How to Read Clothes Labels for Care Instructions

Written by andrea hermitt
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It's so disappointing to ruin a nice clothing item in the wash. The best way to avoid ruining your clothing is to read the clothing labels and taking care of the clothes according to the label. Here is a guide for reading clothes labels for care instructions.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy


  1. 1

    Most clothing labels will have written instructions and an image. Whether you read or not or whether you read the language on the tag or not the image will tell you what to do with the items. You will find a care label in one of several places. If your item has a collar, you will find the care tag in that location on a shirt, dress, or jacket. If there is no collar, you may find the tag on the inner right seam of the garment. Tags for skirts and trousers are on the inside back. If the item has a back zipper, the tag may be on the inside right seam.

  2. 2

    Machine Wash. On clothes that you may machine wash, will find a graphic that looks like a cup with a wavy line that indicates water. Some tags may go a step further and add dots and lines under the symbol to indicate water temperature and machine setting. Universally, one dot means cold water, two means warm water and three means hot water. One line under the machine wash symbol means permanent press and two lines under the image means gentle cycle. An X across the machine symbol means do not wash and a hand on the wash symbol means the item must be hand washed.

  3. 3

    Bleach. A triangle on the tag will tell you if you should bleach the clothing item or not. A simple white triangle (or triangle outline) means you may bleach the item as needed. A triangle with lines (or shading) means you can use non-chlorine bleach. Do not use bleach if you see a black triangle with an X on it.

  4. 4

    Drying. A square indicates drying instructions. If the square has a circle in it, then you can put the item in the dryer. If the circle is black, tumble dry only with no heat. If it has a single small dot, use low heat. If it has two dots use medium heat and if it has three dots, use high heat. A single line under the symbol represents the permanent press setting. Two lines under the symbol represent gentle cycle. Also an X over the symbol with a circle means do not tumble dry. A curved line across the top of the symbol means line dry. Three vertical lines mean to line dry and a horizontal dash mean the items should be dried flat.

  5. 5

    Ironing. The ironing symbol is a simple representation of an iron. One dot on the iron symbol means low heat, two dots mean medium heat and three dots mean high heat. An iron symbol with two lines under it covered with and X means do not use steam. An X on the iron symbol means do not iron.

Tips and warnings

  • When in doubt as to whether to machine wash or dry clean, you can put water on an inconspicuous spot to see if it has an effect on the fabric. If it is fine, try hand washing the item and drying it.
  • When in doubt as to whether to use a machine dryer or not, you should line dry the item.

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