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How do I Read a Fabric Label?

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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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The fabric labels sewn into most clothing garments provide information about the garment. The fabric label tells you what fabric or material a garment is made from, where it was made, what size it is, and informs consumers how to best care for the garment after purchasing it. Depending on the garment, there may be one fabric label, with information on the front and back, or there may be two labels; one with manufacturer information and the other with care instructions.

Prior to 1997, the care instructions on fabric labels were written out, but in the US, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) allowed manufacturers to use symbols after 1 July of that year. There is no requirement that symbols be used, and care instructions are still written out on some garments. To interpret the care directions on a fabric label with symbols only, you need to know the symbols.

The symbols represent various stages of fabric care and include a triangle, square, and circle, as well as rudimentary drawings of a washtub, an iron, and a hand. Fabric labels also use dots and lines to represent temperature and wash cycles.

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The wash tub symbol represents machine washing instructions. There are typically dots placed in the center of each wash tub to represent temperature. A single dot is cool or cold, two dots is warm, and three dots is hot. The lines under the wash tub indicate cycle. No line means normal wash, one line permanent press, and two lines represent the delicate/gentle cycle. A wash tub with an X through it means "do not wash" and a washtub with a hand above it means "hand wash."

The triangle on a fabric label indicates if and how a garment can be bleached. A plain triangle indicates that any bleach can be used, a triangle with lines through it indicates only non-chlorine bleach should be used, and a shaded triangle with an X through it means "do not bleach."

The square symbol on fabric labels represents drying instructions. A square with a circle inside it represents tumble drying directions and the square without a circle inside represents other drying options such as line dry, drip dry, or dry flat.

A circle represents dry cleaning. The presence of a circle on a fabric label indicates the garment should be dry cleaned while the circle with an X indicates "do not dry clean." There may be further symbols that accompany dry clean instructions, such as solvent restrictions and cycles, but your professional cleaner should know how to interpret them.

Lastly, the symbol of an iron indicates ironing instructions and the presence of dots indicates iron temperature settings; one dot is low, two medium, and three high. If the fabric label has an iron symbol with an X through it, it means "do not iron."

The manufacturing information on a fabric label, such as size, fabric type, and manufacturing location, are still written out, with the exception of size. Sizes are often indicated by letters such as S (small), M (medium), and L (large). For clothing manufactured in dress or pant size, the appropriate number is used. Other content listed on the manufacturer's fabric label includes the fabric components, which must total 100% of the makeup of the fabric, and where it was manufactured.

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