Laundry Care Labels

Somebody make it make sense!

These symbols are akin to hieroglyphics. There are few symbols in our day-to-day lives that stump us more than laundry care labels — and maybe those cursed dashboard symbols when something is wrong with the car. I mean, really, why is there a weird owl lit up on my dashboard? What is that all about? Also, why is my car smoking?

Anyway. Laundry care labels. What does it all mean? And how can we take the best possible care of our treasured vintage clothing?

As I mentioned in a recent blog post, dry cleaning isn’t your only option when it comes to cleaning your favorite duds. But what if your clothes come with these peculiar care symbols?

Never fear! I’m here to clear up some of the confusion.

Dry cleaning symbols are those represented by circles. Chances are, you’re not a professional dry cleaner, so I’m going to skip all of the dry cleaner-specific symbols. Remember, if you see a circle on your care label, it indicates that these are instructions for your dry cleaner.

Now, some of these symbols are pretty obvious. Anything with a tub symbol like this one

means you can wash it in a washing machine. Unless, of course, you can’t.

The symbols that accompany the tub provide details about the cycles you need to use on your washing machine. For example, the numbers inside the tub refers to the temperature in Celsius. The 30, therefore, means you must wash this item at 30ºC or lower. And 40, 50, etc.

Similarly, the dots represent temperatures as well. One dot means wash at 30ºC of lower. Two dots means 40ºC or lower, three dots at 50ºC or lower, four and five dots mean 60º and 70ºC or lower respectively, and six dots means you can wash this piece at 95ºC or lower.

But what about the washer setting? You’ll find lines beneath the tub symbol to figure this out. One line beneath the tub means you’ll want to wash using the permanent press setting. Two lines beneath the tub means you should use the delicate cycle.

Triangles are all about that bleach, ’bout that bleach, no chlorine.

A regular old triangle means you can use any old bleach. A CL in the triangle means you should use chlorine bleach. An X through the triangle means no bleach, and two lines within the triangle mean non-chlorine bleach only.

So, once your clothes are clean, you’ve gotta dry them, right? But how?

Squares are your drying instructions.

Now a square with a circle inside means you can throw it in the dryer and tumble on the normal setting. A completely black circle in the square means you can tumble dry without heat. A circle in the square with one dot means you can dry on low heat, two dots means medium heat, and three dots means you can crank it to high heat! Now, an X through the square means you can’t dry it in the dryer.

Prepare yourself for the wild world of non-dryer drying symbols. Because it gets a little weird here.

Now, a plain square means natural dry, which means just that. You can dry it without good old-fashioned air. You have several options here, but some labels get really specific.

A straight line across the square means you need to dry the item flat. A flat line across the square with two lines in the upper left-hand corner means dry it flat in the shade.

A little curve across the top of the square means you should line dry the item, and the curve with two lines in the upper left-hand corner means you should line dry it in the shade. A square with just two lines in the left-hand corner means you should dry the item in the shade.

Three vertical lines down the center of the square means you should drip dry the item, and three vertical lines accompanied by those left-hand corner means drip dry in the shade.

These two symbols tell you whether or not you can wring out a fabric:

Now, it’s my considered opinion as someone who cleans a lot of vintage clothing that you should never wring out your clothes. You should, instead, gently press the water out of the clothes.

See? Laundry care labels aren’t that mysterious after all! Now if I could just figure out what this winking robot is trying to tell me on my car’s dashboard.

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