Care labels and symbols for use with your washing machine

Many people do not realise how important it is to check the washing labels on every item of your wash, including all your towels, sheets, clothes, etc.  It stands to reason that if you have not checked the label, and selected the correct wash cycle for that garment, you cannot expect your machine to perform to its best, you also cannot be surprised if your delicate items have been damaged by selecting the wrong programme.

Admittedly some of the symbols used on labels are not as clear as they could be, using squares, circles and triangles, or whatever.  These symbols are supposedly deisgned to be used in many countries and are considered universal.

However, your wash label will also identify the material of your item, and you can check on the dial of your washing machine to select the best programme cycle possible, in conjunction with the symbols.  For instance , if you have purchased a garment of delicate material such as wool or silk, it stands to reason you should select the Delicates programme on your washing dial.  Most washing machines have clear identification of materials and temperatures on the dials, and you should ensure you select the correct programme.

When washing a load together, you should check all the labels and make sure you select the lowest temperature indicated on the wash labels, for your whole wash.  

When sorting your wash into loads, not only put similar colours together, but also you should wash similar fabrics together.  The more care you take in sorting your washing, the less likely you are to have damaged clothes.

Listed below are some of the most common washing programmes in use today:

Cotton Programmes

These programmes are designed to cater for washes made up with cotton and some articles of linen that do not need a special finish.

You will generally have a selection of temperatures available for use with cotton programmes:

  • 95 degrees C – this is hot enough to act as a sanitisation wash and will kill bugs, mites and germs you could find on laundry, including bedding.
  • 60 degrees C – this programme is suitable not only for cottons but linen and viscose items that do not require a special finish. Please ensure that items are colourfast up to 60 degrees.  Very suitable for bedding and household towels as, again, it will kill germs, mites etc.
  • 40 degrees C – the temperature selection is generally down to colourfast temperature guide indicated on the label attached to any item.

Whichever temperature selection you use for towels, remember it is not recommended that you use a fabric softener in the rinse of these items, as it can leave a water repellent coating on towels and, therefore, reduce the drying performance.

Please remember that these temperatures and washing programmes are not suitable for many articles, particularly if a special finish is indicated on the label, for instance linen.  Articles not suitable for washing at these temperatures can shrink, lose their colour and generally have the stuffing knocked out of them, rendering them useless for wearing again.

It cannot be stressed enough that reading labels is essential for protecting your clothes.

Synthetic washes

You should be aware that synthetic items should generally be washed at much lower temperatures, and many do have specific care instructions, for instance, how to dry the item. 

Again your particular washing machine will have various temperatures for this type of material, ranging from 30 – 60 Degrees.

However, some of these garments in this material range may only be suitable to be used in a Delicates programme.  Bear in mind that you will not damage an item if you wash it in a cooler temperature and less agitated wash.  Conversely, if you wash any of these garments at too high a temperature, with a stronger agitation, then your delicate items may well be damaged, or lose the finish on the garment, leaving them limp.

Delicate Wash Care Label

The materials that are suitable for washing in the Delicates programme will be clearly marked on the care label, but will include wool, blankets made from wool or a woollen mixture.

Your specific washing machine may also have a separate programme for woollens, and even one for silk if you are lucky.

If, however, your label states the item should be hand washed this is what you should do, but some machines do have a hand wash programme and you could certainly use this.

Bear in mind these programmes are designed for gentle washes only, but will not be robust enough to wash your normal loads, as the programme will be too short with very little agitation.

Some of the above may have been useful but, unfortunately, depending on what country the item you wish to wash has been made, the symbols may be different and there may not be any kind of washing clue on the label.

The only way forward is to use common sense, and the expertise you have built up in decoding labels and symbols. and recognise which fabrics are washed together in a particular wash programme.

If you are looking at towels or bedding for instance, it is a fair bet that you will be successful if you use a wash programme in the 40 – 60 degrees range.  However, for clothing it is probably more difficult to decide with temperature to select.  It is probably a good idea to err on the side of caution and select a lower temperature wash, with a low spin cycle.  This should help to avoid any damage being caused to the item, unless of course it is only suitable for hand washing!

It is quite a puzzle at times but the following may be of use:

  • Do not overload the machine, especially when you have new items being washed for the first time.  Overloading is more trouble than its worth, as it ends up with no items being washed or rinsed properly.  The result of which is you have to split the washes down anyway, re-sort and rewash in at least two washes.
  • Keep your wash loads separated into material types, for instance, you would not think to wash your brand new sweater with the weekly towel wash.  I double you will enjoy wearing your sweater again, as it would have shrunk at the very least.
  • Be extremely careful with items that have never been washed before.  If the wash label is no help, try to compare it with something else you have, and wash in the same way.  If you are still not sure, the best thing would probably be to handwash the item, for the first few times anyway.
  • Pay attention to any special finish details described on the wash label.  This could be no spin, no tumble dry, no fabric conditioner, reshape and dry flat, or a combination of any of these.  It is heartbreaking to tumble dry an item, only to find it has been ruined but when you check the label, the instructions not to tumble dry are in very small print.

Great care is required but once you become more familiar with the symbols and wash care instructions, you should have less rejects in the future.























Disclaimer: The information provided has been prepared as a guide only and the steps taken are likely to vary for different appliance models. We strongly recommend using a qualified engineer to undertake major repairs and fault finding.


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