Laundry Symbols: What Do They Mean?

May 02, 2023 • Jamie Dorman

Have you ever looked at the tags on your clothing and noticed what looks like hieroglyphics? Ever wondered what they are and what they mean? As it turns out, they’re not just random shapes printed on your tags; they’re actually directions about how to clean and care for your clothes. But what do laundry symbols mean? We went on a quest to find out. Learning the meanings of these different symbols honestly felt like cracking a secret code, and now that we know what they mean, we’re pretty sure we can conquer the world.

Want in on the secret? Here’s a crash course in understanding laundry symbols.

Tub Symbols

We’ll be honest, if someone hadn’t told us this was a tub, we’re not sure we’d know what it is. The symbol we’re referring to looks sort of like a bucket with a wavy top. Know the one we’re talking about? Okay, well, anytime you see a version of this symbol, it’s going to be giving you instructions about how to wash your clothes.

These directions separate into two categories: wash method and temperature.

Wash Method

Each of these symbols indicates how (or if) an item of clothing should be treated in the washing machine.

If you see a tub with one line under it, and a hand inside the tub, this means to hand wash. Don’t put this item in the washing machine, or it may become damaged.

If you see this same symbol sans the line and the hand, this means you’re in the clear. This item is machine washable!

However, if you see a tub with an X through it, this means it cannot be washed in a washing machine. It is most likely dry clean only, though always check the tag to confirm this.

Next are some symbols that will tell you the proper cycle to choose for your garment. If the tub has three lines underneath it, it should be washed on a delicate or gentle cycle. If it only has one line under it, this item is meant to be laundered using a permanent-press cycle.


Some care tags are so specific that they’ll provide you with information about what temperature water is best for the garment. They indicate this based on the number of dots placed inside the tub. The symbol system is pretty easy to follow, with fewer dots meaning lower temperatures and more dots meaning higher.

A tub with one dot in it means the clothing should be washed at a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius, or 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Two dots indicate an ideal wash temperature of 40°C or 105°F. Three dots raise the suggested temperature to 50°C or 120°F, while four dots mean the clothing should be washed at 60°C or 140°F. Finally, a tub with five dots inside of it, the highest temperature rating, indicates that the garment should be washed in water that is 70°C or 160°F.


Another shape you are likely to see on a clothing care tag is a triangle. If this isn’t about how to wash the clothing, what is it about? As it turns out, triangle symbols relate to bleach usage. If you aren’t sure whether or not it’s safe to bleach an item, check for the triangle symbol on the care tag to get some answers.

A white triangle means it is safe and perfectly fine to bleach the item in question.

At the other extreme, you may see a black triangle with a line through it. This is an indication that the item should not be bleached.

Finally, a white triangle with two lines through it means the item can be treated with non-chlorine bleach when needed.

Who knew that clothing tags had a secret symbol language of their own? We sure didn’t. And now that we’ve cracked the code, we feel like we’ve learned an ancient language or been admitted into a secret laundry society. Don’t you? Now go bask in your new laundry know-how and show that clothing who’s boss with Sheets laundry detergent sheets!

@sheetslaundryclub How to read the care symbols on your clothing tags. Get laundry motivation by reading the label like a pro. Wash symbols on tags and what they mean. #greenscreen #laundrytipsandtricks #laundryasmr #laundrydetergent #laundryday #ecoconscious #ecoconsciousliving ♬ Kill Bill - SZA