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November 5, 2018

The Ultimate Guide to Wash Care Labels

By: Peter Gregory

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The humble wash care label: the closest thing your clothes have to an instruction manual!

Designed to tell you all you need to know to keep clothes looking and feeling great, wash care symbols cover everything from water temperature to chemical treatments. And as the clothing manufacturer, it’s up to you to provide a helpful, accurate care label. 

Here at GB Labels, we’ve been producing wash care labels for decades. We’ve worked with every kind of business in the fashion industry, from high street names to couture and niche apparel brands — we know care labels inside-out.

In this article, we’ll talk you through every symbol on a wash care label and show you what they all mean. You’ll be amazed at just how much information these little symbols can convey!

What do the laundry symbols mean?

What do the laundry symbols mean?

There are over 40 official wash care symbols in use in the UK. Every country subscribes to its own standard of wash care symbols, but luckily these systems are very similar in most countries. The best way to explain the system is to go by shape.

The Basin Symbol:

The Basin symbol on your wash care label actually covers two things: the maximum safe washing temperature and the washing method

Washing Temperature

The temperature you can safely wash a garment at should always be represented by a wash basin with dots or a number inside. If you’re just selling in the UK, then you don’t need dots.

The European wash care standard (known as GINETEX – see footnotes) always shows a number between 30 and 95 in the basin. This number represents the maximum safe temperature, in degrees celsius, that you can machine-wash a garment at. 

In Canada and the USA, the same temperature settings are expressed as dots. One dot means 30°C, two dots 40°C, three 50°C, and so on up to 70°C (five dots). The hottest temperature, 95°C, is shown with six dots. 

Washing Method

Cotton, wool and synthetic materials may all need to be washed in different ways. The basin symbol allows for this by indicating when something should be washed by hand or with a specific machine cycle. 

Most clothes fall into the first three categories of ‘Do Not Wash’, ‘Machine Wash’ or ‘Hand Wash’. The ‘Permanent Press Cycle’ symbol refers to a washing machine setting that helps to reduce the wrinkles in clothes (you’ll see this with some natural fibres and synthetic fabrics). The ‘Gentle Cycle’ symbol is only found on very delicate fabrics that could suffer wear and tear if they were run through a standard washing machine cycle. 

The Square Symbol:

The square symbol relates to how a garment should be dried after you’ve washed it. The most popular symbols are ‘Do Not Tumble Dry’ and ‘Tumble Dry (Normal), but there are lots of other variations.

‘Line Dry’ in the UK and Europe is a single vertical line (North America uses a curved line that ‘hangs down’ from the top of the square). America also has three temperature settings for tumble dryers, whereas in Europe there is only ‘Tumble Dry (Normal)’ or ‘Tumble Dry (Low Heat)’. There are even symbols that tell the consumer to only dry clothes in the shade, or to avoid drying clothes at all. Take a look at the footnotes to learn more. 

The Iron Symbol: 

If you’re labelling clothes for sale in the UK, you just need to pick one of four options: ‘Do Not Iron’, ‘Iron (Low Heat)’, ‘Iron (Medium Heat)’ or ‘Iron (High Heat)’. 

Each dotted iron symbol corresponds to a specific temperature range. The single-dot ‘Iron at Low Heat’ setting says that garments can be ironed at temperatures up to 110°C, whereas the ‘Medium’ setting can go to 150°C and the ‘Hot’ can go all the way up to 200°C. 

The North American system separates the steaming function, but if you’re just selling in the UK, you don’t need to include this symbol. Just remember that, if you don’t want the consumer to steam the garment, then the ‘Iron at Low Heat’ setting is the most appropriate symbol (even if you could technically iron the garment at a higher temperature).

The Circle Symbol:

The circle symbol is for items that should be dry cleaned. If your garments are ‘Dry Clean Only’ then we recommend writing this in block capitals on the label, too.

Professional laundry care is a specialist field, and the circle symbol can convey a surprising amount of technical information to the dry cleaner. One line under the circle means “Limited Mechanical Action”, whereas two lines means “No Mechanical Action” (this refers to the amount of movement and agitation an item is exposed to when it’s in the dry cleaning machines). If the circle has a letter in it, this letter shows the dry cleaner what chemicals they should use or avoid during the cleaning process:

  • W: Wet Clean (Water Based Treatments)
  • A: Dry Clean (Any Solvents)
  • F: Dry Clean (Petroleum Based Solvents like R113)
  • P: Dry Clean (Perchloroethylene and Petroleum Based Solvents)

If you’re manufacturing garments that are dry clean only and you’re unsure of which of these letters you might need, talk to your textile suppliers. They’ll know the unique properties of your fabrics inside-out and they can advise you on the best possible choice. 

The Triangle Symbol:

Last but not least: the bleach symbol! Bleach is a great way to remove stubborn stains, but it also robs certain textiles of their colours. The triangle symbol helps your consumer to understand which types of bleach are safe to use.

If it’s safe to use a chlorine-based bleach (a white cotton bedsheet, for instance), then the empty triangle is perfect. If a chlorine-based bleach would be too harsh (blue denim jeans, for instance), you’ll often see the oxygen-based bleach symbol. 

Not All Wash Care Instructions have a Symbol

UK symbols cover the needs of most everyday fabrics, but a few precise wash care instructions haven’t got a symbol. 

For instance, if you wash a Gore-Tex jacket, you should avoid putting fabric softener in the wash, and you should apply a water repellent spray before tumble-drying (see the Gore-Tex website here). There are no GINETEX symbols to say ‘Do Not Use Fabric Softener’ or ‘Apply a Durable Water Repellent before tumble-drying’, so the best thing to do in these situations is to just print those instructions on the label as text. 

On our self-service wash care label design form we give enough room for 3 lines of text as standard. If you need something more custom, please ask.

What Else Goes On A Care Label?

Many labels will show the country of origin, and what the garment is made out of. You might also want to include your company’s trading address, and potentially your own logo and website. If you have a lot of extra information you want to include on your label, it’s not a problem. Just get in touch with us and we’ll help you out. 

There’s So Much More To Learn

We’ve covered the most popular laundry care symbols in this article, but there are plenty more! Over 40 internationally-recognised wash care symbols exist to cover every possible combination of textiles. A list of international wash care symbols can be found in the footnotes.

Thanks for reading!



The European Wash Care Labelling System that we use in the UK is GINETEX. Every official wash care symbol is listed on the GINETEX website here.

Precise instructions on wash care labelling standards on clothes sold in the USA can be found on the FTC website at https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/clothes-captioning-complying-care-labeling-rule . It’s fairly technical so if you need any help just give us a call. 

You can see the full Canadian wash care labelling system at the link below:https://fabricare.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Apparel-Care-Symbols_eng.pdf

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