By reading this ultimate explainer guide to washing symbols, you’ll learn exactly how to read UK label washing symbols, quickly and easily. Never again will you open your washing machine door, only to find accidentally shrunken shorts, tattered tights or colour-stained whites.
What do washing symbols and pre-historic cave writing have in common? They both use pictograms; simple drawings that represent an object or action. Washing machine symbols are purposefully minimalistic, so that their meaning is immediately understood by the general public. However, there are a lot of differences between them.
Types of UK Washing Symbols
Almost all clothing in Britain’s wardrobes and drawers will feature a label. These generally include details such as: an item’s country of origin, manufacturers’ details and fabric/fibre composition (e.g. 20% polyester, 75% cotton, 5% latex).
Upon closer inspection, you should also locate 5 washing symbols (also known as care symbols, laundry symbols or occasionally wash code symbols) aligned horizontally in a row.
What are washing symbols?
These represent the 5 major categories of textile care. From left to right, these are: washing, dry cleaning, special finishes (i.e. bleached clothing), drying and ironing. The order in which these appear is always the same.
However, the individual symbols shown will vary between different items clothing. To more accurately reflect the clothing manufacturer’s “ideal” care instructions, additional lines, numbers and drawings are included in some UK washing symbol pictograms.
Where to find washing label?
Washing symbols are generally black or black and red on a white or cream-coloured label. The washing symbols may be printed, embroidered or stitched into the label. Traditionally, washing labels are found in the same locations on all garments. For example…
Where do you put a T-Shirt Label?
T-Shirt labels are often located inside the back collar or sewn into a seam near the bottom of the garment.
Where is the washing label on jeans?
Washing labels on jeans, trousers, shorts, and underwear are typically hidden inside the item, behind the beltline. In some jeans, the label may be sewn into a pocket.
Are laundry symbols universal?
The majority of clothing worn in Britain is manufactured internationally and imported into the UK. Garments produced specifically for the UK market are legally required to feature the 5 UK washing care symbols, affixed to the product’s label or packaging.
In the UK and many other global markets, the official GINETEX washing symbols are used. However, items imported from international fashion brands based in Australia, America or South Korea may not have the 5 washing symbols attaches.
These countries are not GINETEX members, opting to use their own unique laundry symbols instead.Who uses washing symbols?
Washing symbols are used in home laundry, commercial & specialist laundry, professional textile care industries, product manufacturers, retailors and coin-operated drycleaning machines.
Washing Symbols UK
This article contains everything you need to know about the UK washing symbols you’re likely to encounter on clothing, fabrics and textiles. For each care symbol, we’ve included: an image of the pictogram symbol, UK washing symbol names, a description of the washing symbol’s design features, alternative names and detailed care advice.
Alternative Name(s): Crossed Out washing symbol, St. Andrew’s Cross, Do not… washing symbol
Design: A black, saltire cross.
The X-shaped is often displayed over another washing symbol, indicating “do not…”. For example, when the black cross is shown over an ironing symbol, this means “do not iron, with no exceptions”.
Symbol: Normal Process symbol
Alternative Name(s): Standard Wash symbol
Design: Three black lines form an open-top washing tub filled with water, depicted as a stylised wavy line. This is the “standard” washing process pictogram. An optional number in the symbol’s centre indicates wash temperature. An option single flat line below a UK washing symbol indicates mild washing only while two lines indicate very mild or delicate washing only.
If the normal process symbol is attached to a textile label, any washing machine can be used. If there are no additional lines below the washing tub symbol, any desired washing settings can be used.
Are washing symbols in Celsius?
Yes, any number featured on a washing symbol indicates the maximum water temperature in degrees Celsius.
Symbol: Hand Wash symbol
Design: The normal washing process symbol, with an open-palmed right hand facing downwards in the centre overlayed.
Hand-washing clothing and other soft material textiles is no longer commonplace in Britain; washing machine usage is widespread and most clothes are tough enough to withstand rougher, mechanically-assisted washing.
Old or damaged garments, as well as delicate items like lace, wool, cashmere and lingerie are best suited to hand washing. It should take place in water between 30°C and 40°C, using very mild (highly diluted) fabric softener or detergent.
Allow the item of clothing to float in the wash tub, then use delicate rubbing and gentle aggitation to remove soiling and stains.
What is the wash 40 symbol?
The standard temperature numbers you’re most likely to find on a textile label are:
- 30(°C): for machine-washable wools, fine laundry and dark-coloured mixed fabrics including polyester and cotton.
- 40(°C): for synthetic fibres (i.e. polyester, polyacryl) and dark mixed fabrics.
- 60(°C): this temperature is the maximum safe limit for coloured clothing which cannot withstand heat (e.g. cotton, polyester, modal and mixed fabrics) and “easy care” clothing.
- 70(°C): a “boil wash”, suitable for some dyed and printed textiles (e.g. cotton and linen).
- 95(°C): the hottest washing temperature available. Rarely found on consumer washing machines, as lower temperatures are considerably more energy efficient and almost as effective on most stubborn stains.
What is a 40 degree wash with 2 lines underneath?
The two lines below the 40 degree wash symbol indicate that “mild” or “delicate” washing techniques should be used. This typically means: using less detergent, a slower spin cycle and filling the washing machine drum with a reduced load.
Symbol: Only oxygen bleach permitted (no chlorine bleach) symbol
Alternative Name(s): Percarbonate of Soda symbol or Biodegradable Bleach symbol
Design: An equilateral triangle, filled with two perpendicular lines.
Oxygen-based bleaching agents are generally safer for fabrics, people and the environment than chlorine-based bleaches. Most oxygen-based bleaches are white powders, which need diluting in water before use.
They’re excellent at tackling organic stains and are naturally biodegradable: the bleach molecules decompose into natural byproducts that don’t harm plants and animals. Cleaning products with “Oxy” or “Oxi” in the name are often chlorine-free bleaches.
Symbol: Any bleach allowed symbol
Design: An empty equilateral triangle.
Any bleaching agent (containing chlorine and/or oxygen-based bleaches) may be used.
Symbol: Do not bleach symbol
Alternative Name(s): Bleach-free detergents only symbol
Design: An equilateral triangle with a black X-shaped cross overlayed.
This is by far the most common bleaching symbol on UK washing labels, as many fabrics can be irreversibly dyed or damaged by bleach. As the name suggests, bleach must not come into contect with items labelled as “do not bleach”.
Symbol: Natural Drying symbol
Alternative Name(s): Outdoors drying symbol UK
Design: An empty, black square. An optional diagonal black line in the top left corner signifies shaded (no direct sunlight) drying only.
The natural drying washing symbol indicates that tumble dryers, or other mechanical or thermal drying machines, should not be used. Instead, the garment should be allowed to dry in natural conditions (without additional air, heat or movement).
An optional diagonal black line in the top left corner represents shaded flat drying only. Further lines inside the black square (detailed below) denote specific natural drying methods (i.e. flat drip drying only).
Symbol: Tumble Drying symbol
Alternative Name(s):Tumble dry or drip dry symbol
Design:A black square, filled with an empty black circle.The reasoning behind the tumble dryer washing symbol is clear to see. The circle within the square represents a tumble dryer’s rotating clothes drum.
A tumble dryer may be used. If this symbol is shown, the item may also be naturally dried in preferred.
Symbol: Normal Tumble Drying Process symbol
Alternative Name(s):Standard Tumble drying symbol
Design: A black square, filled with a black circle containing two dots.
The two dots indicate hotter temperatures. Follow your tumble dryer’s instructions; fill the drum with any sized load and dry at 80°C.
Symbol: Mild Tumble Drying Processes symbol
Alternative Name(s): Low Heat tumble drying symbol
Design: A black square, filled with a black circle and a single central dot.
Use a shorter tumble-drying process at a lower temperature (at or below 60°C) to reduce the chance of accidental shrinkage while drying.
Symbol: Drip Flat Drying symbol
Alternative Name(s): Drip Dry Flat symbol
Design: A black square, with two perpendicular horizontal black lines in the centre (indicating flat drip drying only).
Drip drying is often performed in a shower, wet room or outside – this method allows soaking wet (dripping) clothing to dry at normal air temperatures, reducing the appearance of creases.
An optional top-left diagonal line, denoting “shaded-only” drying conditions, is typically reserved for wool fibre jackets, coats and large outer garments.
Symbol: Flat Drying symbol
Alternative Name(s): Dry Flat symbol
Design: A black square, with a single horizontal black line in the centre.
Clothing with a flat drying washing symbol attached should be spread out on a flat surface to dry, once they are no longer dripping wet. For example, a delicate tapestry may be flat dried by laying it on a towel, spread over a kitchen countertop.
Symbol: Drip Line Drying symbol
Alternative Name(s): Washing Line symbol, Hang Washing symbol
Design: A black square, with two vertical black lines in the centre.
One common fabric that requires drip line drying is silk; pillowcases, duvets and clothing made from silk should be hung onto a horizontal washing line immediately after washing completion.
Silk dries quickly (sometimes in less than 30 minutes!) and following this drying symbol protects against crease formation.
Symbol: Line Drying symbol
Design: A black square, with a single vertical black line in the centre.
Textiles that are colourfast (meaning that the clothing’s colour does not bleed during washing, or change in response to strong light) often feature the line drying washing symbol. The “ideal” way to hang each garment is a matter of personal preference.
The line drying symbol indicates that garment could be dried on any line, such as a wire clothes rack, outdoor washing line or clothes hanger.
Symbol: Low Temperature Ironing symbol
Alternative Name(s): No-steam, Dry, Acetate, Nylon (Polyamide) or Acetate iron settings.
Design: A black iron pictogram, with a single black dot in the centre.
Ironing can be performed up to 110°C. The use of a steam iron is not permitted and extra care should be taken when ironing delicate textiles.
Symbol: Moderate Temperature Ironing symbol
Alternative Name(s): Wool, Silk, Viscose, Polyester or Medium iron settings.
Design: A black iron pictogram, with two neighbouring black dots in the centre.
Ironing can be performed up to 150°C, optionally using steam but avoiding heavy pressure.
Symbol: Hot Ironing symbol
Alternative Name(s): Cotton or Linen iron settings.
Design: A black iron pictogram, with three black dots arranged horizontally in the centre.
Ironing can be performed up to 200°C, on pre-dampened garments or using an iron’s built-in steamer function.
Professional Care Symbols
Symbol: Dry Clean Only symbol
Design: An empty black circle.
Dry cleaning, using liquid solvents instead of water and household cleaning products, is required. Many suits, dresses and other garments made from leather, velvet, suede or rayon will feature the dry clean only symbol UK.
Symbol: Wet Clean Only symbol
Alternative Name(s): Professional wet cleaning W symbol
Design: A black circle, with a capitalised letter W in the centre.
Wet cleaning (using water, water-friendly solvents and detergent) are permitted.
Symbol: Professional Dry Cleaning in Hydrocarbons symbol
Alternative Name(s): Professional Dry Cleaning F symbol
Design: A black circle, with a capitalised letter F in the centre.
As this washing symbol’s name suggests, textiles featuring this symbol must be dry cleaned using hydrocarbon-based cleaning agents. According to Ariel UK; this washing symbol can also refer to “use any solvent except Trichloroethylene”.
Symbol: Professional Dry Cleaning in Hydrocarbons (including perchloroethylene) symbol
Alternative Name(s): Professional Dry Cleaning P symbol
Design: A black circle, with a capitalised letter P in the centre.
Professional dry cleaning using specialised hydrocarbons, including but not limited to pechloroethylene, may be used.
Does P mean dry clean only?
Partially; textiles with a letter P enclosed in a black circle indicates that professional dry cleaning should be used. Instead of using water, “dry” hydrocarbon solvents are used instead. These chemicals can be highly flammable and carcinogenic; leave this cleaning technique to the professionals!
When were washing symbols invented?
If every fashion item we bought used different washing symbols on their labels, washing clothing would be tedious and slow. This used to be the case until a serious of international talks were held in the 1950’s. As a result of these discussions, an organisation was established to standardise washing symbols in the UK and Europe.
Their official title is “The International Association for Textile Care Labelling”, but they’re more commonly abbreviated to GINETEX. Based in Paris, GINETEX currently has offices in 21 countries globally. They work with thousands of businesses involved in all aspects of the textile industry.
Despite their widespread use, the universally-recognisable GINETEX washing symbols are copyright protected. Textile manufacturers using these washing symbols, either voluntarily or by law, must pay a small fee every time the official GINETEX washing symbols are used. The money collected sustains GINETEX’s operation to standardise textile label washing symbols, allowing customers to confindently care for their clothing.
How do you wash clothes in the UK?
According to a 2018 study, most British houses (~98%) own a mechanical tumble dryer. Some households use indoor clothes racks and/or outdoor clothes lines, especially in the hot summer months.
Can I wash my Zara puffer coat?
According to Zara’s customer care instruction webpage: puffer coats, made from synthetic or natural fibres are suitable for machine washing. Turn Zara puffer jackets inside-out before washing, to avoid snagging and tears. Tumble drying is generally permitted; check the item’s GINETEX care symbol label for more precise instructions.