A Guide to Fabric Care Symbols

As a sewist, you know how important it is to care for your fabrics correctly. If you make items to sell, or as gifts, you also want to be able to tell the recipients how to care for the material properly. Thankfully, there’s a plethora of fabric care symbols available that can help you communicate exactly how materials should be treated, but understanding them is a bit like learning to read hieroglyphics. Here’s what you need to know to decipher the language of care tags!

1. Hand Wash

If your fabric (or finished sewing project) should only be washed by hand, or in a washing machine using the hand wash setting, use this symbol on the care tag. You can also specify the maximum temperature at which the item should be washed.

2. Machine Wash at a Specific Temperature

For fibres that cannot be washed at high temperatures, specify the maximum wash temperature within the machine wash symbol.

3. Machine Wash at a General Temperature

If the specific temperature doesn’t need to be specified, but a more general temperature range is best for your project, use dots within the machine wash symbol. One dot indicates machine wash using a cold cycle, two means warm, and three means the item should be washed in hot water.

4. Machine Wash with Specific Spin

Durable items can withstand high agitation and spin speeds during wash, but others, like those that crease easily or are delicate enough to tear, should be washed using gentler settings. For items that need low spin, but regular agitation, use one bar beneath the machine wash symbol. This is sometimes called the “permanent press” setting. For delicates, use two bars.

5. Do Not Machine Wash

For those items that cannot be machine washed, use a machine wash symbol crossed through with an X. This is often combined with a dry cleaning symbol.

6. Iron as Needed

If an item can be ironed at any temperature, use a plain iron symbol. This indicates that any settings—steam, dry, low or high heat—can be used to iron or press the titem.

7. Iron at a Given Temperature

For items with temperature limitations, indicate how hot the iron can be by placing dots inside it. Like with machine wash symbols, the more dots are present, the hotter the iron should be.

8. Dry Iron Only

Steam can stain or warp some fibres, so if your projects shouldn’t be pressed using steam, include the “Dry Iron Only” symbol, which crosses out steam on the ironing symbol. This can also be combined with dots to indicate the iron temperature.

9. Do Not Iron

Sometimes, even the low setting on an iron is too much. For these items, cross out the iron entirely for a “Do Not Iron” symbol.

10. Tumble Dry As Needed

For sturdy items that can handle heat and tumbling without needing any special handling, a normal dryer cycle will do just fine. Include this symbol on your care tag.

11. Tumble Dry at a Specific Heat

As with washing and ironing, you can specify the heat at which your items should be tumble dried by adding dots to the symbol. More dots means more heat, from low, to medium, to high.

12. Tumble Dry, No Heat

For items that can be tumbled but not heated, like synthetic fibres that might melt, use this symbol to indicate that they can be dried on an “air only” cycle.

13. Do Not Tumble Dry

Items that can’t be tumbled or heated (like woollens and embellished items) should always have a “Do Not Tumble Dry” icon on their care tags

14. Dry Flat

Reshape items and dry them flat on a drying rack or dry towel when this symbol appears on the care tag.

15. Drip Dry

This symbol is used to indicate an item should be hung and allowed to drip dry; typically, these are fragile, lightweight items that shouldn’t be agitated, but aren’t likely to stretch while hanging as knits might.

16. Line Dry

Line drying differs from drip drying in that it’s typically reserved for items that can be spun in the washer until most of the water has been wrung out. Hang items that need to keep their shape, like jackets, on hangers. Other items can be pegged to the clothesline and allowed to dry. Some items might specify that the items can be line dried, but should remain in the shade to preserve their color. This is indicated by a diagonal line in the corner of the line dry symbol.

17. Bleach as Needed

If regular chlorine bleach won’t harm an item, it will include the triangular symbol that indicates you can feel free to use bleach as recommended by your washing machine’s manufacturer instructions. Keep in mind that undiluted bleach can damage even bleachable fabrics, so you want to be sure to use it properly.

18. Non-Chlorine Bleach Only

For colorful items, only “color safe” or “oxygen bleach” can be used. The bleach symbol on these items will include slashed lines to indicate this.

19. Do Not Bleach

If no bleach of any kind should be used on an item, make sure the care tag includes a crossed-out bleach symbol.

20. Dry Clean Only

Typically, items that can’t be put through a home washing machine will have a circular symbol on the care tag. This indicates that only dry cleaning should be used to clean them. The indications within and around that symbol tell professional cleaners what type of cleaning compounds and processes are best to use.

21. Do Not Dry Clean

Conversely, some items should not be dry cleaned at all. Usually, these are items that should only be spot-cleaned, or have embellishments or textures that could be damaged by dry cleaning solvents. These items may still be professionally cleaned, but different techniques would be used.

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