How to read a care label

Here’s how to decode your clothing’s care labels to keep them looking their best
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It’s true that in this day and age, every man should be well acquainted enough with garment care labels to know the difference between a “boil wash” and a “do not tumble dry”. But leaving recriminations to one side, here’s our guide to what the symbols on clothes labels really mean.

All you need to know for when you’re one-on-one with the washing machine.

1. Before you begin

Your clothes will last longer and look better if you take care of them properly. First, flip your clothes inside out and take a look at the label with the strange hieroglyphics on it. These are the key to unlocking the manufacturers’ recommendations for cleaning that pair of trousers, your jumper, jacket etc. Stumped? Read the following summaries and all will be revealed.

2. Washing Symbols

Washing symbols
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The tub with the wavy lines indicates the intended wash cycle for that item of clothing. If it’s bound for the washing machine, there’ll be a number inside the tub. The number denotes the maximum temperature at which the item may be safely washed – 40 means wash at 40°C.

You may also notice that sometimes the tub has a line underneath it, sometimes two. That refers to the preprogrammed washing cycle to engage on your washing machine. One line means turning the dial to your machine’s synthetics cycle, two to its woollens cycle.

No line means you can crank that baby up to its maximum temperature – typically you’ll find the hot washes apply only to items which won’t shrink or get damaged when exposed to very hot water.

If there’s a picture of a hand plunged into the water, it means your garment is suitable for handwashing only, to a maximum temperature of 40°C. And finally, if the washtub is crossed out, it means you shouldn’t wash the garment – better take it to the dry cleaners.

3. To bleach or not to bleach

Bleach symbols
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Bleaching may not be very environmentally friendly, but one suspects that chucking out a perfectly good shirt because the white has faded to grey is even worse for the planet. Do take a look at the bleaching instructions before you dose with the hard stuff.

An equilateral triangle means you can add any bleach you like – chlorine based is OK as long as it’s cold and diluted. Should the triangle contain two diagonal lines, you may only use a colour-safe, non-chlorine bleach. A triangle with a cross through it means you shouldn’t use bleach.

4. How to dry clothes

Tumble dryer symbols
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About to bung all those wet clothes into the drier? Before you do, check the labels for further instructions. A square with a circle inside it says you can go ahead and use the drier, an ‘x’ through the symbol and sadly, unless you’re deliberately shrinking all your jumpers, means you can’t.

One dot inside the circle and you should use the drier at a low heat setting only, two dots and you can set the machine to dry at a higher temperature. If you’re barred by the clothes label from using the drier, have a further look at the label which should tell you what to do instead.

Non-machine drying symbols
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A box with a horizontal line in the middle indicates that the item of clothing should be dried flat. Often it’s the case that some clothes can become misshapen if you hang them up – jumpers for example.

Should you discover that the square’s top corners are joined by a curved line – it looks a bit like the back of an envelope – it means you must hang up the item to dry. Three vertical stripes indicates that you shouldn’t wring the garment out incase you distort it, and should leave it to drip dry instead.

4. The ironing

Ironing symbols
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Of course you can buy drip-dry shirts which don’t need ironing. Alternatively, you could stop avoiding a chore which, by all accounts can be quite meditative. Check the label before you iron or you’ll end up with creases in the wrong places, or worse, a blackened hole where there was once fabric.

You’re probably getting the message by now, but in case you’ve missed the cues, a symbol of an iron with a single dot inside it means iron at a low temperature – no more than 110°C; two dots and you can warm things up to a toasty 150°C; three dots and you can blast your cotton undies with 200°C of pure scalding heat.

A cross through that iron and you’re off the hook – hang garment up over the bath, open a beer, and put your microwave meal in the oven.

5. Dry cleaning

Dry cleaning symbols
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Many labels feature the words, “Dry clean only” which is your explicit prompt to take the thing to the dry cleaners. Otherwise, a circle symbol means the item can be dry cleaned – the letter inside the circle gives instructions to the dry cleaner, so that they know which solvent to use. If you can’t dry clean an item of clothing, the label will show the circle symbol crossed out.

That’s really all you need to know to ensure that you’re capable of washing your clothes without destroying them. Now all you need to do is remember to separate your whites from your coloureds, and see if you can remember what you did with the darn washing machine operation guide.

Posted in How To - Care.