What all the confusing symbols on your clothing labels actually mean

When it comes to doing laundry, it’s far too easy for things to go wrong. Unless you’re channelling your inner Joey Essex, or planning on auditioning for next year’s Love Island (we won’t judge), there’s nothing more annoying than clothes emerging from the wash two sizes too small. The care symbols on clothes are there to help us avoid these laundry faux pas, but let’s be honest, trying to understand them is like solving some sort of cryptic code. But stress no more… We’ve put together a rundown of what all the symbols on your clothes actually mean, so you can keep them looking better for longer:

What do the basin symbols mean?

Although it’s tempting to just throw it in the wash and hope for the best, washing clothes at the wrong temperature or on the wrong cycle can be pretty unforgiving on your threads. The basin symbols are there to help you get it right, and are actually pretty straightforward once you get your head around them.

Basin with a number inside

Standard for cotton items. The number refers to the maximum temperature you should wash at.

Basin with a line underneath

This one’s for synthetics, which need to be washed in mild conditions. Keep the temperature below 40 and you’ll be all gravy.

Basin with two lines underneath

This applies to wool. Most washing machines have a special setting for wool, so pop it on that and you’re ready to go. If for any reason you don’t have a pre-defined wool setting, keep the temperature low and avoid spinning.

Basin with a hand inside

Hand wash only. Some washing machines have a hand wash setting. Providing the item isn’t too delicate, you should be fine using that to save you slaving over the bath or sink.

Basin with a cross

This means the item isn’t suitable for washing full stop. It’s off to the dry cleaners we’re afraid!

What do the square symbols mean?

So you’ve nailed the wash, now it’s time to dry. These are arguably the most important ones to follow, as we all know that tumble-dryers are notorious for shrinking!

Square with a circle

This means the item is suitable for tumble drying.

Square with a circle and a dot

These items can be tumble dried, but make sure you keep the temperature low to avoid any shrinking.

Square with a circle and two dots

Suitable for tumble drying on high heat.

Square with a circle and a cross

Step away from the tumble dryer… These items need to be air dried.

Square with a horizontal line

Lay items with this symbol flat to dry, as hanging them might kill the shape. 

Square with a semi-circle

Hang these items on your washing line or airer. 

Square with three vertical lines

These items are suitable for drip-drying. They’re usually pretty sturdy and won’t loose their shape.

What do the iron symbols mean?

Ironing can be a tricky business to crack, but master the symbols and you’ll be a pro in no time!

what do the iron symbols on clothes mean?

Iron with one dot

You can iron these items, but keep it on a cool setting – that’s less than 110 degrees, and avoid using any steam.

Iron with two dots

A medium-heat iron is fine for these items – just keep it below 150.

Iron with three dots

Usually for denim, linen, or cotton, these can be ironed on the hottest setting.

Iron with a cross

Ironing is a no-no for these items!

What do the triangle symbols mean?

Here’s where things start to get a little more technical. If your whites are starting to look a bit drab, you might want to revive them with bleach. Check the triangle symbols to avoid any disasters…

what do the triangle symbols on clothes mean?


You can use chlorine based bleach on these items – use cold water and a diluted solution

Triangle with two diagonal lines

Bleaching is fine, just avoid anything with chlorine.

Triangle with a cross

Unfortunately you’re going to have to deal with the dullness here as bleaching is a no-no!

What do the circle symbols mean?

what d the circle symbols on clothes mean?

Good news, these are just for the dry-cleaners so nothing to worry about here. Just be aware that if the circle as a cross then it can’t be dry-cleaned.

What do the Christmas-cracker-esque symbols mean?

what do the symbols on clothes mean?

These ones are to do with wringing-out. If it’s got a cross, don’t wring, if it’s cross-free, wring away!

So, there you go! You’re now officially laundry-fluent. So go ahead and wash away with confidence, knowing that your clothes are safe from mishaps!


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