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Laundry Care: a guide to understanding washing symbols


When you provide a good quality uniform for your staff, the last thing you would want is for it to be ruined on the first wash. 

After agreeing with the staff on whose responsibility it is to do the laundry, the most important thing is to understand what the best method for cleaning the uniform is. 

Uniform manufacturers will always give the best advice on how to treat the garments they produce through the symbols on care labels, but the icons giving the instructions may not be so clear. 

To help you out, here is a guide to understanding laundry care symbols.


  1. Each shape is for one aspect of the laundry process


Each shape refers to a unique step in the process of doing laundry.

While the triangle refers to bleaching, the circle refers to dry cleaning. The square refers to natural drying; the circle inside a square to tumble drying and the iron symbol refers to ironing, of course. 


The tub icon refers to washing machine cycles, while the numbers inside it indicate the washing temperature safe to use. 


Knowing that each shape is a different category will make this guide easier to remember.


  1. Dots show the maximum safe temperature

ironing temp icons

Sometimes, some of the icons come with little dots inside. These refer to the maximum recommended temperature to use when drying and ironing the garment. 


Three dots means high temperatures are allowed, which is good for cotton and linens. Two dots indicate that only mild temperatures are allowed, which is often appropriate for synthetic fabrics. Lastly, one dot means you can only use low temperatures, which is often recommended for delicate fabrics, such as silk and wool.


  1. Bleaching

bleaching icons

The triangles show the “do”s and “don’ts" in regards to bleaching.


A plain triangle means it’s safe to use bleach with a diluted cold solution. A triangle with two stripes indicates that you must use non-chlorine, colour-safe bleach. Finally, a triangle with a cross over it simply means you shouldn’t use bleach at all.


  1. Dry cleaning

dry cleaning icons

All of the information about dry cleaning is based on a circle shape.


A plain circle means the garment can be dry cleaned, while a circle with a letter inside will let you know what kind of chemical to use.


A circle with a line on the bottom left is for using a short cycle, while a line on the bottom right is for using low heat.


Finally, a circle with a cross over it means you should not dry clean it.


  1. Washing machine

machine wash iconsdo not wash icon

The picture of a small tub tells you what to do when using the washing machine.


If the label has the plain tub icon, it means your uniform can be washed in the washing machine. 

Bars underneath the icon refer to the speed of rinsing and spinning. If there are no bars, the uniform can be safely spun and rinsed. One bar indicates that you should reduce the spinning speed, while two bars mean you should wash it mildly, but spin and rinse normally.


A cross over the icon indicates that you shouldn’t use the washing machine.


  1. Washing temperature

washing temp laundry care icons

These may be the most straightforward icons on this guide. It’s a simple tub with a number inside showing you the maximum heat to use in the washing machine.


Using the wrong temperature can easily destroy the uniform, so make sure you pay attention to this: colours can bleed and fibers become stressed under too-hot temperatures.



  1. Natural drying

drying icons

When doing the laundry, there are as many risks of ruining your clothes when drying them as when washing them. So, don’t forget to look at the drying instructions correctly.


Anything to do with natural drying will come in a square shape. The square with a curved line inside means it’s safe to dry the uniform by hanging it outside. Meanwhile, the square with three vertical lines inside says you can only hang the clothes indoors for drying.


Lastly, the square with a horizontal line in it means you should only dry the uniform lying flat on a surface so it won’t be stretched.


  1. Tumble drying

tumble drying icons

The symbol for tumble drying is a circle inside a square. The main thing you should look out for is the correct temperature to use. 


The icon can come with either one, two, or three dots inside, indicating the maximum temperature recommended to use for the fabric.


If there are no dots, it means it’s safe to tumble dry at any temperature. On the other hand, if there’s is a cross over the icon, it means you shouldn’t tumble dry it at all. 


  1. Ironing

ironing icons

The icon for ironing is the shape of a small iron. Be careful with the temperature you use: the icon may come with dots inside showing you what kind of heat can be safely applied. If your iron is too hot, fibers can melt - particularly polyester blends. The laundry tag may also instruct you to cool iron with a layer in between the garment and the iron for extra protection.

The icon with a cross over it indicates you shouldn’t iron the uniform, while a cross over an iron with three lines underneath means you shouldn’t use a steam iron.


  1. Handwashing and wringing

handwashing icons


Finally, the icon made up of a tub with a hand indicates the uniform can be safely hand washed. If your washing machine has a “handwashing” programme, that can also work - a delicates bag is recommended. 


If the label has the icon of a twisted cloth, the uniform can be wrung. If there’s a cross over it, then wringing is not allowed. Wringing can stretch delicate fabrics, damaging the fibres - when fabric is wet, it's particularly vulnerable.

Instead, place the item in an towel, roll it up and gently squeeze or pat it before following the drying instructions (either hanging it up, laying it flat). It's unlikely a garment that can't be wrung should be tumble dried, as this is also aggressive to delicate fabrics.


Following this guide will ensure that your uniform has good longevity. All of the instructions can be found on the care label, make sure to check it whenever the garments have to be cleaned. 




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