Most of us know what the basics are when it comes to laundry tags—we recognize “Don’t tumble dry this, idiot,” and “Put the iron away, you’re going to kill us all!” But there are many more confounding icons to be found in your clothes’ labels: Here’s your decoder ring for figuring them out.
Circular icons refer to dry cleaning, and are extremely simple: A circle by itself means you can dry clean the item, a circle with a cross through it means you can’t. Any of the many variations of the circle without the cross that you might find are the dry cleaner’s problem, not yours, as they usually indicate things like the level of heat required or the types of chemicals that can and can’t be used.
Like the circles, the triangles are pretty straightforward once you know what they’re actually supposed to mean. A clear triangle means you can use bleach; a filled triangle with a cross through it means don’t use bleach; and a triangle with diagonal lines through it means you can only use non-chlorine bleach.
There are five square icons…well, four and a half. The square with the flap on top means you should line dry the garment; the square with the horizontal line in the middle means it needs to be laid flat to dry to avoid stretching it out; and the square with diagonal lines in one corner means it should be line dried out of direct sunlight. The most confusing is probably the square with the three vertical lines in the middle—this requires drip drying, which just means hanging it up without attempting to smooth the garment or reshape it in any way while wet. Finally, the one that looks like a hard candy with a cross through it means that wringing this item out will ruin it.
The Circles Within Squares
These all refer to various dryer cycles. The square with the circle recommends normal cycle; the same icon with a line underneath means permanent press (used for synthetic fibers like polyesters and rayons—in the washer, it means that it washes like regular clothes, but then spins on the delicate setting, while in the dryer, the permanent press setting dries at medium heat, but then air cools for 10 minutes at the end to help avoid wrinkles); and two lines underneath means you need to use the delicate/gentle cycle. Finally, if there’s a dryer icon with a cross through it, don’t put it in the dryer. Duh.
Now, you may notice that sometimes those little circles that look like the dryer door have dots in them—these refer to the required heat settings. No dot means any heat you like; one dot is low; two dots is medium; three dots is high; and a filled-in circle means no heat at all.
Get ready to have your mind blown: All these refer to the settings on your iron. We know! We were astonished, too. They’re also very simple once you understand how the dots relate to temperature on all these icons. One dot for low heat; two for medium; three for high. An iron with a cross through it means you shouldn’t iron the garment, obviously, but an iron that looks like it grew little legs, which were then rudely crossed out, simply means that ironing is okay, providing you don’t use steam.
The weird one that looks like a cutaway of a bucket of water refers to the wash cycle itself, and works the exact same way as the dryer icons. No line for normal; one line for permanent press; and two lines for delicates.
Again, some will have dots, and if you can’t work out what these mean by now…okay, okay, we’ll say it anyway: one dot for cold; two dots for warm; three dots for hot.
Finally, the bucket shape with a cross through it means not to wash the item, and a bucket with a hand over it means you need to wash the item by hand. Congratulations! You have now passed the written portion of your laundry exam.