What's the Deal With Those Laundry Symbols, and How do I Tell Them Aapart?

By: Nicholas Gerbis

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Author's Note: What's the deal with those laundry symbols, and how do I tell them apart?

As a former scientist and as someone who deals in language for a living, I have to say that I'm not entirely comfortable with our clothes care-labeling system — mainly because it expects you to assume that a lack of information (e.g., it doesn't tell you not to wash in hot water) is, itself, a kind of information (therefore it's OK to do so).

In science, we have a mantra that says, "Lack of proof is not proof of lack," and it's in my journalistic nature to avoid assumptions and to nail down the undefined or unspoken. All of which is my longwinded way of saying that our care-labeling system is a wonder of efficiency, but only if everyone has a complete understanding of it in the first place.

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More Great Links

  • ASTM International. "ASTM D5489 – 14: Standard Guide for Care Symbols for Care Instructions on Textile Products." Book of Standards Vol. 07.02. (Dec. 13, 2015)
  • Flores, Adam Jr. Technical service manager, Progressive Label Inc. Personal correspondence. Dec. 4, 2015.
  • Mc Guire, Patrick. Vice president, information technology, Nexgen Packaging LLC. Personal correspondence. Dec. 9, 2015.
  • Michael, Catherine. Vice president of communications and marketing, American Apparel & Footwear Association. Personal correspondence. Dec. 10, 2015.
  • U.S. Federal Trade Commission. "Care Labeling of Textile Wearing Apparel & Certain Piece Goods, as Amended Effective September 1, 2000." 16 CFR Part 423. (Dec. 13, 2015)
  • U.S. Federal Trade Commission. "Clothes Captioning: Complying with the Care Labeling Rule." May 2014. (Dec. 13, 2015)
  • U.S. Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA). "Labeling Requirements." (Dec. 13, 2015)