Clothing Tag Symbols and What They Mean

Clothing tag symbols provide instructions to help customers properly care for clothing items. Learn what each symbol means and why it matters.
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Team Kiwi Sizing

Last updated on May 30, 2024

Many customers cut the tags out of their garments because they are annoying or scratchy. However, doing so may shorten the life of their clothing. Those tags contain invaluable information about how to properly care for apparel, but for many, clothing tag symbols are difficult to decipher.

Learn everything your customers need to know about these useful icons.

What Do the Symbols on Clothing Tags Mean?

clothing tag symbols

The symbols on clothing tags explain how to properly care for an item of clothing. The Federal Trade Commission issued the Care Labeling Rule in 1971 to make sure all clothing in the United States comes with instructions for appropriate care.

However, because clothing tags are small, it can be difficult to fit written instructions. As a result, textile manufacturers began using laundry symbols. The icons are universal, intended to be understandable to people worldwide regardless of their language.

Why Do Clothing Tag Symbols Matter?

Improperly caring for clothes can cause them to fade, shrink, discolor, and pill. When customers follow the care instructions on the clothing tag, their clothes will last longer and look better.

What Are Common Laundering Symbols on Clothing Tags?

Laundry symbols explain how to wash, dry, and care for clothing. Manufacturers must provide at least one safe way to clean each garment and often provide additional instructions that explain how different procedures could damage clothing items. 

Machine Washing

Items that customers can machine wash have clothing tag symbols that look like a tub of water. The icon may have lines on the bottom or dots inside.

No lines means to use the normal cycle, which uses more agitation to remove dirt and grime. The normal cycle works well for durable garments, such as jeans, socks, and T-shirts. 

One line indicates the permanent press cycle. This cycle uses warmer water and slower spin cycles to reduce wrinkles and works well for fabrics made from synthetic fibers, such as polyester.

Two lines mean the owner should use the delicate or gentle cycle to avoid damaging the garment. The delicate cycle uses low agitation, colder temperatures, and slow spin rates.

A single dot means to wash in cold water. Two dots are for warm water and three or more dots are for hot water. If there are no dots, it’s all right to wash the garment at any temperature.

Some tags may have a tub with a number inside it. The number indicates the water temperature to use in degrees Celsius. 

Hand Washing

laundering symbols clothing tags

The hand wash symbol looks like a tub of water with a hand. A garment with a hand-washing icon is too delicate to wash by machine.

Fabrics that need to be hand-washed include linen, cashmere, and silk. If the label also has a twisted symbol with an X through it, the customer should avoid wringing out the garment after washing.

Some machines have a hand wash cycle that may work for some garments, but customers should use this setting with caution. It’s best to take vintage, precious, or irreplaceable garments to a professional cleaner.

Do Not Wash

Do not wash clothing tag symbols look like a tub of water with an X through it. Customers should take garments with a do not wash symbol to a professional cleaner.

Dry Cleaning

The dry clean only symbol is a circle. Customers should take garments with this symbol to a professional dry cleaner. Some garments have letters inside the circle that indicate which dry cleaning chemicals to use or avoid.

A circle with an X through it means do not dry clean. If a clothing item has a do not dry clean symbol, customers should wash it on their washer’s most gentle setting. For additional protection, place the garment in a mesh bag or turn it inside out.

Drying Methods

Clothing tag symbols that look like a circle inside a square mean the customer can tumble-dry the item. If this symbol has an X over it, do not tumble dry.

The black dots inside the drying icon indicate the recommended temperature. No dot means it’s OK to dry the garment on any heat.

Low heat is one dot. Medium heat is two and high heat is three. If there is a solid black circle on the tag, use the no heat or air dry setting.

As with the washing symbols, a line under the dryer symbol directs the owner to use the permanent press drying cycle. Two lines indicate the delicate or gentle cycle.

A square with a horizontal line in the center means to dry the item flat on a drying rack or soft towel. Clothing made from wool, cotton, hemp, silk, or linen usually needs to dry flat to avoid stretching the fibers.

The hang-to-dry symbol looks like a square with a curved line. It instructs the customer to hang the item in an area without direct sunlight.


Watch for bleach symbols on clothing tags.

Customers may use bleach on garments with a triangle icon. Chlorine bleach works well for disinfecting and removing stains, while oxygen bleach is color-safe.

If the triangle looks like an outline, either type of bleach is acceptable. If it has two diagonal lines inside, only use oxygen bleach. Do not use any bleach if there is an X through the triangle.


Ironing can damage some types of fabric. A symbol that looks like an iron means the garment can safely be ironed. 

As with the other symbols, dots indicate the appropriate temperature for ironing. One dot is for delicates, two is for synthetics, and three is for linen and cotton.

If there is an X over the iron symbol, do not iron. If the bottom of the iron shows water coming out with an X over it, do not use steam.

How Can You Help Customers With Clothing Care?

Understanding the clothing tag symbols and properly caring for garments will keep them looking great. However, an ill-fitting garment will not look as good no matter how well cared for.

Help your customers choose the right size the first time with sizing tools from Kiwi Sizing. Contact us today to find out more.

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