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Decoding Your Clothes – unveiling the mysteries of laundry’s own hieroglyphics

by Product Specialist
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Like many, you may look at the string of symbols on the tag of that new dress and wonder what it means and how it translates to the myriad of custom settings on your new laundry pair. It may look like an ancient language, but once you know the code, it’s easy to give your clothing the perfect care it needs to keep it looking new.

What this boils down to is having an understanding of the perfect temperature for washing clothes. There are some basic guidelines. First, you can always safely wash garments in colder temps, but don’t wash in water hotter than recommended by the label on the clothing. Hot water is better at removing stains (other than protein based which are set by hot water) than cold. But, hot water is harder on the clothing and is less energy efficient. If you wash in cold water, keep in mind that if you have hard water, you may need to pay attention to the detergent you use to assure that it will dissolve properly. And while cold water is always safe, it may not give you the cleanest clothing and your clothes may retain stains.

Fortunately your clothing provides you with the info you need to get the best out of your laundering if you know what to look for. Older garments might just say something like “machine wash.” That means, essentially, you can wash in any temperature safely. Newer garments use symbols that break down by process.

Washing instructions look like a bucket with a little wave inside. Temperature is noted by a series of dots, with one dot being machine-wash cold (you may see this with a number 30 for Celsius or 85 for Fahrenheit), two dots is warm and three dots and higher are degrees of hot. You may see a version with a hand reaching in which indicates hand wash, while an X through it indicates no washing.

The triangle refers to the use of bleach. An open triangle means bleach away. With lines means use non-chlorine bleach and as with all, an X means no bleach.

The square is for drying instructions. A filled in circle inside the square means to dry with no heat. Like the washing icon, heat graduates up with additional dots inside the circle. Permanent press is indicated by a single line under the square, while two lines under the square means to use a gentle cycle. A square with three vertical lines means to drip dry, with one horizontal line means to dry flat. And if you see a little curved line that is near the top you should line dry.

The iron icon is self-explanatory, again with graduated dots for increased heat. If you see an iron with two lines coming from the bottom and an X through, that indicates that you should not iron with steam.

The circle is dry cleaning instructions. If you see this, take it to a dry cleaner and have it professionally cleaned. Circle with an X? Don’t dry clean!

For a complete reference on all the symbols you may encounter, check out the resource here.