Washing symbols explained

Washing machines

Washing symbols explained

by Adrian Porter

Baffled by the washing symbols on your clothes labels? Our quick guide makes sense of them.

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Washing synthetics and woollens

A number within the tub icon shows the maximum temperature that item of clothing can be washed at, while the bars underneath refer to rinsing and spinning.

  • If there are no bars, the garment can be spun and rinsed as normal.
  • One bar indicates that the spin speed should be reduced.
  • Two bars means the clothes need a mild wash action, but can be spun and rinsed normally.

Such items shouldn’t be wrung by hand. If there's a cross through the tub, that item should not be washed and will probably need to be dry cleaned (see dry cleaning symbols, below).

Want to know which washing machine is best for you? Take a look at all of our washing machine reviews.


If the tub contains a handwash program, wash the item by hand at 40°C or lower.

Many washing machines have a handwash program. This is for delicate garments such as cashmere or silk, and washes more gently than the normal setting to prevent clothes snagging or shrinking.

Find out more about using your washing machine at cooler temperatures in our guide to cleaning laundry at 30°C, including tips on which laundry detergent to use and how to prevent white washing powder deposits on your clothes.


The dots on ironing symbols correspond to the dots on an iron’s temperature settings: the more dots there are, the more heat can be applied.

  • If the iron symbol doesn't have any dots, the garment can be ironed at any temperature.
  • If the symbol has two lines protruding from the bottom of the symbol with a cross over it, this means you must dry iron and not steam iron.
  • Three dots are for linen and cotton, two dots are for synthetics, one dot is for the most delicate items such as woollens and silk. If the iron symbol has a cross through it, that garment is not suitable to be ironed.

To reduce the amount of time you spend ironing, check out our how to iron guide.

Tumble drying

Getting tumble drying right is easy if you use the correct temperature.

  • A circle inside a square means you can tumble dry the garment.
  • The dots indicate temperature – one for lower heat, two for higher heat.
  • A cross over the symbol means you shouldn’t tumble dry the garment.

Some clothes appear similar but have different labels – they’re most likely made from different fibres or blends. Some fibres or blends can change size or become ‘furred’ by tumble drying. An item that’s suitable for tumble drying will have been treated to protect against these effects.

In the market for a new tumble dryer? We've found models that leave clothes sopping wet and drive up your electricity bills - avoid these models by going for one of our Best Buy tumble dryers.

Dry cleaning

Some clothes can – or must – be dry cleaned.

  • A circle means the garment is suitable for dry cleaning.
  • If there’s a letter inside the circle, it’s to tell the dry cleaner which chemical wash and method to use.
  • If the circle has a cross over it, the item shouldn’t be dry cleaned.

Clothes manufacturers tend to give good cleaning advice. So, even if you suspect they’re being over cautious, it’s best to follow what they say.


  • A triangle means you can safely use a cold, dilute solution of bleach.
  • If the triangle has two stripes, only a non-chlorine, colour-safe bleach should be used.
  • If the triangle has a cross over it, the item can’t be bleached.