From bathroom placards to “slippery when wet” signs along the highway, our day-to-day lives are filled with symbols. We decipher these ideograms hundreds of times a day without even thinking about them; however, many of these omnipresent representations still elude many of us. Most people would quickly recognize a biohazard sign, but only a select few may be able to decipher the symbol for “tumble dry at a low temperature.”
The pesky tags on the backs of our t-shirts contain an array of useful and exceedingly specific information, much of which goes unnoticed. Understanding these modern hieroglyphics may not save your life, sure, but it just might save your sweater from shrinking. Check out our guide to the basketful of symbols below.
|Machine wash, permanent press|
|Machine wash, gentle or delicate|
Hand washing is the preferred cleaning method with many delicate items. The strenuous spin and undulating of the mechanical wash cycle may stretch or damage certain articles of clothing.
|Do not machine wash|
|Machine wash at or below 80°F / 30°C
This setting helps minimize the risk of shrinking or fading. Delicate fabrics are more likely to be damaged by warm water, while bright colors may bleed onto other materials.
|Machine wash at or below 105°F / 40°C|
|Machine wash at or below 140°F / 60°C|
|Machine wash at or below 160°F / 70°C|
|Machine wash at or below 200°F / 95°C|
|Do not wring
Delicate articles may be stretched or damaged by wringing.
|Dry clean only|
|Tumble drying allowed|
|Tumble dry on low temperature setting
Machine drying is harsh on clothing. Some materials are more likely to shrink at higher temperatures (especially on the first or second wash).
|Tumble dry on medium temperature setting
This item can withstand some heat.
|Tumble dry on high temperature setting
This item can withstand the high heat setting.
|Tumble dry, no heat|
|Do not tumble dry
Clothes with this symbol should not go in the dryer.
|Hang to dry|
Alternative drying methods are used to extend the longevity of clothing. Heavier materials that easily maintain their shape when hanging wet are ideal for drip drying.
Certain items may stretch when hanging wet on a clotheslines for an extended period of time, thus drying flat helps articles maintain their original shape.
|Dry in the shade
Drying articles on a clothesline is less harsh than machine drying them. Certain clothing — especially darks and bright colors — can be easily faded by the sun.
|Do not dry|
Use bleach when necessary on this item.
|Bleaching with chlorine allowed
Use chlorine bleach when necessary on white items.
|Non-chlorine bleach when needed
You may use a color-safe bleach on this item.
|Do not bleach|
|Do not bleach (alternative)|
|Iron or steam at any temp.|
|Iron at or below 230°F / 110°C
Nylons, acrylics, acetate, and other materials can only be ironed on low temperature settings. Ironing at higher temperatures can damage delicate materials.
|Iron at or below 300°F / 150°C|
|Iron at or below 390°F / 200°C|
|Do not iron
Screen-printed shirts sometimes have this symbol, as the heat can affect the design.
|Do not steam
Using steam might harm this article of clothing.
|Dry clean only|
|Any solvent except tetrachloroethylene|
|Petroleum solvent only|
|Do not dry clean|
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