Laundry symbols quiz: Confused Britons are washing clothes on the wrong settings

Are YOU washing your clothes all wrong? As Britons confess to being confused by laundry care symbols, test your knowledge with this quiz

  • New study shows £128.99 worth of clothes annually ruined by symbol confusion
  • Research commissioned by Oxwash shows many Brits are baffled by the icons
  • More than half (53%) were unable to identify the ‘do not tumble dry’ symbol

Brits are wasting a whopping £6.8billion a year by shrinking and damaging clothes because they don’t understand laundry care symbols, new research shows. 

According to a new study, the average adult annually ruins £128.99 worth of outfits due to a vicious cycle of confusion over the iconography.

The symbols provide instructions and guidelines on everything from washing temperature, ironing, and drying. 

Research commissioned by sustainable wet cleaning service Oxwash claims that the national breakdown of wrecked clothes includes almost 53 million pairs of shrunk jeans.

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Brits are wasting a whopping £6.8billion a year by shrinking and damaging clothes because they don't understand laundry care symbols, new research shows

Brits are wasting a whopping £6.8billion a year by shrinking and damaging clothes because they don’t understand laundry care symbols, new research shows

Around the same number of jumpers suffer a similar fate and a staggering 264.5 million T-shirts, tops and underwear are destroyed or dyed a different colour.

It emerged more than half of us – 53 per cent – are so laundry symbol illiterate we’re unable to identify the ‘do not tumble dry’ symbol.

Meanwhile one in six – 15 per cent – are unsure what the ‘machine wash no higher than 40C’ graphic means.

Worryingly, the ‘do not wash’ symbol leaves more than half the nation – 58 per cent – baffled, while three quarters were baffled by one of the ‘dry clean’ symbols.

More than six in ten – 62 per cent – weren’t able to identify the ‘do not bleach’ sign and one in five – 20 per cent – weren’t able to correctly name the ‘do not iron’ sign.

The signs indicating ‘tumble dry normal’ – 48 per cent – and ‘do not dry clean’ – 72 per cent – also left many of us in awash with confusion.

‘Machine wash, permanent press’ was also unclear for 67 per cent of the 2,000 adults who took part in the research.

The widespread confusion may explain why over the last 12 months, 52,930,000 damaged, shrunk or discoloured items of clothes could have been sent to landfill by the nation’s households.

Brits’ bewilderment also led to some amusing answers when the panel were asked to identify the most common symbols.

The ‘bleach when needed’ triangle was mistaken for ‘fold into a triangle before washing’, while it was suggested the ‘hand wash’ symbol featuring a hand in a bowl could mean ‘wash hands before loading’.

Incredibly, more than one in ten – 11.9 per cent – Brits admitted they tended to ‘just wing it’ when the washing basket is overflowing and just under one in ten said they lobbed their clothes into the machine and ‘hoped for the best’.


1:B – wet clean

2: C -Machine wash cold 

3:C – Do not iron with steam 

4:B – Bleach when needed

5:C – Machine wash normal  

6:A – Hand wash

7:B – Do not tumble dry 

8:A – Dry in shade

9:B – Dry clean only

10:C – Tumble dry normal no heat 


Around six per cent – the equivalent of 3,175,800 adults – admitted they were ‘totally baffled’ by the symbols and close to that number – 5.7 per cent – said they never read the instructions.

It also emerged that only one in four people who took part in the poll of 2000 Brits said they always check the label before washing garments.

More than one in ten – 12 per cent – said they rarely read washing labels.

Two per cent went as far as to admit they ‘weren’t even aware’ there were symbols in clothes.

Former Nasa scientist, Dr Kyle Grant, founder of Oxwash, said: ‘Perhaps it’s down to our increasingly busy lives, or even our reliance on “fast fashion” causing us to be less concerned about the condition things emerge from the machine.

‘Either way, the number of ruined garments needlessly ending up in landfill, combined with the amount of money going down the drain is staggering.

‘Oxwash was founded with the explicit goal of proving that we can wash clothes with no net impact on our ecosystems. It’s a huge challenge, but as scientists, one we are determined to crack.

‘It’s easy to see how the symbols can send us into a spin, which is why at Oxwash we have re-engineered the whole process to make laundry simple and sustainable, so you don’t need to sweat over this stuff.’

Regionally jeans are most likely to be shrunk in Birmingham, London, and Manchester, while jumpers are most likely to suffer the same fate in Leeds, Birmingham, and Cardiff.

You will find more dyed, shrivelled, or misshapen t-shirts in Belfast, Leeds, and London, while Belfast, Birmingham, and Leeds are hotspots for ruined underwear.


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