Cracking the Laundering Code

How many items in your wardrobe have a label stating ‘dry clean only’? It seems that larger numbers of garments bear this warning, but there hasn’t been an overwhelming change in fabrics that warrant the label nor has a mass conspiracy emerged to boost dry cleaning profits. The phrase seems to be a ‘catch all’ attached by manufacturers, possibly to mitigate legal action if your beloved woollen pants suddenly shrink in the wash because they were stitched with cheap nylon, or if the garment has pleats and folds that would make ironing hazardous.

The trick lies in reading the labels correctly, understanding the fabric and knowing if they really will stand up to washing. This seems like a relatively commonsense task, until you start to look at the labels.

It can feel like you need a university degree to decipher them, particularly when you wade through the foreign-language instructions and the pictograms. The pictograms (called the GINETEX system) are a particular favourite of ours … especially for those among our team who are keen puzzle solvers. The symbols generally fall into six categories.

There is the wash tub symbol and its variations that can show anything from washing machine temperature; wash cycle; hand washing; or no washing.

Bleach is represented by a triangle with anything from non-chlorine bleach, to no bleach represented by shadowing in the triangle.

The symbol for tumble drying is a square with a circle inside. Variations on this show heat settings and cycle type.

Tumble drying should not be confused with ‘drying’ which is represented simply by a square with variations that show whether the garment should be hung to dry; drip dry; dried flat; or dried in the shade. The symbol indicating you should not wring out the garment looks a little like a lolly wrapper.

The iron symbol looks like one of those old fashioned irons that were put on top of stoves to heat up. Heat settings are a represented by dots. No steam is the iron with a small cross underneath. A wavy line underneath means iron with a cloth.

Finally dry cleaning is represented by a circle. Sometimes the circle can include letters have dashes around the outside. This tells a dry cleaner what chemicals can be used and how long or short their machine cycle should be. A cross through the symbol means the garment cannot be dry cleaned.

Just to complicate matters, the symbols show the ‘maximum permitted treatment’ which means you can try milder treatment and lower temperatures than those indicated.

So if you are keen to save money and not fall into the trap of having to dry clean every garment you own, you can try washing at home … just leave yourself enough time to read the labels and sort each item. Or, you can drop the lot into Ainslie Laundrette where our team of Sherlocks will crack the code and correctly clean each item. Elementary.

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