When it comes to doing my laundry, I used to only adhere to the golden rule: Separate the whites from the colours. Beyond that, I would just chuck all my clothes in the washing machine and hope for the best. Of course, this didn’t always turn out very well. Apart from washing mishaps involving misshapen clothes, I also found that I scorched my shirts rather frequently while ironing them, leaving shiny marks on the material. Those of you who’ve faced this would know that it’s really annoying, especially if it’s a brand new shirt.

A couple of months ago, after some nagging from my girlfriend, I decided to learn what the mysterious symbols on the tags of my clothing represent. Truth be told, after 10 mins of research, I realised the symbols aren’t so mysterious after all. It’s confounding how simple it is.

First of all, these symbols are categorized into 5 processes, namely: Washing, Bleaching, Drying, Ironing, and Drycleaning.

This bucket-looking symbol represents washing. The dots within the bucket represent the temperature of the water this garment should be washed in. The more dots it has, the hotter the water should be (there are usually only up to three, so cold/warm/hot).

If the bucket has a line underneath it, it means the garment requires a lower intensity wash (synthetics). Two bars indicates minimal agitation, or a gentle wash (silk/wool).

No mystery here, hand wash only.

This symbol means “Do Not Wash”. Gross.

This triangle symbol represents bleaching. A blank one signals the garment is as tough as your granny’s judgement so you can go crazy and use bleach as necessary. The triangle with diagonal stripes, however, means a non-chlorine Bleach is required. A blacked-out triangle with the huge X is a subtle reminder to not bleach the material.

The tumble dry symbol looks like… well, a dryer. The dots within it work the same way as the washing symbol. As intuition will tell you, the ‘X’ represents “do not tumble dry”.

This Manila Folder-esque symbol represents Line Dry, so throw on a line or a bamboo pole, indoors or outdoors.

This Minus symbol means you should lay the garment out horizontally for drying.

Finally, this symbol urges you to dry the garment in the shade. It doesn’t matter if it’s under a tree, an umbrella, or a very fat cat (watch out for cat hair!), just dry it away from direct sunlight.

The ironing symbol is something I pay particularly close attention to these days. The dots work the same way as the rest. Low, medium, and high heat.

This means “Do Not Iron with Steam”.

The last ironing symbol signals you should not iron the garment under any circumstances. Just don’t do it. Embrace the wrinkles.

Dry cleaning symbols are the easiest to deal with. They are akin to logic in computer science.



That is about all there is to know about the “hieroglyphics” that appear on your clothing tags. Just remember, “If in doubt, whip Google out”. You don’t want to give your brand-new Egyptian cotton shirt a nice hot soak and end up with something that fits your seven-year-old nephew.

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