How to read washing symbols - Demystifying clothing care

How to read washing symbols - Demystifying clothing care

November 21st, 2018
You’ve just purchased a stunning new piece of clothing that will look great for years to come.
Unless of course you forget to read the care instructions and shrink it within the first week.
Clothing care can seem overwhelming, especially when you look at a tag and see nothing but what looks like hieroglyphics. It’s worth it to be informed and treat your clothing well, not only to avoid having to replace ruined clothing, but also to ensure everything you own looks its best for as long as possible.

How to read clothing care instruction labels

Clothing care instructions typically fall into one of three categories: How to clean it, how to dry it, and how to iron it. Here’s the breakdown.


If you can clean it at home, you will see an icon that looks like a wash tub. The numbers and symbols on that tub tell you how to clean it.

Hand washing symbols

If you see a hand in the tub, that means hand wash only between 30 and 40 degrees celsius. Any clothing that can be machine washed can also be hand washed.
How to hand wash: Fill a tub with water and add an appropriate amount of detergent. Add your clothing to the tub and swish them around gently. Don’t rub them, twist them, or pull on them. Rinse them well with clean water, and press the water out. Again, do not wring them. Gently pull them into shape if needed, and dry them according to their drying instructions.

Temperature symbols

The numbers in the wash tub specify the maximum washing temperature in degrees celsius.
The one above means wash in cold water, or 30 degrees celsius.
40 degrees celsius is usually the warm setting on a washing machine, and 50 degrees celsius or higher is usually the hot setting. Always be sure to check the settings on your own washing machine to be sure what the temperatures are.

Wash Cycle symbols

The bars underneath the wash tub indicate the wash cycle. If there are no bars, you can wash it on a normal cycle.
One bar specifies the permanent press cycle, which is designed for clothing that has been treated with chemicals to reduce wrinkling.
Two bars specifies a gentle wash, or the delicate cycle, usually used for machine washable wool. Do not fill the washing machine more than two-thirds full.
An X through the symbol means do not wash. If you see this, it likely means the garment needs to be dry cleaned.

Bleaching symbols

Bleach is hard on your clothing, and is rarely needed. In many cases it can completely ruin a garment. We generally recommend avoiding bleach, but here is how to read the symbols if you see them:
An X through the symbol means do not bleach.
Two lines through the triangle specify that you may only use non-chlorine bleach (colour-safe bleach) when needed.

Dry Cleaning Symbols

All tailored clothing and many wool, cashmere, and alpaca items must be professionally dry cleaned only, which is indicated by a circular symbol on the tag. Your dry cleaner will know how to clean the item based on the numbers and symbols on the circle.
The letter inside the circle indicates to the dry cleaner the type of chemicals needed to clean the clothing. The P specifies the use of perchloroethylene or hydrocarbons, and the F indicates the use of hydrocarbons only.  Don’t worry, you won’t have to remember them unless you’re a dry cleaner.
A line under the circle specifies that the humidity, mechanical action, and temperature should be limited when dry cleaning. Again, your dry cleaner will know what this means.
An X through the symbol means do not dry clean.


All drying instructions will be represented by a square with various symbols on it.

Tumble drying symbols

A circle inside the square indicates tumble drying, or machine drying. If there are no marks inside the circle, you can use any heat. However, we recommend using a low heat to avoid shrinking or damaging the material.
Dots inside of the circle indicate the drying temperature. One dot specifies low temperature, two dots specifies medium, and three dots specifies high. A completely filled in circle means to dry with no heat. 
An X through the symbol means do not tumble dry.

Natural drying symbols

A horizontal line in the box means to dry the damp garment on a flat surface. Usually used for heavy materials to avoid stretching.
An envelope shape means hang the damp garment to dry on a line or drying rack.
Three vertical lines means  hang the dripping wet garment on a line or drying rack.
Two diagonal lines means dry in the shade. Usually added to one of the above methods of drying.
An empty square means you can use any of the above methods of natural drying.


The ironing symbol looks like, well, an iron. The number of dots indicate the heat setting of your iron.
One dot specifies ironing at low temperature, up to 110 degrees celsius. Usually the polyamide or nylon setting on your iron. For shiny clothing, you may want to put a piece of cloth between the iron and your clothing, or iron it inside out to protect the sheen. Avoid using steam when ironing at low heat.
Two dots specifies ironing at medium temperature, up to 150 degrees celsius. Usually the wool/silk/polyester setting. You can use steam on these items.
Three dots specifies ironing at maximum temperature, up to 200 degrees celsius. Usually the cotton/linen setting. Iron while damp, and feel free to use steam.
An X through steam at the bottom of the iron symbol means do not steam.
An X through the iron means do not iron.


We know that was a lot of info, so if you’re still feeling overwhelmed, here’s a general guideline for most items.

How to clean your tailored clothing

Suits, trousers, and sport jackets should always be taken to a dry cleaner to be professionally cleaned. We recommend only taking them in a few times per year. You can spot clean these items by rubbing gently with a damp cloth when needed. This works well on light blemishes, like salt stains from the street.

How to clean your knitwear

This will really depend on what the sweater is made of. Many wool sweaters can be hand washed in cold water, but to be safe we recommend dry cleaning. Like many of your tailored garments, sweaters do not require frequent cleaning, especially when worn over another shirt.
If you do choose to hand wash a sweater, it should be laid flat to dry so it doesn't stretch out.
If your sweater contains cashmere, alpaca, silk, or other luxury fibres, it may be dry-clean only. When in doubt, send it for professional cleaning.

How to clean your jeans

Jeans should typically be washed in cold water and hung to dry. To preserve the colour, turn them inside out before washing. 

How to clean your dress shirts and sport shirts

If made of 100% cotton, most sport shirts and dress shirts can be machine washed in cold water and hung to dry. If heavily soiled, scrub the neck and armpits with stain remover like OxiClean and wash in warm water. Iron on the warm setting to remove wrinkles.

How to clean your outerwear

Outerwear should always be taken to a professional dry cleaner. Spot clean if necessary by rubbing gently with a damp cloth. Make sure to point out any stains to the dry cleaner. If they don't notice it and clean it as usual, the stain will become embedded in your clothing. 

How to clean your leather

Leather needs to be taken to a specialty leather care professional. Not all dry cleaners are familiar with proper leather care, so do your homework to find someone you trust. Leather outerwear should only be cleaned when soiled. 
More questions about clothing care? Feel free to give us a call or send an email. We're always happy to help! 
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