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Decoding Fabric Care Labels: What Do They Really Mean?

Understanding fabric care labels can be a game-changer for anyone looking to extend the life of their clothes. These small tags are often overlooked, yet they contain lots of information about properly caring for your garments. Let’s look at some symbols and instructions typically found on fabric care labels to ensure your clothes stay in tip-top condition.

fabric care label for suits

The Basics of Fabric Care Labels

Fabric care labels are designed to guide you through the best practices for washing, drying, ironing, and sometimes even storing your clothes. They use a combination of symbols and text to convey this information. The most common symbols you’ll encounter include:

Washing Symbols

  • Tub with Water: This symbol refers to machine washing. Inside the tub, you might see numbers or dots indicating the maximum temperature for washing (e.g., 30°C, 40°C). More dots mean higher temperatures.

  • Hand in Water: This means the item should be hand-washed. Gentle handling is required to avoid damaging the fabric.

  • Tub with a Line Underneath: A line beneath the tub indicates a permanent press cycle, which reduces wrinkles.

  • Tub with Two Lines: This signifies a gentle or delicate cycle, ideal for fragile fabrics.

Drying Symbols

  • Square with Circle: This represents tumble drying. Similar to washing symbols, dots inside the circle indicate the heat setting (low, medium, high).

  • Square with Line: A line inside the square means drip drying, which means hanging the item to let water drip out.

  • Square with Curved Line: This symbol suggests line drying, typically outdoors.

  • Square with Horizontal Line: Lay flat to dry, essential for items that may lose shape.

Bleaching Symbols

  • Triangle: An empty triangle means you can use any bleach.

  • Triangle with Two Lines: Use non-chlorine bleach only.

  • Triangle with X: Do not bleach because it could damage the fabric.

Ironing Symbols

  • Iron: Indicates that ironing is permitted. Dots inside the iron suggest the temperature setting (one dot for low, two for medium, three for high).

  • Iron with X: Do not iron.

Dry Cleaning Symbols

  • Circle: This indicates that the item can be dry cleaned. Letters inside the circle (A, P, F) specify the solvent types that can be used.

  • Circle with X: Do not dry clean.

fabric care label symbols decoded

While symbols provide a quick reference, some care labels also include written instructions. Pay attention to phrases like "wash with similar colors," "use mild detergent," or "do not wring." These additional guidelines can help you avoid common pitfalls that lead to fabric damage.

Special Considerations When Washing Certain Garments

Delicate Fabrics

Silk, wool, and lace require special attention. Always follow the label instructions meticulously to avoid shrinkage, fading, or tearing. Hand washing or using the delicate cycle with a gentle detergent is usually recommended.

Blended Fabrics

Clothing from blended fabrics (e.g., cotton-polyester) may have specific care requirements to ensure all materials are properly cared for. Follow the most restrictive care instructions to avoid damaging any component of the blend.


To prevent colors from bleeding, wash new colored garments separately the first few times. Check labels for any warnings about colorfastness, and use cold water to help preserve vibrant colors.

The Importance of Following Fabric Care Labels

Ignoring care labels can lead to multiple problems, including shrinking, fading, and fabric deterioration. By taking a few moments to understand and follow the instructions on these labels, you can keep your clothes looking their best for longer, save money on replacements, and reduce your environmental footprint by extending the life of your wardrobe.

what fabric care labels mean

Trust Craig's Dry Cleaners to Properly Care for Your Clothing Items

Decoding fabric care labels might seem daunting at first, but it becomes second nature once you familiarize yourself with the symbols and their meanings. Paying attention to these small tags is a simple yet effective way to ensure your garments receive the care they need, helping you look your best while maximizing the longevity of your clothing. Before you toss something in the wash, take a moment to read the label—it’s worth it!

If you're unsure about a care label symbol or need your items dry cleaned, trust the professionals at Craig's Dry Cleaners to provide your clothes with the right care every time. We're Bristol's best dry cleaner because of our attention to detail, quality service, and eco-friendly dry cleaning techniques. 

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