To illustrate how you can minimise the risks when taking in a suspiciously labelled garment, we have added a case study. This shows how to recognise a garment which has not been labelled in accordance with the international standard1 used worldwide, and which should be treated with the utmost suspicion. We also suggest how you might successfully treat such a garment and avoid the worst risks. In North America and elsewhere, there are some variations on the symbol for drycleaning on a delicate cycle, which can be very helpful if you understand what they mean. In the international care labelling standard, the symbols D or F denote the need for a delicate cycle, but it is up to the cleaner to examine the item and decide which restrictions to apply. In the US2 and Canadian codes3, each of the required restrictions is clearly indicated, as shown in the explanatory diagram.

There is a bewildering array of drying symbols for items that should not be tumble dried. These are often found on retail garments imported from warm countries, where drying in the open air, rather than in the tumble dryer, is possible. These are generally found with a square outline containing symbolic advice to ‘Drip dry’, ‘Dry in the shade’, ‘Dry flat’ and ‘Hang to dry’. These might be combined to denote ‘Drip dry in the shade’ for example.

Although these symbols are less useful in regions which use tumble dryers, they do indicate items that might be sensitive to ultraviolet light (and explain why some curtains and suite covers display differential fading when washed or wet-cleaned). They also flag up items that might be easily distorted (such as knitted items made from soft wool, cashmere, angora or mohair, as well as any loose weaves).

The ‘Do Not Wring’ symbol

One symbol that has been appearing on retail items that could be washed at home is the ‘Do Not Wring’ symbol. Although this is not normally used by the professional cleaner, it can sometimes be very useful, because it again highlights items that are susceptible to stretching and distortion. There are a great many knitted and delicate items that fall into this category and the do not wring symbol is a good trigger for the need to wash in a net bag and to underload (by 20 – 30%) the washer and the dryer when processing these items. Some cleaners who launder or wetclean appreciable quantities of this type of retail item, might actually have a drying room, where limited warmth and air circulation is used to allow natural drying, with very good results.

In North America and elsewhere, symbols denoting mechanical action in washing can appear combined with any wash temperature. The chart gives some examples of this.


It is apparent, from the examples described in this issue, that symbols which differ (sometimes considerably) from the International Care Labelling code1 used in the UK are going to keep appearing in UK cleaners. This is likely to be accompanied by some confusion as to their meanings and interpretation. Occasionally, the alternative symbols shown this month can be much more helpful than the equivalent UK and International standard symbol, and a good example of this is the North American symbol for drycleaning using a delicate process. Because some symbols occur only occasionally, it is a good idea to keep this issue of LCN for reference, together with Part 1 of Unusual Care Labelling, which appeared in October 2022. We shall be returning to the topic of care labelling in a future issue, when we try to address the question as to who is at fault when a garment suffers damage in cleaning because of misinterpretation of an unusual label! ­

This label rings alarm bells!

Garment: heavily decorated silk robe which cost £2,000 from an upmarket store.

Fault: after drycleaning using a reduced cycle, the gold lacquer on the metal trim had marked off onto the plain silk fabric.

Technical cause: the lacquer used here was not resistant to the cleaning solvent.

Responsibility: the label is incorrect, because silk is particularly sensitive to both abrasion and excess moisture in drycleaning, therefore any silk garment or a garment with a silk component should carry the drycleaning D or F. The bar indicates a sensitive item that should be drycleaned using a reduced cycle. However, in this case the d tells the cleaner that this is a robust item that can be drycleaned using a normal drycleaning process designed for robust items, which is clearly not the case. The care label is also incomplete, because the international standard for care labelling1 calls for at least five symbols to be shown (indicating sensitivity to washing, bleaching, tumble drying, finishing and cleaning). This suggests that this garment was labelled by guesswork and that the manufacturer had little or no knowlege of cleaning processes or care labelling. Failure to give correct guidance on the care label is the responsibility of the maker.

Rectification: unfortunately, none was possible.

What to do next time: when receiving a garment with few symbols and obvious errors there are a few basic precautions that might help:

1. Ask the price and place of purchase. For expensive designer goods such as this it might be sensible to quote a cleaning cost of say 10% of the purchase price, which then allows for plenty of time to work around the potential problems.

2. Test the sensitivity of the trim with a careful rub test, using a clean white cotton cloth moistened with solvent.

3. If the colour is not fast, as is the case here, then do not place it in the cleaning machine. You might offer to carefully spot-clean it, using pure chemicals, followed by a water based process if necessary (which might involve placing the garment on a hanger, carefully spraying to wet it out with cold water and allowing it to drip dry). This could enable you to avoid any colour problems and produce a wearable garment to delight the customer.

4. Alternatively, you could point out the shortcomings of the garment and refuse to accept it. Either way you would avoid a few sleepless nights and the possibility of ruining the item!

Finally, remember that processing inadequately labelled high value garments of this type is fraught with risk and requires a very careful systematic evaluation of the item covering every aspect of its design and construction.