Take the guesswork out of washing your clothes, with this handy illustrated guide to UK laundry symbols. With over 45 washing symbols decoded, and a free printable guide, you’ll never ruin an item of clothing again!
When people talk about sustainable fashion, most people automatically assume that means shopping from ethical brands. In reality, making your wardrobe more sustainable is more about wearing the clothes you already own over and over again than shopping for new clothing.
Laundry should be central to any discussion on sustainable fashion, because how we wash our clothes partly dictates how long they last.
I’m the first to admit that doing laundry is not a particularly fun chore. I minimise the amount of laundry I need to do by knowing roughly how often I should wash my clothes. Even so, it is always tempting to put dirty washing on a standard wash cycle without reading the care labels and laundry symbols. Yet doing so can be damaging to our clothes.
The Impact Of Fast Fashion
Putting our feet on the brakes of fast fashion, by caring for our clothes the right way, is incredibly important when it comes to sustainability.
Globally the fashion industry is, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), responsible for up to 8 % of all greenhouse gas emissions. It may not sound like a lot, but fashion also has other impacts. Again, according to UNEP, textile dyeing is the second-largest polluter of water in the world. Meanwhile, UNEP says it takes nearly 10,000 litres of water to make a typical pair of jeans.
The simple act of washing our clothes according to the manufacturer’s care label can help to make our clothes look better for longer. Preventing damage to our clothes – either through shrinkage, fading, or losing shape – means we can continue to wear our favourite clothes for longer.
UK Laundry Symbols Guide
Washing our clothes correctly is easier said than done though. With over 50 laundry care symbols on UK clothes labels, it can get confusing.
Let me take the guesswork out of laundry day with this straightforward guide to laundry symbols. I’ve also got a free printable version of this guide that you can print out and keep near your washing machine.
These UK laundry symbols mean an item is (or is not) suitable for machine washing:
- Tub of water – The item is machine washable and can be spun and rinsed as normal.
- Tub of water with a cross through it – Do not machine wash this item.
- Tub of water with one line under it – This item is machine washable but only on a permanent press wash cycle.
- Tub of water with two lines under it – This item is machine washable but should be washed on a delicate wash.
UK Laundry Temperature Symbols
These laundry symbols may look complicated – particularly if the label uses the dot system rather than temperature. However, they simply refer to the temperature your washing machine’s cycle should not exceed.
- Tub of water with 30°C or a single dot – Do not wash the item at a temperature greater than 30°C or 80°F.
- Tub of water with 40°C or two dots – Do not wash the item at a temperature greater than 40°C or 100°F.
- Tub of water with 50°C or three dots – Do not wash the item at a temperature greater than 50°C or 120°F.
- Tub of water with 60°C or four dots – Do not wash the item at a temperature greater than 60°C or 140°F.
- Tub of water with 70°C or five dots – Do not wash the item at a temperature greater than 70°C or 160°F.
- Tub of water with 95°C or six dots – Do not wash the item at a temperature greater than 95°C or 200°F.
Due to the shape of the bleaching symbol, most people confuse these UK laundry symbols with ironing care guides. Just remember that when you see a triangle think bleach, not iron!
- Outline of a triangle – The item can be bleached with any type of bleach.
- Crossed out outline of a triangle – The item should not be bleached.
- Crossed out outline of a triangle with the letters CL inside – The item should only be bleached with non-chlorinated bleach.
- Triangle with two diagonal lines inside – Again, non-chlorinated bleach should be used if bleach is needed. This symbol is sometimes used in place of the previous symbol.
Handwashing Laundry Symbols
Hand washing comes complete with its own small set of laundry care instructions to follow.
- Hand in water – The item should be washed gently by hand at 40°C or 104°F or less.
- Twisted fabric with a cross-through – The garment should not be wrung out.
The main dry cleaning laundry symbols you need to pay attention to in the UK are the dry clean only and do not dry clean symbols. The other labels are specific instructions to the dry cleaner regarding which method of dry cleaning to use.
You can dry clean at home. However, if it’s a particularly precious item of clothing it is always best to use a professional.
- Circle – The item should be dry-cleaned only.
- Circle with a cross-through – The item should not be dry-cleaned.
- Circle With The Letter A In It – This item should be dry cleaned using any dry cleaning solvent.
- Circle With The Letter F In It – The item should be dry cleaned using petroleum-based solvents only.
- Circle With The Letter P In It – This item should be dry cleaned using any solvent except Trichloroethylene.
- Circle With The Letter W In It – The item should be professionally wet cleaned only.
- Black Circle With Black Cross Through It – The item should not be wet cleaned.
I think the tumble dry laundry symbols can be some of the most complicated to understand in the UK. Most of the care symbols relate to the heat or cycle of your tumble dryer. Once you understand the system you’ll never shrink another item of clothing again!
- Square with a circle inside it – The item can be tumble-dried.
- Square with a crossed-out circle inside it – The item cannot be tumble dried.
- Square with a circle inside it, containing one dot – The item should be tumble dried on a low heat setting.
- Square with a circle inside it, containing two dots – The item should be tumble dried on a medium heat setting.
- Square with a circle inside it, containing three dots – The item should be tumble dried on a high heat setting.
- Square with a blacked-out circle inside it – The item should be tumble-dried with no heat.
- Square with a circle inside it, and one line underneath – The item should be tumble-dried on a permanent press setting only.
- Square with a circle inside it, and two lines underneath – the item should be tumble-dried on a delicate setting.
Air Drying Symbols
Most clothes don’t have air drying symbols on the care label as it is the default method of drying clothes. If an item of clothing has a label on it that you’ve never seen before, then chances are it’s an air-drying symbol. Here’s all you need to know:
- Outline of a square – The item can be air-dried.
- Outline of a square with a curved line at the top – The item can be hung to dry on a washing line.
- Outline of a square with three vertical lines inside – The item should be drip-dried on a clothes horse or drying rack.
- Outline of a square with one horizontal line inside – The item should be dried flat to ensure it keeps its shape.
- Outline of a square with two diagonal lines at the top left corner – The item should be dried in the shade, as sunlight may lighten the fabric.
I’m averse to ironing. It’s something I try to avoid at all costs! That being said, some items of clothing like to wrinkle up if you as much as look at them. To avoid damaging clothes when you iron them, acquaint yourself with these UK laundry symbols that relate to ironing:
- Outline of an iron – The item can be ironed at any temperature, and steam can be used.
- Crossed-out outline of an iron – The item should not be ironed.
- Outline of an iron, with a cross through steam lines – The item can be ironed at any temperature, but no steam should be used.
- Outline of an iron containing one dot – The item can be ironed at no more than 110°C or 230°F.
- Outline of an iron containing two dots – The item can be ironed at no more than 150°C or 300°F.
- Outline of an iron containing three dots – The item can be ironed at no more than 200°C or 390°F.
Need a printable guide to laundry care symbols? Download this free printer-friendly guide I’ve put together. Print it off and stick it by your washing machine so you never make a washing faux pas again.
Confused by any other washing instructions? Here’s what wash with like colours means to help avoid making any other laundry missteps!