laundry symbols

What Do Common Laundry Symbols Mean: A Complete Guide

When it comes time to do laundry, you might think about sorting your clothes, choosing a gentle, natural detergent from Charlie’s Soap, and making sure you fold clothes before everything gets wrinkled. If you’re like most folks, you don’t think a lot about the settings on your washer or dryer. You just throw the clothes or towels in, pour some detergent in, and hit “Start.” 

But what happens when you get a new washer, or the new fancy piece of clothing needs washed and its label just has symbols? Suddenly, all the settings on your laundry machine look like hieroglyphs, and you’re not sure which one you need. That’s why Charlie’s Soap is here to decipher the laundry code for you!

Below, you’ll learn what all those laundry symbols mean, and which one you need to get a deep green clean.

Washing Symbols

washing symbols

Machine Wash

This is everyone’s go-to setting. Just throw your clothing in with your other “regular” pieces, and you should be good to go. There are lots of fabrics that can be machine washed such as cotton, nylon, polyester, and more. Just make sure you take care to wash like colors with each other to prevent bleeding. Also check the settings if you have an HE washer, to make sure you don’t overstuff your load — and to make sure you use the appropriate amount of Charlie’s Soap detergent.

Machine Wash: Permanent Press 

If you see permanent press on a label, your fabric has been specially treated to minimize wrinkles. So, as long as you use the correct wash and dry cycles, you should have few, if any wrinkles. This setting works best with synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, rayon, and other knitwear.

Machine Wash: Gentle or Delicate

A gentle or delicate cycle is your best bet if you still wanted to use a machine for a hand wash tagged fabric. There is little or no spin in the cycle — and the water will never get too hot. You may also have an option to go with cold water for this cycle. While this cycle is a good option for bras and underwear for daily use, for special lingerie, lycra, thin knits, and silk, you’re better off hand washing. 

Hand Wash

There is dirty laundry and then there are dirty lingerie, bras, and underwear! No matter how gentle your machine, you want to avoid tossing these articles in. Instead, you would be better off washing your lingerie, lace, and other delicates by hand in the sink.  

Do Not Wash

Simple enough! You’re looking at dry cleaning, airing, and sunning these pieces of clothing, especially those with acetate, silk, or velvet pieces. Of course, this can quickly add up over seasons, but you won’t be wearing such an article everyday.   

Cold Temp

A lot of the delicate fibers, such as varieties of silk, wool, and spandex will last longer when washed in cold water. This can easily be done using the cold temperature setting on your machine. With this setting, only cold water will be used so you don’t have to worry about hot water damaging the fabric. 

Plus, you know we love a good deep, green clean here at Charlie’s Soap — and the cold temp setting can save energy! Did you know: About 90% of the energy used by the washing machine during laundry goes towards heating the water. 

Warm Temp

The warm temperature setting gives you the best of both worlds. The water is warm, to help clean better without fabric being damaged from the harshness of hot water. Warm water is ideal for man-made fibers, knits, and jeans. It also works well with both dark and bright colors too.

Hot Temp

Did you know with a higher water temperature, you get a better wash because hot water is more effective at removing dirt? But this setting is absolutely not for all the items in your hamper. Some articles will take offense to the heat and may never go back to being their original shape or color. But bath towels, rugs, etc. need a deeper clean and this is perfect for them. You can also use Charlie’s Soap Oxygen Bleach on your hot temp setting, if you want to get those towels or sheets extra white!

Drying Symbols

drying symbols

Tumble Dry

This term simply means you can use a dryer to dry the garment. The name, of course, refers to the tumble action used with a typical dryer. This is perhaps the most convenient (and fastest) way to dry your clothes. Large sheets in cotton, towels, etc. are best suited for a good tumble dry. 

Line Dry

You should be drying this item naturally. A number of symbols could depict the line dry. Typically, you’ll want to line dry most delicate fabrics. Large items of cotton, towels, etc. can also be treated this way if you want fresher, white linens. This is also the most energy-efficient way to dry clothes, but you’ll want to look out for sun exposure as it can bleach color from clothes.

Dry Flat

This tag takes air drying a step further, requiring the article to be laid flat over top of another surface. Ideally, a towel or special drying rack. Drying items flat helps reduce shrinkage and felting. Woolens of all sorts, particularly knitwear, should be treated this way. 

Drip Dry

Pretty self-explanatory, but messy! Such articles must be left to drip, right after a wash — no squeezing, no hard drying! The focus is on the garment coming back into its shape and form. Orlon and nylon are fabrics that frequently require drip drying. 

Dry in Shade

The sun can be brutal on certain fabrics so you want to watch out for direct sun exposure! This tag goes alongside line dry or drip dry. Brightly or darkly colored items are at high risk as the sun could very easily bleach away all color. 

No Heat 

The no-heat drying cycle is best suited for fabric that can’t tolerate lots of heat, such as nylon! Cool drying may certainly take longer and may not be as effective, but this process is least stressful for the fabric. 

Low Heat

Low heat drying is suitable for fabric that may be a bit heavier but can withstand a bit more temperature, such as woolen knitwear. Low heat cycles may be smaller than no heat ones, and more effective.  

Medium Heat

Set your temperature setting on medium and fire up your dryer. Medium is the ideal balance between quick/high heat and the tedious/tepid or a zero heat cycle. The medium heat cycle will work with most types of fabric, making it a go-to option for most your wardrobe.  

High Heat

The high heat setting is the quickest and the most effective drying cycle. However, you have to be careful with the color and the texture. High heat is corrosive and can be damaging to fabrics. Then again, in winters we could all do with a hot towel after a shower or bath — and the high 

heat setting is perfect for this. 

Permanent Press

The permanent press cycle focuses on removing or reducing wrinkles. This is achieved by using a low-speed spin. Medium heat and a good cool-down period also help release wrinkles. However, synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, rayon, etc. are flammable and heat that doesn’t dissipate quickly may damage the fabric. 


bleaching symbols

Bleach as Needed 

This tag gives you all the freedom in the world to bleach. Simply use your favorite brand of bleach or oxygen bleach whenever you want to add a bit of life back into your garment. Cotton, rayon, and linen whites are best to use bleach with, although dyeing synthetics like polyester is also a good application. 

Non-chlorine Bleach 

This symbol means to not use traditional chlorine bleach. Charlie’s Soap non-chlorine bleach, on the other hand, can be used safely to clean your clothes or fabrics. Given this is a gentler option, you could deploy this on all washable fabric, just not silk or wool. 

Do Not Bleach 

You do not want to use any bleach product on these pieces. You should also watch out for detergents with bleach. Most likely you’re dealing with a sensitive fabric. If it comes down to it, do a small test for bleach safety. Examples of items that you want to avoid bleaching include items with a leather trim, silk, etc.

Dry Cleaning Symbols

dry cleaning symbols

Dry Clean Only 

For dry clean only clothes, you are dealing with delicate articles. Improper washing and drying can result in dramatic shrinking. Regular maintenance comes at a price, and although there are ways you can still wash them at home, it’s not recommended! Common dry clean only fabrics include nylon, polyester, cashmere, etc. 

Do Not Dry Clean 

Some clothes ironically can be tagged “do not dry clean.” One reason could be the dye or the color. The other reason has to do with embellishments. Beadings and sequins, for example, may begin to melt. Therefore, carefully look at tags on all clothing before assuming the best cleaning method.

Do Not Wet Clean 

Wet cleaning is more than just water. Typically an organic solvent is involved. This solvent can then interact with certain effects in your garment, causing damage. Fancy dresses, items with sequins, etc. fall in this category. Make sure the proper cleaning method is used and drop off your garment at the dry cleaners.


ironing symbols


If the laundry iron symbol has no dots, you are free to treat your garment as you want and iron it as and when you please. The implication is that you decide the temperature. 

Low Temp

Low temperature ironing is reserved for silk and woolens that can get damaged easily. A small amount of moisture may help get good results. But, you must be very careful, especially with silk.

Medium Temp

You can use the medium range or setting on your iron’s temperature in this case. This applies mostly to synthetics, such as polyester or flannel, and is expressed as a two dot mark on the dial on the iron. 

High Temp

Linen and cotton allow ironing at the highest range of temperature. In this case, be careful to avoid burning yourself as the iron will be very hot. To get the best results with this temperature setting, it is recommended to also use steam. 

Do Not Iron

Ironing these garments or fabrics may lead to deterioration in fabric quality. For instance, garments that have nylon or other flammable fabrics are typically “do not iron.” Always double check before ironing your garment to avoid ruining your clothes or your iron. 

No steam 

Garments with this symbol on the label will not handle steam well. For example, they could have dyes, fibers, designs, etc. that may melt or otherwise corrode from steam action, even if it is for a limited time. 

Get the right clean at the right setting, with Charlie’s Soap

As it turns out, your washing machine and dryer can do so much more than you thought! Even older models have a ton of laundry symbols and settings that can help you get exactly the kind of clean you need for your clothes and fabrics.

Using the right setting — and the right laundry detergent — can make all the difference in the cleanliness and longevity of your clothes and other fabrics. You don’t want to wear down your favorite pieces by being too rough on them, but you also want to make sure that any stains or dirt get rinsed out 100%.

Charlie’s Soap offers pure and gentle laundry detergent, without all the extras or additives that the other guys do. Our goal is clean clothes, not clean-ish clothes, and our formulas clean better because there aren’t additives getting in the way. 

Our Natural Laundry Powder Detergent and Natural Laundry Liquid Detergent are formulated to be gentle on clothes and skin, but tough on all stuff you don’t want. No matter what setting you need to wash your clothes at, Charlie’s Soap has a product that can help.

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