To bleach or not to bleach: A guide to laundry symbols

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.


Washing-allowed-blue Machine wash
Machine-wash,-permanent-press Machine wash, permanent press
Machine-wash,-gentle-or-delicate_ Machine wash, gentle or delicate
Hand-wash Hand wash

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-wash Do not machine wash
Machine-wash-cold-at-or-below-30-degrees-C-(86-degrees-F)_ 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-warm-at-or-below-40-degrees-C-(104-degrees-F)_ Machine wash at or below 105°F / 40°C
Machine-wash-hot-at-or-below-60-degrees-C-(140-degrees-F)_ Machine wash at or below 140°F / 60°C
Machine-wash-hot-at-or-below-70°C-(160°F)_ Machine wash at or below 160°F / 70°C
Machine-wash-hot-at-or-below-95°C-(200°-F)_ Machine wash at or below 200°F / 95°C
Do-not-wring Do not wring

Delicate articles may be stretched or damaged by wringing.

Dry-clean-only Dry clean only


Tumble drying allowed Tumble drying allowed
Tumble-dry-on-low-temperature-setting 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-at-normal-temperature Tumble dry on medium temperature setting

This item can withstand some heat.

Tumble-dry-at-high-temperature Tumble dry on high temperature setting

This item can withstand the high heat setting.

Do-not-dry-with-heat_ Tumble dry, no heat
Do-not-tumble-dry Do not tumble dry

Clothes with this symbol should not go in the dryer.

Dry-on-a-clothesline Hang to dry
Drip-dry Drip 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.

Dry-flat Dry flat

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 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_ Do not dry


Bleaching-allowed Bleaching allowed

Use bleach when necessary on this item.

Bleaching-with-chlorine-allowed Bleaching with chlorine allowed

Use chlorine bleach when necessary on white items.

Non-chlorine-bleach-when-needed Non-chlorine bleach when needed

You may use a color-safe bleach on this item.

Do-not-bleach Do not bleach
Do-not-bleach-(alternative) Do not bleach (alternative)


Ironing-allowed Iron or steam at any temp.
Iron-on-low-heat-setting 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-on-medium-heat-setting Iron at or below 300°F / 150°C
Iron-on-high-heat-setting Iron at or below 390°F / 200°C
Do-not-iron Do not iron

Screen-printed shirts sometimes have this symbol, as the heat can affect the design.

Do-not-steam_ Do not steam

Using steam might harm this article of clothing.

Dry cleaning

Dry-clean-only Dry clean only
Any-solvent_ Any solvent
Any-solvent-except-tetrachloroethylene Any solvent except tetrachloroethylene
Petroleum-solvent-only Petroleum solvent only
Wet-cleaning Wet cleaning
Do-not-dry-clean Do not dry clean