The first time you launder a new item of clothing, you may go in with the best intentions—ensuring that you lay it flat to dry, or wash it at a particular temperature. That is, if you can decipher the care label.
While some clothing labels provide written-out instructions like “dry clean only,” others only come with a bunch of symbols that look like some sort of secret code. So maybe instead of washing that shirt according to the instructions on the label, you just pop it in the washing machine with everything else.
But Wayne Edelman, CEO of Meurice Garment Care—and also known as the “Stainmaster”—says that’s a bad idea. “Care labels, although not always correct, give the consumer a guideline to washing, drying and ironing most items,” he tells Lifehacker.
Fortunately, Edelman has put together a guide to decoding clothing care labels to help us figure out exactly what to do. Here’s what to know.
Why you shouldn’t ignore care labels
First, here’s Edelman with some background:
It is important to read care labels because proper washing and drying procedures will extend the life of your clothes and household items. Washing a silk item according to a cotton towel wash profile could permanently damage the item, as well as washing an item that is labeled “dry clean only.” If you put something “hang dry only” in the dryer, you are likely to ruin the item.
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How to decode clothing care labels
Edelman’s guide is pretty extensive, so for now, here are a few examples of symbols on clothing care labels, and what they mean:
- Wash cold (80º)
- Wash warm (105º)
- Wash hot (120º)
If there are additional dots, four means 140º, five means 160º, and six means 200º.
- Machine wash
- Hand wash only
- Do not wash
- Dry clean only
- Do not dry clean
These instructions let you know which type of washing is needed, and whether the item can go in a washing machine or not.
- Tumble dry allowed
- Do not tumble dry
- Hang to dry
- Lay flat to dry
- Do not wring out
Type of cycle
- Normal cycle
- Permanent press
- Delicate cycle
While these instructions apply to washers and dryers, some dryers don’t have these options. In that case, Edelman says to “think of normal as high heat, permanent press as medium heat, and delicate as low heat.”