ow there is a new international standard to establish a system of graphic symbols that can be used to denote after-care recommendations and that applies to all textiles in the form in which they are supplied to the end user.

Manufacturers and retailers should be changing their specifications to meet the requirements of the new standard, so the new care symbols should be appearing on goods soon, and may already have begun to do so.

International standards are updated regularly and some seven years ago a systematic review of the Standard for Textiles – Care labelling code using symbols – EN 23758:1993 was undertaken. Experts world wide from various fields were asked to sit on a National Standards Body (NSB) in their own countries and to nominate a representative from each NSB to sit on an international (ISO) committee.

EN ISO 3758:2005 is a dual numbered European and international document. For the EU this means that, in accordance with CEN/CENELEC International Regulations, the national standards organisations of the following countries are bound to implement this CEN standard: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

The symbols for washing, bleaching, ironing, and drying after washing are meant for domestic processes. They do not cover commercial laundering, and a separate standard is being considered to cover this aspect of after care.

Professional care treatments are covered by drycleaning and wetcleaning symbols. Satra recommends that all commercial drycleaners and launderers handling domestic linen and clothing, familiarise themselves fully with all the new symbols and ensure that they have an accurate understanding of the meaning of all the symbols to take the utmost care of their customers’ garments and textiles.

For drycleaners the most relevant changes are those involving professional cleaning symbols for drycleaning and wetcleaning. The five basic symbol shapes should now appear on a care label in the order shown here:

This is a more logical order than that used before and shows washing, bleaching, ironing, tumble drying and professional cleaning.

The second professional cleaning symbol, indicating wetcleaning may be displayed at the end of the line or above or below the professional drycleaning symbol if appropriate. However use of this symbol is not compulsory. If it is not shown the cleaner should assume that it is not appropriate to use the process as there is no symbol to indicate do not wetclean.

Cosmetic changes mean that the bar beneath the washing and the professional drycleaning symbols, which indicates that a sensitive process should be used, has now become a line. This is thought to be more easily printed and is easier for the consumer to see on the label.

The “ washtub” symbol indicates that a domestic washing procedure can be used. Normally the maximum washing temperature appropriate for the garment is represented by a number is shown within the symbol, as shown here.

To help countries that do not use Roman numerals, a system of dots to indicate temperature has been introduced.

A single dot• indicates cool or cold, maximum 30C minimum 20C

Two dots•• indicates warm wash 40C maximum

Three dots••• indicates hot wash up to 50C

Four dots•••• indicates hot wash up to 60C

Five dots••••• indicates very hot, maximum 70C

Six dots•••••• indicates very hot, maximum 95C

The changes to the bleaching symbol may be particularly useful for the cleaner.

The previous standard had only two symbols, which indicated the use of chlorine bleach, or no bleach.

This has now been extended to include a symbol denoting the use of a non-chlorine bleach such as those which contain ‘oxi bleaches’. The following symbols are included:

Any bleach Do not bleach Only oxi bleach (non-chlorine)Drycleaners should know how to remove staining from coloured items using non-chlorine bleaches.

Dots within the domestic ironing symbol indicate the maximum soleplate temperature of a domestic iron, most of which are heated electrically.

A single dot • indicates a maximum soleplate temperature of 110C, and also that using steam may cause irreversible damage

Two dots •• indicates a maximum soleplate temperature of 150C

Three dots ••• indicates a maximum temperature of 200C

Drycleaners need to be aware that the one dot iron symbol warns that steam may damage the item and should not put items labelled in this way into a steam air cabinet or on a steam air former without considering the structure of the garment, the fabric type and fibre composition; they must also consider the trims. Pressing using a free steam press may also be required, using the heated buck without the addition of steam.

The symbols for drying after washing have been extended to include symbols for natural drying; these are particularly relevant for many countries where tumble-drying is not the norm.

It is worth noting here that these symbols are meant to link with washing symbols and do not infer that drycleaned items should not be tumble dried.

Tumble dry low heat Tumble dry high heat Do not tumble dryDrip dry Dry in shade Dry flat Line dryProfessional cleaning symbols are shown in the usual circle. This will have a letter to denote the type of solvent and could also carry a line beneath to denote the need for a sensitive process. The cleaner will need to understand fibre and fabric requirements to make best use of this information.

The F symbol remains part of the standard; the F actually indicates a flammable solvent and these days allows the use of hydrocarbon.

However, the cleaner must be aware that many garments may still not have been correctly tested and retailers and manufacturers alike often use this symbol to denote a mild cleaning process in very low temperatures.

This is not always the case with hydrocarbon as the drying temperature can be quite high. This is where the experienced drycleaner’s knowledge of fibres and fabrics comes into play. Thermally sensitive fibres such as acrylic and mod-acrylic could be damaged during the drying cycle.

The symbol F in a circle indicates professional drycleaning in hydrocarbons (distillation temperature between 150C and 210C, flash point between 38C and 70C). If there is no bar the cleaner should use a normal process, if there is a bar they should use a sensitive or mild process.

The symbol P in a circle indicates professional drycleaning using perc solvent and all solvents listed under the symbol F (if you can use the stronger solvent you should be able to use the milder ones). But this does not work the other way round: a garment labelled with an F in a circle should not be cleaned in perc.

If there is a bar, the cleaner should use a sensitive process. A symbol without a bar indicates a normal process.

A crossed out circle (as above) means do not dryclean in any solvent. Spotting with solvent-based products is not recommended.

The W in a circle indicates professional cleaning using a specialised wetcleaning process and associated products which may prevent shrinkage and colour runs.

Wetcleaning is a totally separate process to domestic washing. If the cleaner does not have a wetcleaning facility, they should not regard washing as an alternative, unless the care label shows washing is suitable.

The line beneath the professional cleaning symbol indicates the use of a sensitive process, which could involve one or all or any combination of the following:

• reduce solvent temperature; most modern drycleaning machines do this but the first morning load will be coolest

• limit moisture additions – dry the garment before it is cleaned, especially if a sensitive wool, silk or acetate fabric is present

• reduce drying temperature – thermoplastic fibres such as acrylic can be damaged at temperatures above 50C and modacrylic at temperatures of 40C or above. Most other fabrics will respond better to temperatures of 50-65C. The cleaner must be aware that lowering the drying temperature will slow down the process, prolonging the cycle time and increasing mechanical action on the load.

• reduce mechanical action – there are several ways to do this and the cleaner will need to have some knowledge of fibres and fabric and an understanding of garment construction to make the right choice(s).

Precautions which will affect the individual garment

•turn the garment inside out (not appropriate if heavily beaded)

•place the item inside a net bag

•cover buttons, buckles and trims.

Precautions which will affect the entire load

•reduce cycle times

•use high dip baths only

•use intermittent tumble during wash.

These new symbols are clearly an improvement and should not be difficult to understand. They should form part of the most basic training programme for all employees.