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  • Betsy Dolinko


Ok guys, admittedly this may seem like a super boring topic to open a new blog with, but as a Master Tailor, I feel it is SO important and this is actually something that applies to everyone!

As a Master Tailor, one of the questions that I am frequently asked by new and old clients is “What do the symbols on the label in my clothes mean?” It’s a simple yet important question that applies to all of us. It is the first thing we should look at before laundering a new piece of clothing. Sometimes, these companies make the labels so cheap and itchy that you want to rip or cut it out immediately. Well, read it first! These symbols are important tips to maximize the lifespan of your garment. These laundering symbols are also internationally recognized, called the Universal Laundering Care Language.

Here’s some history on why these itchy, annoying labels are even in your clothes in the first place. We got to take ourselves back to 1971, the year that changed everything. In 1971 the Federal Trade Commission issued the Care Labeling Rule.

According to (which is the website of the Federal Trade Commission), the Care Labeling Rule can be summarized as “The Care Labeling Rule, which requires manufacturers and importers of textile wearing apparel and goods; provides regular instructions to purchasers through care labels or other methods; prohibits deceptive acts or practices that fail to disclose instructions to regular care; requires appropriate terminology and symbols that accurately describe care procedures.”

Now, what does all that mean and why is it so important? The rule was created to ensure the consumer has full disclosure on a clothing item or textile so that they can make the most informed decision possible for themselves before buying a new garment. It also provides instructions to maximize the lifespan of your clothing. Why would this have become such a necessity? There are many reasons, but ultimately, it can be summed up so companies cannot mislead the customer with synthetic fibers and cheap international labor.

Now, bear with me, synthetic fibers were invented in the 1930’s but they weren’t used for clothing textiles until the 1940’s. By the 1950’s the apparel industry would be considered saturated with synthetic fibers.

Now jump ahead to the late 1960’s - early 1970’s when the United States apparel industry started moving production overseas.

Do you see where I might be going with this? Yes, that’s correct. As the quality of synthetic material improved, and the production cost pennies to the dollar (versus more expensive fiber derived from completely natural resources) the consumer became less likely to be able to differentiate between the natural real stuff and the synthetic manmade stuff. I will have to explain all the differences between natural materials and synthetic materials in another blog on a later date, but ultimately, if something says silk, it should be made of silk. For example, if you try to iron a shirt that looks like silk but is not silk, you could end up melting a hole right through the front of your blouse! It should not be up to the consumer to determine whether a product is made of genuine materials or not.

In addition, the movement of apparel production overseas greatly reduced the cost of manufacturing, the cost of raw materials (since synthetics are predominantly produced overseas) and the cost of labor, making a completely cheaper and lesser quality garment. The clothing companies were able to sell products at a reduced or comparable cost to the unassuming consumer, but with an even greater profit margin. Enter, the 1971 Care Labeling Rule.


If the care label has a small circle, the item must be dry cleaned.  If there are any letters inside the circle, those letters indicate what chemical to use for the dry cleaner.  The bars under the circle are for the level of precaution for the dry cleaner to take with the garment.  Lastly, if there is a circle with an X through it, DO NOT dry clean the garment.


The dots indicate the levels of heat that can be applied from your iron.  1 dot would be sufficient for delicates, silk or delicate blends, 2 dots would be sufficient for synthetics and 3 dots would be good for durable natural fibers like linen or cotton.  If there are no dots on the iron, the garment can be ironed at any heat setting.  If there are little lines under the iron, those indicate steam and suggest the garment may be steam ironed.  If the iron has an X through it, it means DO NOT IRON THIS GARMENT. If the iron has a steam symbol with an X through it, it means DO NOT IRON OR APPLY STEAM TO THIS GARMENT.


If the care label has a square and a circle on it, it means your garment may be tumble dried.  The dots in the circle indicate the amount of heat that can be applied when drying.  1 dot indicates low temperature, 2 dots indicate medium temperature, and 3 dots indicate a high temperature.  If there is an X going through the box and circle, that indicates that you SHOULD NOT TUMBLE DRY THIS GARMENT.


If the care label has a hand going into a basin, your garment may be hand washed or put in a delicate cycle of 104°F/40°C. The twist symbol indicates that your item may be wrung after hand washing. If there is an X through the twist symbol, that means THE GARMENT MAY NOT BE WRUNG AFTER WASHING.

Hand washing is generally recommended for more delicate items, like cashmere or silk because the gentle wash prevents shrinking or snagging.


If your care label has a basin on it, your item may be washed in the washing machine. The number on the tub indicates the maximum temperature that can be applied. The bars are in reference to reductions necessary during the spinning and rinsing cycles. No Bar indicates that the item may be spun and rinsed as normal, 1 bar indicates the spin speed should be reduced, 2 bars suggest a mild wash but may be spun and rinsed normally. If there is an X through your basin symbol, you should NOT WASH THIS ITEM.

graphic: @ihateironing

I hope you enjoyed this article, I would love to answer your questions and hear your feedback.

Do you have fashion, tailoirng or design questions? I am happy to answer your questions!

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