| October 30, 2012

Ever see instructions on the inside tag of your clothes and think they’re written in another language? You're not alone.

In order to do your laundry without damaging your clothes, you have to learn the symbols and lingo. We’ve broken the code and defined common washing, drying and bleaching instructions so they’re easy to understand.

READ: How to Fix a Shirt That Has Shrunk in the Wash

Machine Wash

This little crown-like symbol is our very favorite washing instruction. Feel free to toss this garment in your washing machine, using your regular detergent or soap. Easy peasy!

Water Temperature

These little dots represent the temperature range you should wash this item in. The more dots on the tag, the hotter the water should be — one dot represents cold, or 30 degrees Celsius; two dots for warm, or 40 degrees; three dots for hot, or 50 degrees; and four dots for extra hot, or 60 degrees. The tag also may have a specific temperature. If so, the water temperature should not exceed that number.

Hand Wash

You can wash this item in warm water, using detergent or soap, while gently using your hands to clean it. Don’t throw it in a machine, which will damage the garment.

Permanent Press

Permanent press means your clothing item has been chemically treated to cut down on wrinkles and keep shape. You should only wash this item on the “permanent press” setting of your machine.


This item needs extra care to ensure it doesn’t deconstruct; only wash with your machine’s “delicate” or “gentle” cycle setting.

Do Not Wash

Under no circumstances should you attempt to wash this item on your own. Usually you can take it in for dry cleaning, though, which may be noted on the tag.

Dryer Temperature

These symbols correspond with the temperature the dryer should be for a standard tumble dry. One dot means low, two mean medium, three mean high and a blacked out circle means it should be dried with no heat at all.

Drip Dry

Don’t smooth or shape this garment in any way. Throw it sopping wet directly over a clothesline or clothes bar, inside or out, until dry.

Line Dry

Similar to drip dry, this item is going over a bar or line, inside or outside, until completely dry. The only difference? You can smooth it, and it should be damp instead of wet.

Dry Flat

Make sure the item is on a horizontal surface for drying. Often you’ll see “dry flat” on delicates like wool sweaters, bras or silk blouses.

Bleach/No Bleach

The item might note bleaching instructions. A simple triangle outline means you can use any bleach on the market. A solid triangle with an X through it means no bleach — you’ll ruin the garment’s build or color if you run it through the wash with a bleaching agent (Read: Don’t do it!).

Non-Chlorine Bleach

Sometimes you can bleach an item; you just have to make sure the bleach won’t damage the hue. “Non-chlorine bleach” is color-safe, so you can use this type of agent when you wash.