The Ultimate Cheat Sheet: Clothing Care Label Symbols Explained

Have you ever wondered what those care label symbols are all about? This Ultimate Cheat Sheet will explain the meanings behind each label, including how to wash, iron, and store your clothes.

We’ve all been there: you’re trying to figure out what to do with that piece of clothing you just bought, and its care label is giving you the cold shoulder.

“Wash in cold water?” “Tumble dry low?” “Dry clean only?”

How are we supposed to know what any of this means?

In simple form: By looking at clothing care labels.

Clothing care labels are a minefield. They’re confusing and inconsistent, and they sometimes make promises that don’t match up with what’s happening to your clothes after you wash them.

We know how frustrating it can be when you’re trying to keep your clothes looking their best but don’t know if you’re doing the right thing by them.

That’s why we put together this cheat sheet: to give you all the details you need to understand what the different clothing care label symbols mean and how they’ll affect your wardrobe.

Let us help you use this guide to crack the code. 

What Are Care Label Symbols and Meanings?

Care label symbols and meanings

Image Source: Merch You

The most significant aspect of a garment is the care label. It explains how to wash, dry, iron, and care for your item. 

Care labels are significant because various types of textile fibers respond in different ways to water, heat, dirt, and detergents.

We will explain all of the care label symbols and meanings in this part so that you can make an informed selection when taking care of your next piece of apparel. 

What Do the Symbols on the Care Tag Mean?

Laundry care symbols

Image Source: Tide Cleaners

You may have noticed your garments’ symbols resembling little paper tags. Wondering what they are and are care symbols required? Here’s what they mean:

Care labels provide information about the materials used in a garment and how to best care for it. They also help you understand the lifespan of your garment and when it’s time to throw it away.

For example, different types of shirts may indicate “machine wash cold” or “dry clean only.” This indicates that the clothing should never be washed by hand, in hot water, or dried on high heat.

If you don’t follow the directions on your care label, you could ruin your garment. That’s why it’s important to read the care label before you purchase a new piece of clothing. 

What Symbols Are Found on a Care Label?

The care label is your guide to maintaining and caring for your garments. It tells you what symbols to look for, and what they mean.

Clothing care label guide

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If you are wondering “what symbols are found on a care label?”, then here are those:

    • W Wash with warm soapy water
    • D Dry clean only (tumble dry, low heat)
    • H Hand wash only
    • X Do not bleach/Do not iron/No bleaching agent or no ironing agent used (Cotton/Polyester) 
    • P Press with a warm iron on the reverse side
    • B If it is safe to bleach your piece of clothing

What Are Washing Machine Symbols?

Washing machine symbols are a set of icons that help you understand the different cycles and water temperatures for your washing machine

You must wash fabric before sewing. The most common washing machine symbols are: 

Washing machine symbols

Image Source: Ariel

Machine Cycles

These show the machine’s cycle and the time it will take to finish. They also tell you what options are available for that cycle, such as whether or not it has a spin function. 

Washing machine clothing care symbols

Image Source: ShirtSpace

Water Temperatures

These show the water temperature that’s recommended for each cycle. You should use this guide to ensure your clothes get clean without damaging or shrinking them in size! 

Bleaching Instructions

Bleach is a chemical used to whiten clothes and remove stains. Here are a few important bleaching symbols. 

Bleaching instructions symbols

Image Source: The Craft Yarn Council

Do Not Bleach

A “Do Not Bleach” triangle means that you should not use any kind of bleach on this garment. If you follow these directions and try to bleach the item anyway, the fabric could be damaged and discolored. 

Chlorine Bleach Allowed

This triangle means that chlorine bleach can be used on this item as long as you follow the manufacturer’s specific directions. 

For example, if it says “Chlorine Bleach Allowed,” it might say, “Use only when color fading is evident.” 

Non-Chlorine Bleach Only

The triangle of “non-chlorine” tells you that this item cannot be bleached with any kind of household bleach; it must be washed with an oxygen-based detergent instead (like Woolite). 

Drying Instructions

Here are the two basic washing symbols you need to know for drying instructions: 

Natural Drying

A square sign suggests the best way to dry your garments. It keeps your clothes in good condition and helps them last longer. Natural drying instructions include symbols for,

Clothing care symbols

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    • Do not wring
    • Line dry
    • Flat dry
    • Drip dry
    • Dry in the shade

Tumble Drying

A round circle in a square sign means that it can be used by persons who do not have access to natural drying methods or who want their clothing to dry in no time. The tumble drying instructions include symbols for,

Tumble dry basic symbols

Image Source: Swash Laundry Detergent

    • Tumble dry, normal cycle
    • Do not tumble dry
    • Tumble dry, permanent press cycle
    • Tumble dry, gentle/delicate cycle
    • No heat
    • Low heat
    • Medium heat
    • High heat 

Ironing Instructions

When you’re trying to look your best, it’s important to know how to iron your clothing. With iron-on clothing labels symbols, you can understand the best way to iron your fabric.

Care label ironing symbols

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Here are a few helpful tips to help you iron out any confusion:

    • If there is no symbol at all, this means that you can iron the garment at any temperature setting.
    • If there is an ironing instruction symbol, follow it! If it says “do not iron,” then do not iron the garment. It may be dry cleaned only or have delicate fabric that could be damaged by heat.
    • If the symbol says “low heat,” then use a low heat setting for your iron.
    • If it says “high heat,” then use a high heat setting for your iron. 
    • The same goes for “medium” and “steam”—if there’s an instruction for either of these settings, follow it! 

Professional Cleaning Instructions

Professional Cleaning Instructions (PCI) symbols are a standardized set of icons used to communicate cleaning instructions using different types of woven labels

These symbols are used on clothing labels, but you may also see them on bedding, curtains, and other household items.

These days, it’s easy to find out how to care for your clothing online or at the store where you bought it. The PCI symbols help consumers identify the proper way to care for their clothes so they can follow the instructions and extend the life of their garments.

Here are a few professional cleaning symbols you will find on DIY clothing labels and care labels: 

Dry Cleaning

The basic dry-cleaning symbol is a circle divided into four quadrants by two diagonal lines. 

This symbol represents a general type of cleaning that does not require any special treatment or handling. These include symbols for,

Dry cleaning symbols

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    • Dry clean
    • Do not dry clean
    • Dry clean any solvent
    • Dry clean, petroleum
    • Gentle dry clean, petroleum
    • Very gentle dry clean, petroleum
    • Dry clean, PCE
    • Short cycle
    • Reduced moisture
    • Low heat
    • No steam finishing 

Wet Cleaning

The wet cleaning symbol looks similar but has “W” and extra lines outside each quadrant. This means this item should be washed in water. These symbols include,

Care tag symbols

Image Source: Google Sites

    • Wet clean
    • Gentle wet clean
    • Very gentle wet clean
    • Do not wet clean 


If you’re ever in doubt about what the care label on a piece of clothing means, just remember that it’s there to protect you and your clothes.

We hope this post has helped you understand “how do you use care symbols?”

Now that you know how to decipher clothing care labels, there’s no reason to fear them. Just remember: the more you know about your clothes and how to take care of them, the longer they’ll last, and the less money you’ll spend on replacements.

Are you a designer looking to create laundry symbols/labels for handmade clothing items?

Do you want to make your handmade clothing look more professional and reflect your brand? If so, then Super Label Store is here to help!

Super Label Store specializes in helping individual sewists, small businesses, and designers to create their own custom labels. We offer:

    • Use our online label designing tool to customize your items with your brand’s logo and colors—all from the comfort of your own home.
    • Thousands of designs to choose from, or you can create your own unique design.
    • Our labels are made from premium, high-quality materials to ensure durability and longevity for years to come.

Now anyone can create beautiful custom woven labels and hang tags using our online tool in minutes. The best part is, when you’re done designing them, we’ll print them on high-quality material and ship them right to your door!

So if you want to design professional-looking laundry labels for your handmade items, head over to Super Label Store today!