The importance of clothing labels

by Edmund, Regional Operational and Technical Manager, GICG

The little laundry symbols found on clothing tags aren’t just suggestions. We read and test all these clothes label symbols at GICG.

Care labels can now be found on most textile products, ranging from apparel we wear to home textiles such as carpets and curtains, as a result of increased international consensus and harmonization. The purpose of these labels or instructions is to help consumers care for their products so they last longer. These labels are often in the form of text or symbols. Despite the widespread use of care labels, it is common to find a significant portion of consumers who do not understand the symbols.

Care labels generally comprised of the 5 different symbols as shown below, each representing, from left to right, the recommended washing, bleaching, drying, ironing and dry-cleaning instructions respectively.


Washing symbol

The Washing symbol resembles a bucket filled with water. It indicates that the product can be washed in a washing machine. In the event that the product cannot be machine washed, the symbol will be crossed out or a hand will appear over the symbol, indicating that hand washing is recommended.

When a number appears in the symbol, it represents the maximum washing temperature. For example, a “40” in the symbol would mean that the water temperature should not exceed 40°C (105°F). Alternatively, washing temperature may be represented by dots, ranging from one dot indicating cold wash 30°C (80°F) to six dots for hot 95°C (200°F).

Special washing instructions are shown with horizontal lines below the symbol: one line indicates “permanent press” to prevent wrinkling, and two lines indicate “delicate” for fabrics such as wool, silk, and lingerie.


Bleaching symbol

A triangle represents the bleaching symbol and indicates the bleaching instructions for the product. Intuitively, a simple triangle means that the product may be washed with bleach (if needed) and a crossed-out triangle (or black triangle) means the product should not be bleached. A third variation in the form of a triangle with diagonal lines in it (as shown below) means that only non-chlorine bleach may be used (if bleaching is necessary).

Drying symbol

A square represents the drying symbol and indicates how the product should be dried after washing. There are many households that use tumble-dryers, and tumble-drying instructions are often illustrated with a circle within a square, with various combinations of dots indicating the temperature setting. (A full black circle indicates no heat, a circle with one dot indicates low heat, a circle with two dots indicates medium heat, and a circle with three dots indicates high heat).

Similar to washing instructions, lines below the symbol indicate special drying instructions: one line indicates tumble-dried with “permanent press cycle” , and two lines indicate “delicate/gentle cycle” for fabrics such as wool, silk, and lingerie.

For conventional drying methods, various symbols (as shown below) represent different drying recommendations.
A curved line within a square (first symbol on the left) indicates that the product should be line-dried. A horizontal line within a square denotes product should be flat-dried and three vertical lines with a square denotes drip-dried drying method. A square with 2 diagonal lines at the top left corner denotes under-shade drying preferred. The labels are also  designed to indicate how much drying time is required.

Ironing symbol

Instructions for ironing are represented by a symbol derived from the cross-section of a conventional iron.

An iron symbol marked with a cross indicates that ironing is not recommended. The number of dots represents the recommended ironing temperature, with one dot for low temperature and three dots for high temperature.

A different symbol (as shown below) exists in the ironing category indicates that no steam-ironing is recommended.

Drycleaning symbol

Drycleaning instructions are indicated using a circle; a crossed-out circle indicates that the product is not suitable for drycleaning.

As drycleaning involves the use of chemicals, the circle symbol often has a letter in the middle to indicate the recommended type of drycleaning solution.

A variation of the drycleaning symbol is a black circle, which represents wetcleaning is needed. Similar to the drycleaning symbol, a crossed-out black circle would indicate that wetcleaning is not recommended.

From the short introduction to the various symbols for the care instructions, it may prove to be quite confusing to some readers. However, it is imperative to understand these symbols as a significant amount of testing has to be carried out in order to determine and verify the appropriate care, which could lead to a longer product lifespan.

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