Laundry Care and Washing Symbols

By Sanchita Sen Certified Sleep Coach

Have you ever wondered what those strange symbols mean on the care tag attached to your bedding? Those strange icons are called laundry care symbols. While some clothing—or in this…

Last Updated On December 4th, 2021
Laundry Care and Washing Symbols

Have you ever wondered what those strange symbols mean on the care tag attached to your bedding? Those strange icons are called laundry care symbols. While some clothing—or in this case, bedding—tags have written instructions, most labels include at least a few of these symbols.

Laundry care symbols are condensed instructions on how to wash and dry your bedding. In our article, we break these symbols down and share their meanings to give you a better understanding.

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Washing Symbols

Washing symbols are depicted as a tub filled with water. These symbols tell you the washing machine setting and the ideal water temperature for bedding. The following symbols refer to how to wash a piece of bedding, the right heat level, the best machine setting, and whether you can add bleach.

How to Wash

“How to wash” refers to how bedding should be washed. There are two basic symbols:

  • Do Not Wash_Icon-05

    Do Not Wash

  • A tub icon with a large “X” in front. This usually means the fabric needs to be dry-cleaned instead of machine washed.
  • Hand Wash Icon

    Hand Wash Only

  • A tub icon with a hand inside. The motion of the washing machine may be too rough for some fabrics. Hand washing is a better cleaning method for some fabrics, including wool and silk.

Water Temperature

The right water temperature for bedding varies depending on the material. Most materials are best washed in cold water, especially delicate fabrics, like silk. Warmer temperatures are better for more durable fabrics, including cotton and linen. The symbol for “washing machine” is a tub filled with water. The temperature level is represented by the number of dots inside the tub icon.

  • Cold Low Heat
    Cold Water
    For cold water, the washing machine icon will have a single black dot in the middle. The temperature should be between 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold water is better at removing stains from your bedding since warm or hot water can set the stain. Dark-colored and delicate materials are better washed in cold water. Cold water won’t cause colors to bleed into other fabrics and also won’t damage delicate materials, like wool.
  • Warm Medium Heat
    Warm Water
    A warm water washing cycle is symbolized by two black dots, with the water temperature reaching up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Warm water is best for knit materials, like cotton jersey, because the heat can better penetrate fibers to remove dirt.
  • Hot High Heat
    Hot Water
    Three black dots represent hot water. This heat level is one of the highest at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. While there’s a higher risk of shrinkage, hot water is a good temperature if you’re trying to kill off dust mites and bed bugs. These pests die when exposed to high temperatures.

Machine Setting

The machine setting refers to how long your bedding needs to be washed and agitated. Agitation is the amount of motion or shaking involved when running a load through the washing machine. The agitator shifts bedding from the bottom to the top of the machine for even cleaning.

  • Machine Wash Normal
    Normal Cycle
    The normal cycle is symbolized by a simple tub icon filled with water. The normal cycle has the longest washing time, up to 30 minutes, and has the highest agitation rate. If your bedding is heavily soiled, the normal cycle is best, since more agitation removes more dirt.
  • Machine Wash Permanent Press
    Permanent Press Cycle
    The tub icon with one horizontal line underneath indicates the permanent press setting. In the permanent press setting, your bedding is washed in warm water, rinsed with cold water, and the spin cycles are mild. The warm water relaxes the material and reduces wrinkles.
  • Machine Wash Gentle
    Delicate or Gentle Cycle
    Two horizontal lines underneath a tub icon represents a delicate or gentle cycle. The delicate cycle uses the least agitation, which prevents bedding from appearing “worn out.” The delicate cycle is perfect for bedding with a looser weave, like percale, because there’s less pilling or frayed threads.

Bleach

Bleach is a chemical used to enhance the cleaning power of laundry detergents. Bleach can help brighten and whiten fabrics. It also disinfects bedding by killing bacteria. Not all bedding needs bleach, or if it does, your bedding may need a specific kind of bleach, like non-chlorine.

For instance, sweat residue may cause lingering yellow stains on your sheets. If you use a basic bleach, the chemical reaction worsens these stains. But, a non-chlorine bleach can lift the stain and may restore the sheet’s color.

  • Bleach When Needed
    Bleach
    Bleach is represented by the triangle symbol; this symbol means any type of bleach is safe to use with your bedding.
  • Do Not Bleach
    Do Not Bleach
    If your bedding should never be washed with bleach, the care tag will have a triangle icon with a large “X” in front.
  • Non-Chlorine Bleach
    Non-Chlorine Bleach The triangle symbol with two diagonal lines on the bottom right corner indicates non- chlorine bleach is necessary. Non-chlorine bleach is color-safe, meaning it won’t cause colors to fade during washing.

Drying Symbols

A square represents the drying symbol. Drying symbols tell you how to best dry your bedding, whether by air drying or a machine.

Air Dry

A dryer may be too harsh for some fabrics. Air drying is more gentle compared to a machine, even though the drying process may take longer.

You may have the “Air Dry” setting on your dryer, which may be more convenient than air drying. If not, then placing your bedding on a drying rack or a flat surface works best for air drying.

  • Dry Flat Icon
    Dry Flat
    A square symbol with an inner horizontal line across the middle means you should dry your bedding on a flat surface. Laying your bedding flat instead of hanging it to dry may prevent a specific kind of fabric from stretching, like wool.
  • Hang Dry
    Hang Dry
    The hang dry symbol looks like a square icon with a curved line inside, similar to an envelope. Hanging your bedding out to dry on a washing line, especially outside, may speed up the drying process because there’s more air circulating your bedding. Plus, direct sunlight kills off dust mites and other allergens.
  • Do Not Wring
    Do Not Wring
    If your bedding should not be wrung out, the care tag will have a symbol shape similar to a piece of candy with a large “X” in front. Wringing out your bedding could damage the material and ruin your favorite items. Instead, gently squeeze as much water out as possible, then hang the bedding up to dry.

Other, lesser-known symbols:

  • Drip Dry
    Drip Dry
    A square icon with three vertical lines inside means your bedding should be drip-dried. Not to be confused with hang drying, drip drying is when you hang your bedding in your shower to dry, and excess water drips down the drain.
  • Dry in Shade
    Dry in Shade
    If your bedding needs to be dried in the shade, it’ll have a square with two parallel lines in the top leftcorner on the care tag. This process may take longer than drying out in direct sunlight; however, some dark colors need to be dried in the shade to prevent fading. Dark or bright colors have a higher chance of fading when exposed to sunlight.

Tumble Dry

Tumble dry bedding specifies how your bedding should be dried in the dryer. Bedding with the tumble dry icon (a circle inside of a square) doesn’t need to be air-dried. You can still air dry your bedding if that’s what you prefer since air drying is more gentle than machine drying.

  • Tumble Dry Normal
    Normal
    Tumble drying involves spinning clothes with a level of heat to dry them with minimal wrinkles. The tumble dry icon is a square with a plain circle inside, and the level of heat will be indicated within the circle. For example, bedding that requires a normal tumble dry on low heat is represented by a single dot in the middle of the inner circle. The normal tumble dry on low heat has the same rigorous spin, but with less heat. This is great for loosely-woven bedding and fabrics sensitive to heat, like cotton.
  • If your bedding needs to be dried with medium heat, the care tag should have a circle inside of a square with two dots in the middle. Medium heat is good for most fabrics and may only lead to minimal shrinkage.
  • Bedding that requires high heat is marked by three dots within the inside circle. The high-heat setting is not usually recommended since your bedding has the highest risk of shrinking. However, if you’re worried about dust mites or bed bugs, drying your bedding in high-heat is an excellent solution to killing off these pests.
  • Tumble Dry No Heat
    No Heat, Tumble Dry
    Tumble drying your bedding without heat is a good alternative to air drying. If you’re not sure, look for a black circle inside a square. This setting is also a good option if you rely on commercial washing machines and dryers at your local laundromat.
  • Do Not Tumble Dry
    Do Not Tumble Dry
    Some bedding should never be put through the dryer. Air drying your bedding may be better. This symbol is a circle inside of a square with a large “X” in front. Materials like silk and wool may shrink or pill inside a drying machine.

Permanent Press

The permanent press cycle uses some heat during the drying process to reduce wrinkles in the material. Wrinkling may still happen, but it won’t be as severe as bedding dried in cooler temperatures with higher agitation.

  • Tumble Dry Permanent Press Like the tumble dry setting, the permanent press setting allows you to modify the level of heat used to dry your bedding. The symbol for low heat is a circle inside of a square icon with a single dot in the middle and a horizontal line underneath. It looks almost identical to the symbol for tumble dry, normal on low heat, with the only difference being the horizontal line below. Some materials do better with less heat, like cotton.The low heat setting, combined with less agitation, may prolong the life of your bedding and prevent fraying. A square symbol with a circle inside and two dots in the middle stands for the medium heat setting. This is the traditional permanent press setting. The dryer has less agitation, which prevents wrinkles. Plus, the heat setting relaxes any creases in the material.If your bedding should be dried on perm press with no heat, the care tag will have a black circle inside a square with a horizontal line underneath. Drying without heat produces more wrinkles, but not as many as the normal tumble dry setting.

Gentle Cycle

The gentle cycle carefully dries delicate fabrics through the least amount of agitation. Higher heat levels may break down materials and cause damage, like frayed threads and faded colors.

  • Tumble Dry Gentle Icon
    You can also modify the temperature with the gentle cycle setting; however, unlike the tumble dry and perm press settings, you only have the option to toggle between low and medium heat with the gentle cycle.The low heat setting uses the lowest amount of heat for gentle care (about 86 degrees Fahrenheit). The icon has a square with an inner circle with a black dot in the middle. A lower temperature for heat-sensitive fabrics may help your bedding last longer.If your bedding requires a medium heat setting, look for a square with a circle inside with two dots in the middle and two horizontal lines underneath. Medium heat is the highest temperature for the gentle cycle. While this setting can kill off some allergens, it may not be as effective as a high-heat, normal dry setting.
  • Tumble Dry No Heat
    No Heat, Tumble Dry
    Tumble drying your bedding with no heat on gentle is a means to dry the material without heat. This method is similar to air drying, but with more agitation since the bedding will be put through cycling motions. This symbol has a square with a black circle inside with two horizontal lines at the bottom.

Ironing Symbols

An iron removes wrinkles from fabric using a specific heat level—cool, medium, and hot. Some people prefer to iron their bedding before use. If you do, the best method is to lay the bedding on an ironing board, and using the iron, press down on the material while moving the iron back and forth across the fabric.

Iron Any Temperature

    • If your bedding can be ironed, it’ll have an iron symbol on the care tag. The level of heat will be marked within the iron with black dots.

If your bedding should be ironed on a cool setting, it’ll have an iron symbol with one dot inside on the care tag. Bedding that can handle ironing on medium heat will have an iron icon with two dots inside.

Ironing your bedding on a hot setting is the best for eliminating pesky wrinkles, but not all bedding should be ironed with high heat. If it can be ironed on a hot setting, it will be marked with an iron symbol with three dots inside.

  • Do Not Iron
    Do Not Iron
    Bedding that should not be ironed will have an iron icon with a large “X” in front.
  • Do Not Steam Icon
    Steaming Not Allowed
    Steaming is another option for eliminating wrinkles, but like ironing, it isn’t safe for all fabrics. If your bedding should not be steamed, it will have a small “X” underneath the iron symbol.

Dry Cleaning Symbols

You may need to dry clean your bedding if the care tag says explicitly “Dry Clean Only” or “Do Not Wash.” Dry cleaners follow a unique cleaning process, using a chemical solvent with little to no water. Bedding is soaked in a liquid solution to remove stains and may prevent stretching and shrinking.

  • Dry Clean Only
    Dry Clean Only
    If your bedding is dry clean only, the care tag will have a simple circle icon.
  • Do Not Dry Clean
    Do Not Dry Clean
    On the other hand, bedding that should not be dry cleaned will have that circle symbol with a large “X”

Additional symbols are instructions to dry cleaning companies on how best to wash your bedding.

  • Dry Clean Any Solvent
    Any Solvent
    If your bedding can be dry cleaned with any solvent, it’ll have a circle with an “A” inside on the care tag. The solvent dry cleaners use today is tetrachloroethylene, or perc. Perc is gentle, non-flammable, and stable for most materials. Perc won’t cause any negative reactions compared to older solvents, like trichloroethylene.
  • Dry Clean Any Solvent Except Trichloroethylene
    Any Solvent Except Trichloroethylene
    A circle with a “P” inside indicates bedding can be dry cleaned with any solvent except trichloroethylene. Trichloroethylene is a chemical normally used in carpet spot removers and metal cleaners. In the past, dry cleaners used it to spot clean clothing stains, but as of 2012, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has banned it because of the health risks it poses.
  • Dry Clean Petroleum Solvent Only
    Petroleum Solvent Only
    If your bedding should be dry cleaned with a petroleum-based solvent, it’ll be marked with a circle with an “F” inside. Years ago, dry cleaners would use kerosene and gasoline to clean clothing and bedding, but now they primarily use perchloroethylene, instead. There were several concerns with the use of kerosene and gasoline, but there are even still concerns with perchloroethylene. Many dry cleaners are switching away from petroleum-based solvents, so this symbol is not as popular today.
  • Dry Clean Low Heat
    Dry Clean Low Heat
    Heat may cause some fabrics to fray or break down, but using low heat during the dry cleaning process my prevent damage. The low heat setting is represented by a circle icon with a diagonal line on the bottom right side.
  • Dry Clean No Steam
    Dry Clean No Steam 
    Bedding with instructions to clean with less moisture should also never be steamed. Steaming is one of the finishing touches of a dry cleaner—it removes wrinkles. But if a care label has a circle with a diagonal line on the top right side, then you bedding either doesn’t need to be steamed or can be ironed instead.
  • Dry Clean Reduce Moisture
    Dry Clean Reduce Moisture
    Some materials lose their shape when exposed to moisture, like delicate synthetics (rayon). Less moisture makes it easier to clean bedding, especially if there are any oil-based stains. The care tag will have a circle with a diagonal line on the top left side if your bedding needs less moisture when dry cleaned.
  • Dry Clean Short Cycle
    Dry Clean Short Cycle
    A short cycle means that an article of clothing or bedding should only soak in a solvent for a short period of time. The short cycle symbol is a circle with a diagonal line on the bottom left side.

FAQs

Should I wash my new bed sheets before use?

Washing your bed sheets is a good idea before using them because washing removes any chemical residue. During the production process, a chemical smell may linger on the material, but thoroughly washing and drying it will remove this scent. Plus, there’s nothing like the feel of fresh, clean sheets when you climb into bed.

What does a triangle with an “X” mean on a care label?

A triangle with an “X” means that you should never wash your bedding with bleach. Bleach can remove color, resulting in a type of stain. These stains are permanent and can’t be washed out. If you regularly use bleach, be sure to read the care labels on your bedding to see if they can be washed with bleach.

What is the symbol for “no tumble drying”?

A circle inside of a square with a large “X” in front is the symbol for “no tumble drying.” If your bedding has this symbol on the care tag, it would be better to air dry. Air drying may take longer than a spin in your dryer, but the material may not be able to handle the motion.

Air drying is the gentlest way to dry your bedding. Exposure to sunlight can also kill off bacteria and allergens.

What is the symbol for fabric softener?

There is currently no symbol for fabric softener; it’s better not to use fabric softener at all. Fabric softener is a liquid chemical added to the washing machine to penetrate and soften fibers. The problem is that fabric softener leaves a residue that prevents breathable materials from wicking away moisture. It’s better to add dryer sheets or dryer balls when transferring your bedding to the dryer.

What does “40” mean on a laundry tag?

With regards to initial water temperature, some laundry symbols may list the actual measurement. This is commonly seen outside of the United States. The “40” refers to 40 degrees Celsius. Converted to Fahrenheit, 40 degrees Celsius equals 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Meaning, warm water is recommended when washing your bedding.

Conclusion

We hope this article helped decipher the meanings behind laundry care symbols. Laundry care symbols are found on care tags attached to your bedding. They give instructions from the manufacturer on how best to care for your bedding. So, next time you’re placing your bedding in the washing machine, you’ll know what those strange symbols mean.


About the author

Sanchita Sen is a full-time writer focusing on the sleep health and mattress industry. She is a former journalist who has written numerous articles on the healthcare sector. Some of the topics she has covered include how to lucid dream, fever dreams, melatonin for sleep, and best gel memory foam mattress. Sanchita holds a Master of Arts in Communications from Convergence Institute of Mass Media and Information Technology Studies. She is also a published author, who seeks inspiration from both real life and the world of fiction.

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