The Only Guide You Need to Read Laundry Symbols

Learn how to properly wash, dry and iron your garments with care.

laundry symbols
Mariana Tuma/Good Housekeeping.com

We know the feeling that comes when you put your brand-new shirt in the dryer, only to have it shrink and transform into something more fitting for your younger daughter. And if you struggle to read and understand your garment care labels, laundry day is more of a stressful experience than a fun one. Luckily, we're sharing our laundry symbols guide to help you decode everything you need to know about washing, drying and ironing your clothes.

From making sure you pick the right temperature and heat setting for the machine to knowing how to pinpoint what garments should never be bleached or dry cleaned, we take you through all the symbols you should know for the perfect wash day. And if you need more help, check out our step-by-step guide for the best tips and tricks to treat your clothes with care and our handy cheat sheet you can hang and frame in your laundry room.

laundry symbols machine wash
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Machine Wash

Good news: You don't have to take this garment to the dry cleaner. Just toss it into your washing machine at home.

RELATED: 9 Best Washing Machines of 2022

laundry symbols hand wash
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Hand Wash

To do this, fill your sink with water and detergent, per the bottle's instructions. Turn your item inside out and immerse it in the sudsy water. Let soak for 5 minutes, then empty the sink, refill it with cool water and re-immerse to rinse. Roll gently in a towel to remove excess moisture.

laundry symbols do not wash
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Do Not Wash

Unfortunately, this garment isn't immune to dirt and sweat. This symbol actually means you need to take said item to the dry cleaner, instead of washing it yourself at home.

laundry symbols cold temperature wash
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Cold Temperature Wash

Chances are the garment you're about to wash includes a color that tends to bleed or is made of a delicate fabric, so you'll want to select the cold temperature setting. Cold water also saves energy.

laundry symbols warm wash
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Warm Temperature Wash

Most clothes can be washed in warm water to offer optimal cleaning without shrinking or fading.

laundry symbols hot wash
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Hot Temperature Wash

Washing clothes in hot water is best for removing heavy soil and killing germs, but since it's a bit harsh, make sure you spot this symbol before selecting this cycle.

laundry symbols very hot temperature
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Very Hot Temperature

Four dots indicate that you can use the hottest temperature to wash your clothes.

laundry symbols bleach when needed
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Bleach When Needed

If you have a batch of whites in dire need of some brightening, make sure they all feature this symbol on their care tag, which indicates it's safe to use any type of bleach. For colors, choose an non-chlorine version.

laundry symbols non chlorine bleach
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Non-Chlorine Bleach

The same goes for this symbol, except the additional two lines means the formula you use can't contain chlorine. Use a bleach that says it's color-safe.

laundry symbols do not bleach
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Do Not Bleach

Bad news: Even if you got a stain on your shirt, any clothes with tags featuring this symbol means they shouldn't go near any type of bleach.

laundry symbols
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Dry Clean

This circle indicates that your item should be cleaned by a professional cleaner. Using your washing machine can damage or destroy the fabric.

laundry symbols do not dry clean
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Do Not Dry Clean

A circle with an "X" over it indicates dry cleaning might be too harsh for the item, so you'll likely need to hand or machine wash it instead.

laundry symbols tumble dry
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Tumble Dry

This icon means you're safe to toss the item into the dryer, just make sure you check the temperature recommendation before you start up your machine.

laundry symbols low heat
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Low Heat Dry

One dot in the middle of the dryer symbol indicates you should use a low heat temperature.

laundry symbols medium heat
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Medium Heat Dry

Two dots in the middle of the dryer indicates a medium heat setting should be used to dry your items of clothing.

laundry symbols high heat
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High Heat Dry

And three dots means (how'd you know?) high heat is a safe temperature for the item you're trying to dry.

laundry symbols no heat
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No Heat Dry

To save your piece of clothing from getting ruined, don't use heat if the dryer symbol features a filled-in circle. Select the air-only cycle.

laundry symbols permanent press
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Permanent Press

When you see this symbol, select your washer's "permanent press" or "casual" cycle for the best results. This cycle minimizes wrinkling to help casual fabrics — even those treated with permanent press finishes — to emerge smoother and less creased. That means less ironing for you.

laundry symbols do not tumble dry
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Do Not Tumble Dry

If your garment features this symbol, it means you shouldn't put it in the dryer. Instead, you should dry it using one of the following methods.

laundry symbols  line dry in the shade
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Line Dry in Shade

To protect your garment from fading, this symbol indicates you should line dry your item in the shade — not in the sun.

laundry symbols hang to dry
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Hang to Dry

You can either use a clothesline or a drying rack to hang your garment as it dries.

laundry symbols  drip dry
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Drip Dry

Whatever you do, don't wring out any garment featuring this symbol. You should let it drip until it's dry using a "line drying" method instead.

laundry symbols reshape and lay flat to dry
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Reshape and Lay Flat to Dry

To avoid stretching, any item with this symbol should be reshaped and dried on a flat surface (we recommend on top of a towel).

laundry symbols do not wring
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Do Not Wring

Even though it's tempting to wring out any extra water, this symbol indicates this gesture could damage your item.

laundry symbols low iron temperature
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Low Iron Temperature

Select a low temperature setting for any items featuring an iron symbol with one dot in the middle.

laundry symbols medium iron temperature
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Medium Iron Temperature

If there are two dots in the middle of the iron symbol, you should use a medium temperature.

laundry symbols high iron temperature
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High Iron Temperature

Three dots in an iron symbol means (you guessed it) you should iron your item at a high temperature.

RELATED: 11 Best Steam Irons of 2022

laundry symbols do not steam
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Do Not Steam

If there's an iron with lines below it, that means the steam feature on your iron isn't safe for this garment. It must be ironed dry.

laundry symbols do not iron
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Do Not Iron

Meanwhile an "X" over an iron symbol means this wrinkle-releaser tool isn't safe to use on your piece of clothing — period.

laundry symbols guide
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