Fabric Care Labels - What The Symbols Regarding Temperature Mean

Trying to intrepret fabric care labels can sometimes feel like a test that you are not prepared for.

I liked the good old days, when a shirt that was supposed to be washed in hot water said, "wash hot."

Today, with the use of laundry symbols instead of words that is a thing of the past. Instead, the symbolic laundry instructions regarding washing temperatures are now indicated by the number of dots within the symbol.

Below is some additional instructions for what the dots within these fabric care labels means, and the temperatures that manufacturers are referring to when they generically indicate you should wash in a certain temperature of water:

fabric care label hot
Three dots means hot water, which is defined as water that is 120° F (50° C).

Hot water is sometimes the best choice for washing clothes for several reasons, which include:

  • Detergent generally works better in hotter water, especially on oil and grease
  • Can kill germs and dust mites better
  • Generally, hot water is better for stain removal

Please note, however, that hot water is not best for all laundry stains, universally. For example, it can set certain stains, such as blood stains.

Other disadvantages of using hot water for washing clothes include:

  • Hot water can fade and shrink clothes, and is generally harsher on clothes
  • Using hot water is not as economical or as good for the environment because of the higher energy used for heating the water

Safety tip - Please remember that in homes with children that your hot water heater should not be set above 120° F because of the danger of scalding.

fabric care label warm
Two dots on fabric care labels means warm water, which is defined as 105° F (40° C).

Many times warm water is the happy medium between hot water washes, with the disadvantages listed above, and cold water, which generally does not clean as well.

fabric care label cold
One dot on fabric care labels means cold water, which is defined as water that is 85° F (30° C).

Some advantages to washing in cold water include:

  • Certain fabrics, or dyes must be washed in cold water because otherwise the colors will run
  • Cooler water slows shrinking and fading
  • Generally all clothes are rinsed in cold water (but you may want to rinse in warm water if you have had to add extra detergent for stain removal to make sure more dirt and detergent is rinsed from the clothes)

On the other hand, powdered detergents do not generally dissolve as well in cold water.

In addition, it is generally accepted that you cannot wash clothes effectively in water that is colder than 65° F.

Practically, what that means is that depending on where you live, and what season it is, even when your clothes call for a cold water wash, you may need to add some warm water to the cold water coming into your washing machine to make sure it is warm enough to be effective.

For example, cold water in the winter in Canada will most likely be colder than 65° F, which means you would need to add warm water to bring it up to approximately 85° F to be classified as what the manufacturers are referring to as "cold" water on the fabric care labels.

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Related Links At Household Management 101

Laundry Tips For Families With Children

Laundry Care Label: Decode Yours Easily And Accurately

What Laundry Symbols Mean And When You Can Ignore Them

Go From Temperatures On Fabric Care Labels To Home Page

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