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The Meaning Behind All Laundry Care Symbols

Bedding Guides
Read Time: 9 minutes

Laundry Care Symbols

Some care labels for bedding have laundry symbols instead of written instructions. Laundry care symbols are condensed instructions on how to wash and dry bedding. If you’ve ever wondered what those symbols mean, look no further. Our article reveals the meaning behind all laundry care symbols, from how to wash a sheet set to the proper drying method.

Washing Symbols

The machine wash symbol is a tub filled with water. The following symbols tell you how to wash your bedding, the right heat level, the machine setting, and whether or not you can use bleach.

How to Wash

Two symbols refer to how bedding should be washed—do not wash and hand wash only.

Do Not Wash

The tub icon with a large “X” in front means the material requires dry cleaning instead of machine washing.

Hand Wash Only

The motion of the washing machine may be too hard on some fabrics. The tub icon means “hand wash only,” which is better for some materials, such as wool, silk or satin.

Heat Level

The heat level refers to the best water temperature to clean your bedding inside the washing machine. Some materials are best cleaned in cold water, especially delicate fabrics like silk. Warm water is better for thicker fabrics, including cotton and linen. The temperature is represented by the number of dots inside the tub icon.

Cold Water

To remove stains, wash your clothes in cold water between 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The cold water setting is a tub icon with a single black dot in the middle. Warm or hot water can set stains and make it difficult to remove the stain from bedding.

Warm Water

The warm water setting is symbolized by the tub icon with two black dots inside. Warm water should be no higher than 105 degrees Fahrenheit and is best for removing dirt from knit materials.

Hot Water

Three black dots inside a tub represent the hot water setting. Water temperature reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit, but this heat level is perfect for killing dust mites and bed bugs.

Machine Setting

The machine setting is how much agitation your bedding needs and for how long. The agitator is usually a pole in the middle of the machine that shifts bedding from top to bottom for even cleaning.

Normal Cycle

The symbol of a tub filled with water represents the normal cycle. The normal cycle has the longest washing time at 30 minutes and the highest agitation. The normal cycle is best for heavily soiled bedding because the high agitation rate removes more dirt.

Permanent Press Cycle

The symbol for the permanent press cycle is a tub with one horizontal line underneath. Bedding with this symbol should be washed in warm water and rinsed in cold water with mild agitation. The warm water relaxes the material and reduces wrinkles.

Delicate or Gentle Cycle

A tub icon with two horizontal lines underneath refers to the delicate or gentle cycle. The delicate cycle uses the least agitation, so bedding doesn’t look “worn out.” Machine washing fabrics with a looser weave, including percale cotton, on the delicate cycle is less likely to cause pilling and frayed threads.


Bleach is a strong chemical used to boost the cleaning power of laundry detergents. Bleach brightens fabrics, like bright colors and whites. Bleach also kills bacteria, disinfecting bedding.

Not all bedding requires bleach, but some materials may need non-chlorine bleach to remove sweat stains. Common bleach may cause a chemical reaction and worsen these yellow stains, but non-chlorine bleach safely lifts the stain and restores the bedding’s color.


The bleach icon is a triangle symbol and means the bedding is safe with any bleach.

Do Not Bleach

Don’t add bleach to the washer if there’s a triangle icon with a large “X” in front.

Non-Chlorine Bleach

If you’re only allowed to add non-chlorine bleach, a triangle symbol with two diagonal lines on the bottom right corner will be on the care tag. Non-chlorine bleach is color safe and won’t cause colors to fade during washing.

Drying Symbols

The drying symbol is represented by a square. The bedding may require air drying or it can be machine-dried.

Air Drying

Air drying is a gentler method of drying compared to a dryer. The drying process may take longer, but some fabrics require a gentle drying method, like silk and cotton. Some dryers have an “Air Dry” setting for convenience, but if not, place your bedding on a drying rack or spread it out on a flat surface.

Dry Flat

The dry flat symbol looks like a square symbol with an inner horizontal line across the middle. Laying the bedding flat instead of hang drying prevents the fabric from stretching, like wool.

Hang Dry

If your bedding needs to be hang-dried, the care tag will have a square icon with a curved line inside, similar to an envelope. Hanging your bedding, especially outside on a washing line, can speed up the drying process because more air circulates around your bedding than it would drying on a flat surface. Direct sunlight also kills off dust mites and other allergens.

Do Not Wring

The “Do Not Wring” symbol is a shape similar to a piece of candy with a large “X” in front. Wringing your bedding, whether before air drying or placing inside the dryer, could ruin the material. Gently squeeze excess water out without twisting the material, then hang the bedding out to dry.


The drip-dry icon is a square with three vertical lines inside. If your bedding requires drip drying, hang the material in your shower and allow water to drip down the drain.

Dry in Shade

A square symbol with two parallel lines in the top left corner means the fabric needs to be dried in the shade. The process may take longer than hang drying in direct sunlight, but some dark colors do best drying under shade because sunlight may cause dark or bright colors to fade.

Tumble Dry

The tumble dry icon—a circle inside a square—signifies how your bedding should be dried in the dryer and at what temperature. You can still air-dry your bedding if that’s what you prefer since air drying is more gentle than machine drying.

Normal—Low Heat

The Normal—Low Heat setting is best for bedding that requires less spinning. This setting is a circle inside a square icon with a single dot in the middle. Bedding is dried in the dryer on low heat but the machine still has a rigorous spin, great for loosely-woven bedding and materials, like cotton.

Normal—Medium Heat

The Normal—Medium Heat setting will have a circle inside a square with two dots in the center. Medium heat may only lead to minimal shrinkage, but it’s a good heat setting for most fabrics.

Normal—High Heat

High-heat settings are not generally recommended because there’s a higher risk of shrinking, but higher temperatures kill bed bugs and other pests. If you’re worried about dust mites or bed bugs, we recommend the Normal—High Heat setting represented by a circle inside a square symbol with three dots in the middle.

Tumble Dry, No Heat

A black circle inside a square is the tumble dry, no heat setting. This dryer setting is a good alternative to air-drying and takes less time.

Do Not Tumble Dry

The “Do Not Tumble Dry” symbol is represented by a circle inside a square with a large “X” in front. Like silk and wool, some materials should never be placed in a dryer, since the machine may cause the fabric to shrink or pill. Air drying is a better alternative to tumble drying.

Permanent Press

The permanent press setting incorporates a little more heat than the other dryer settings to reduce wrinkles. Wrinkling may still occur, especially in wrinkle-prone fabrics like linen, but it won’t be as severe as bedding dried in cooler temperatures.

Low Heat, Tumble Dry

A circle inside a square icon with a single dot in the middle and a horizontal line underneath stands for the Low Heat, Tumble Dry setting. The low heat setting with less agitation prevents fraying and may prolong the life of some materials, like cotton bedding.

Medium Heat, Tumble Dry

Medium Heat, Tumble Dry is the traditional permanent press setting represented by a square with a circle inside and two dots in the middle. The dryer prevents wrinkles because the dryer has less agitation, and the slightly higher heat level relaxes any creases in the fabric.

No Heat, Tumble Dry

The icon for No Heat, Tumble Dry, is a black circle inside a square with a horizontal line underneath. You may notice more wrinkles in your bedding, but this setting won’t produce as many wrinkles as the Normal—Tumble Dry, No Heat dryer setting.

Gentle Cycle

The gentle cycle uses the least amount of agitation and is best for delicate fabrics, like cotton and bamboo. The gentle cycle also uses less heat because high temperatures may damage these delicate materials. Faded colors and broken seams may result from a normal tumble dry setting.

Low Heat, Tumble Dry

Tumble drying your bedding on low heat (no more than 86 degrees Fahrenheit) is good for heat-sensitive materials, like silk, and may help your bedding last longer. This symbol has a square with an inner circle and a black dot in the middle.

Medium Heat, Tumble Dry

The Medium Heat, Tumble Dry setting is the highest temperature for the gentle cycle. The setting kills some allergens, but may not be as effective as the Normal—High Heat setting. Look for a square icon with a circle inside and two dots in the center with two horizontal lines underneath.

No Heat, Tumble Dry

If your bedding needs to be tumble dried on a gentle cycle with no heat, then the symbol will have a square with a black circle inside and two horizontal lines at the bottom. The No Heat, Tumble Dry setting gently cycles the bedding without heat, and may be a faster drying method than air drying.

Ironing Symbols

Some materials may require ironing, while other fabrics warn against it. An iron removes wrinkles from the fabric using a specific heat level, whether cool, medium, or hot. If you prefer to iron your bedding before use, make sure to lay the material on an ironing board and, with the iron, press down on the fabric while moving the iron back and forth over the surface.

Iron, Cool

Bedding which requires ironing in a cool setting will have an iron symbol with a dot inside on the care tag.

Iron, Medium

An iron symbol with two dots in the center is for bedding that can handle medium heat.

Iron, Hot

The hot temperature is best for eliminating wrinkles, but not all bedding can withstand the high heat without damage, like silk. An iron symbol with three dots inside marks if the bedding can be ironed on a hot setting.

Do Not Iron

If the bedding shouldn’t be ironed, the tag will have an iron symbol with a large “X” in front.

Steaming Not Allowed

Some individuals use their irons to steam bedding and eliminate wrinkles, but this method may not be safe for some fabrics. A small “X” underneath the iron icon will be on the care tag if the bedding shouldn’t be steamed.

Dry Cleaning Symbols

Some bedding may require a trip to the dry cleaners instead of machine washing. Dry cleaners follow a special cleaning procedure, using chemical solvents with little to no water. Water may damage some materials, like wool and rayon, so taking your bedding to the dry cleaners if the care label states “Dry Clean Only” or “Do Not Wash” is vital to ensure the bedding’s lifespan.

Dry Clean Only

Bedding that requires dry cleaning will have a circle icon.

Do Not Dry Clean

If the bedding shouldn’t be dry cleaned, a circle symbol with a large “X” in front will be on the care label.

Other Symbols for Dry Cleaning Companies

Other care symbols give instructions to professional dry cleaning personnel in how best to wash your bedding.

Any Solvent

A circle with an “A” in the middle means your bedding can be dry cleaned with any solvent. Most dry cleaners use tetrachloroethylene, or perc, since perc is a gentle, non-flammable solvent for most materials.

Any Solvent Except Trichloroethylene

Suppose your bedding can be dry cleaned with any solvent. In that case, the care tag will have a circle with a “P” inside. Trichloroethylene used to be the go-to solvent of choice for dry cleaner companies until 2012 when the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) banned the chemical because of health risks.


What does the 30 symbol mean on clothes?

The number “30” inside the tub filled with water icon represents the maximum water temperature (in Celsius) a piece of bedding or article of clothing can be washed. 30 degrees Celsius equals 86 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning the bedding needs to be washed on a low heat setting. Heat levels warmer than the recommended temperature could damage bedding or clothing.

Should I wash new sheets before using them?

Washing new sheets before use removes any chemical residue from the production process. You may notice a chemical smell on your new sheets, but thoroughly washing and drying them will remove this odor. Plus, you can enjoy fresh, clean sheets when you climb into bed.

What does it mean when it says wash separately?

If the care label on the bedding states “wash separately,” it means the material is highly pigmented and could ruin other bedding. In the washing machine, colors can bleed and stain other pieces of bedding. It’s better to do an extra load of laundry than replacing stained bedding.

What is the symbol for fabric softener?

There is no symbol for fabric softener because most manufacturers don’t recommend it. Fabric softener is a liquid chemical added to the washing machine which softens fibers. Unfortunately, fabric softener leaves a residue that prevents materials from wicking away moisture. A better alternative is adding dryer sheets or dryer balls to bedding in the dryer.

What temperature kills bacteria in a washing machine?

The right temperature to kill bacteria is 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature also kills bed bugs, a helpful tip in case you’re facing an infestation. For best practices if you have bed bugs, wash your bedding on high heat then place your bedding in the dryer at a high heat setting—this will effectively kill any bed bugs or dust mites in the bedding.


We hope this article gives you better insight into the meanings behind laundry care symbols on your bedding’s care tags. These instructions provide customers with information on how best to care for your bedding. Next time you put a load into the washer, you’ll know what those symbols mean.

You may also see similar things when reading a mattress tag.

Christine Lapp is a full-time graduate student and part-time freelancer for Sleep Junkie. Since she was a little girl on the soccer field, Christine has had a love for sports, and she believes everybody should get up and get moving once a day. Now, she incorporates her love for exercise into her studies, pursuing a degree in exercise physiology. Christine understands that what you do during your waking hours has a direct impact on your night’s sleep. In our better sleep guides, she offers advice for developing healthy daytime habits to nurture a more peaceful slumber.

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