.

If the tub has a cross through it, that means do not machine wash. This will then be accompanied by either a tub of water with a hand in it, which means hand wash only, or a circle, which means dry-clean only. The circle will probably have a letter in it, which tells the dry-cleaner what solvent to use.

If you can see a circle with a letter in it as well as a machine-washable symbol, it can be both dry-cleaned and washed in your machine.
If the item should not be dry-cleaned, it will have a circle with a cross through it.

Tumble dry or drip dry?

Dosing Device

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The symbol representing a tumble dryer actually vaguely resembles one, which is helpful. So if you find a square with a circle in it on the label, it means it can be tumble dried.

If there is a dot in the middle of the circle, it must be done on a low heat. Two dots means it can be dried on a high heat. If there is a cross through the symbol, the item should not be tumble-dried.

The label may recommend you drip-dry the item, which is represented by a square with three vertical lines inside. You could hang the item to dry, which is indicated by a square with a drooping line hanging from the top. Or it may recommend you dry the garment flat, which is a square with one horizontal line in the middle.

Keeping clothes bright and wrinkle-free

Bleaching Ironing

A triangle symbol means ‘bleaching allowed’, so one with a cross through it means ‘do not bleach’.

Generally most clothes can handle bleaching agents, which the majority of detergents contain to help remove stains effectively. But as a rule it is better to use powders to keep your whites white – try Ariel Regular Washing Powder, Bold 2in1 Washing Powder, or Fairy Non-Bio Washing Powder.

Liquid or liquitabs are better for your coloured clothing, as they contain fewer or no bleaching agents to keep your brights from becoming washed out. Try Ariel Washing Liquid or 3-in-1 Pods, Bold 2-in-1 Gel or 2-in-1 Pearls, or Fairy Non-Bio Washing Liquid.

The iron is another symbol that vaguely represents what it actually is (although it looks more like a bumper car!). The dots represent the temperature you should iron the garment on, while the cross means – you guessed it – do not iron.

Washing your garments according to the instructions can help them last longer and look their best, so even if you’ve never bothered reading the labels before, it’s really worth starting now. For even more laundry tips, see our article on 9 laundry problems and how you can avoid them.

Do you always read the label? Or do you bung it all in and hope for the best? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Hi I've just bought a new washing machine and the manual is calling for a High Efficiency detergent. Apparently these form less suds than standard laundry detergents and are advised due to high efficiency machines using less water. Too may suds cushions the laundry and affects the cleaning results or wash length, I can't seem to find this detergent outside the US. Is there a British equivalent or different terminology here?

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I have learnt so much from you putting the information on thank you I also used to just hope for the best now this will stop me having to do that

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Thanks I do look at the washing information but some I never know what is what. So now I know no more guessing and getting it so wrong.

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have read the symbols they explain a lot

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I read the label on unusual fabrics and delicates.I'm strict about how the laundry is done. I have a secret tip, I use for cotton bedding, quilts, blankets and sports wear. I add 2 tennis balls in the machine, they act as hands punching the dirt/stains out of the clothes. I rarely need to iron, as I reshape every single item whilst wet, realigning the seems of each garment. I then like to fold them whilst hot. As I fold, I run my hands over each item and most creases will disappear.

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