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Washing clothes symbols explained

To avoid damaging your clothing you should always follow the care instruction label on your garment, selecting the wash programme and temperature settings accordingly. As well as fabric details, the care label usually features five symbols explaining the best way to wash your clothing and whether you can tumble dry or iron it.

Here’s our simple guide explaining what the symbols mean.


Typically, the first symbol you will see on your care instruction label is the washing tub icon.

The number printed within this icon indicates the maximum temperature your clothing can be washed at.

As a general rule, a 30 degree wash is suitable for delicate fabrics like wool and silk, 40 or 50 degrees for cotton and synthetics and 60 degrees for dirty or stained clothes, towels and bedding. You can also save money on your energy bills by choosing to wash at a lower temperature.

To prevent shrinking and snagging, a gentle handwash cycle is recommended for delicate fabrics. So, if the tub icon includes a hand symbol you should select a cool handwash programme on your washing machine or cold wash the garment by hand.

The care label will also indicate the ideal rinse and spin speed for your clothing. Two horizontal lines underneath the wash tub icon means you can rinse and spin clothes as normal but if there is only one line you should select a reduced spin speed.

A wash tub icon with a cross through it means your clothing item is not suitable for machine washing and is likely to require professional dry cleaning.


To help make coloured clothes brighter and whites even whiter you may want to add bleach to your wash. However, you should never use bleach if your care label has a triangle symbol with a cross through it.

A plain triangle means you can safely use a cold diluted bleach solution, which is ideal for hard wearing fabrics like cotton and denim. You should opt for a non-chlorine bleach - suitable for most coloured clothes and whites - if the triangle has two stripes running through it.

Tumble drying

Drying your clothes in the tumble dryer can be handy especially if you need your favourite item in a hurry. However, not all garments are tumble dryer friendly with some fabrics likely to shrink or become misshapen. A circle within a square on the care label means your clothing is safe to tumble dry but a garment which has the same symbol with a cross through it is not suitable for tumble drying.

You should also take note of any dots within the circle. These indicate the recommended drying temperature - one dot for low heat and two for a hotter setting.


There’s no better feeling than putting on a fresh well-pressed shirt with a crisply-ironed collar, but choose the wrong temperature setting on your iron and you could ruin your favourite garment.

So, how do you know whether you should use a cool or hot iron, add steam or dry iron? Well, it’s all in the dots.

Delicate items such as wool and silk will have one dot within the iron symbol. This means you should use a cool iron. A warm iron can be used on synthetics with two dots, while linen and cotton fabrics will typically have three dots so you can use a hot iron on these.

A garment that has no dots can be ironed at any temperature but you must not iron a garment that has an iron symbol with a cross through it.

And if there is two lines and a cross below the ironing symbol, you must use a dry iron and not steam iron.

Dry cleaning

Delicate fabrics like silk and wool often need to be professionally dry-cleaned.

A circle - with or without a letter inside it - means the garment can be dry cleaned, while a circle that has a cross through it means the item is not suitable for dry cleaning.


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