What do the laundry symbols mean on clothes tags?

Published: Feb. 18, 2017 at 12:15 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 20, 2017 at 9:22 PM EST
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DOWNTOWN CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - For April Tucker, a single mother of twins, doing mounds of laundry has become routine. That includes school clothes, sports gear, and even Sunday's best.

"It's easy to get a lot of things dirty," she said.

Most people know to separate light clothes from dark clothes when doing laundry, but those who aren't paying attention to the labels could be ruining what they wear.

Cleveland 19 put Tucker to the test, giving her a laundry label quiz, asking her questions about clothing care symbols (circles with an "x" through it, a square with a circle in it, a triangle, an iron with three dots).

"Yeah, no, I'm having a hard time with the symbols," Tucker said.

There are now more than three-dozen symbols that could appear on a care label.

"It is very confusing for consumers," said textile expert Frances Kozen. "There are so many care symbols in existence simply because clothing is complex or home laundry is complex."

Not to mention there are different washing machines, different water temperatures, agitation levels, etc. Then there are high-tech dryers, and even high-tech clothing.

"Contemporary fabrics are very technical -- there's a lot of performance features," said Kozen.

Those who wash sporty moisture-wick fabric or soft fleece the wrong way can say, "Goodbye" to what they loved about it.

It can even be dangerous not to read tags closely.

"It's very important that the flame-retardant children's sleepwear not be used with fabric softener or bleach that will -- it will, again, it will -- coat the fabric and will cause the fabric probably not to pass the stringent standards," explained Kozen.

The good news is fabric makers test for things like shrinking, fading color, and wrinkling. They figure it out for consumers so they just have to follow directions.

A circle with an "x" through it, for example, means: DO NOT DRY CLEAN.

A square with a circle in it? TUMBLE DRY, NORMAL.

A triangle means: BLEACH WHEN NEEDED.

An iron with three dots? IRON ON HIGH.

Tucker now keeps a cheat sheet to help de-code these symbols.

"I started keeping a little piece of paper with all the symbols on them," she said.

Print out the chart below and tape it up in the laundry room:

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