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A clothing label with laundry symbols on.

A Quick Guide to Clothes Washing Symbols

The washing symbols on clothing labels are there to help you figure out the best washing method to go for to keep your clothes looking great. If you know the code, a quick check can tell you almost everything you need to know: what the temperature should be, which machine setting to pick, and of course when a hand wash is your best option. So what do the washing symbols on clothes mean? Let’s take a look.

Before we start, a quick note

This guide to washing symbols only covers those that relate to the settings on your washing machine and, of course, the machine vs. hand wash question. For a full index of all the care symbols you’re likely to find on your clothing labels, including the drying, ironing, and bleaching symbols, check out the article here.

The 4 symbols for washing clothes that everyone should know

These washing symbols ensure your clothes are cleaned in the right way – so everything from bright synthetics to delicate woollens will come out looking great.


Cotton wash Cotton Wash (no bar underneath image)

Maximum wash - the number within the washtub is the maximum wash temperature.


Synthetics wash Synthetics Wash / Mild Treatment (single bar)

Medium wash (mild washing conditions).


Wool wash Wool Wash / Very Mild Treatment (double bar)

Minimum wash (delicate washing conditions). Don’t be fooled by the name: this setting isn’t just for washing wool items!


Hand wash only Hand Wash Only

Do not machine wash. Wash by hand at a maximum temperature of 40°C, and handle with care. Check out our guide to hand washing clothes for top tips and dos and don’ts.


When the washing symbols on clothes aren’t quite enough

Aside from the washing symbols, there are a couple of extra things to consider when you’re trying to decide how to wash your clothes:

  • Stains. If you’re about to wash a stained item of clothing, you might need to lower the temperature of your wash to a point below the maximum temperature on the label, since some stains can be set with extra heat. Find guides to help you remove all kinds of spills on our stain removal page here.
  • Detergent. The washing symbols on clothing labels don’t really help you pick a detergent – but we can. If you’re trying to choose between bio and non-bio, the guide here can help. If you’re not sure whether a delicate detergent like Persil Silk & Wool is needed, go here. You can also read the labels on detergent packaging to be really certain.

That’s it! Now that you know what the washing symbols on clothes mean, you can relax and sort your laundry with ease.


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