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Washing Symbols: What Do Those Laundry Images on Your Clothes Mean?

You know those hieroglyphics-like symbols on clothing labels? They’re intended to give consumers important cleaning information. But can anyone really decipher them? We sure can. Here are a few of the most common ones, explained.

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01_Hand-wash-(1)shutterstock, the noun project 

Washing symbol: Hand wash

If you see this symbol on an article of clothing, you won’t want to put it in the washing machine; this symbol means “Hand Wash Only.” Any article of clothing that says this is one of the things that should never end up in your washing machine.

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02_Do-not-wring (1)shutterstock, the noun project 

Washing symbol: Do not wring

Sadly, this symbol is not a reminder to make sure there are no wrapped candies in your pockets when you throw your clothes in the washing machine. (Though that is great advice.) Instead, it means that you shouldn’t wring out that particular article of clothing.

Try these 13 clothes washing tips to make it not feel like such a chore.

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03_Iron-or-steam-(1)shutterstock, the noun project 

Washing symbol: Iron or steam

This symbol, which depicts an old-fashioned iron, means that you can (you guessed it) iron that article of clothing. Take a closer look at this laundry symbol on your clothes too; often, the iron has one, two, or three dots inside it, representing what level of heat is best to iron it at.

 Is it better to iron or steam your clothes? Find out.

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04_Hang-to-dryshutterstock, the noun project 

Washing symbol: Hang to dry

This one’s a little less self-explanatory than these other laundry symbols! But all it means is that you should hang up that article of clothing to dry, rather than throwing it in the dryer. Here are some more things you shouldn’t be putting in the dryer.

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05_Do-not-dry-clean-shutterstock, the noun project 

Washing symbol: Do not dry clean

What just a plain, generic circle means could be anyone’s guess. But we’ll help clear it up. When it comes to laundry symbols, the circle indicates dry cleaning. So if you see a circle with an X through it? It means you shouldn’t dry clean that item.

Is it better to air dry your clothes than machine dry?

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06_No-steam-finishingshutterstock, the noun project 

Washing symbol: No steam finishing

The dry clean circle returns! The positioning of the little line around the circle can be confusing because the specific position indicates different things. If it’s in the upper right like this, it means that you should dry clean the item, but with no steam. Watch out for these ways you’ve been doing laundry wrong.

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09_Machine-wash,-permanent-pressshutterstock, the noun project 

Washing symbol: Machine wash

Though this one looks like it could also mean “Hand Wash,” since it does look like water in a regular old bucket, it actually means “Machine Wash.” Nothing complicated here—just toss it in the machine! (After checking for other laundry symbols with more specific instructions.)

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08_Wash-at-105-degreesshutterstock, the noun project 

Washing symbol: Wash at 105 degrees

Sometimes you’ll see specific temperatures inside the “Machine Wash” symbol, advising the washer about what temperature the clothing should be washed at. What can be frustrating for the American crowd, though, is that these number are in degrees Celsius, not Fahrenheit. So this laundry symbol means you should wash at 40 degrees Celsius, or 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Find out some surprising things you never knew you could clean in the washing machine.

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09_Machine-wash,-permanent-pressshutterstock, the noun project 

Washing symbol: Machine wash, permanent press

Nope, this doesn’t depict a drink sitting on a coaster. The little line under the regular “Machine Wash” symbol means that you should wash that article with the Permanent Press setting. A double-line underneath the Machine Wash symbol means to use the delicate or gentle cycle.

Head to the freezer to get wrinkles out of clothes with this hack.

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10_Do-not-washshutterstock, the noun project 

Washing symbol: Do not wash

You won’t want to put anything with this symbol on it in the washing machine—or in that bucket of water to wash by hand, either. If something has the “Do Not Wash” symbol on it, you’ll want to have it dry cleaned.

Try these tricks for the stuff that’s really tough to wash.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest