According to Fashion Revolution, 70% of clothes we throw away have irreversible damage, such as colour fading, stubborn stains or shrinking. With 11 million items of clothing going to landfill every week in the UK (source: Oxfam), it’s pretty clear why we need to get better at caring for our clothes, and reducing our fashion footprint.
Now, care labels can be overwhelming. We’ve all been there: looking at the care label and whispering to ourselves “what does it all mean?”... Here’s a step-by-step guide to demystify and understand clothing care labels, from the country of origin to the fabric composition and care instructions. Bonus: download our laundry symbols cheat sheet for your laundry room!
Why care about care labels?
At BLANC, we believe that any fashion can become fast fashion if it’s not cared for properly. Learning your way around clothing care labels and becoming fluent in laundry lingo is essential to help you make more sustainable purchase decisions when buying an item in the first place and look after your clothes properly, keeping them all in tip-top shape for longer.
Checking the fabric composition before you buy a new garment can make quite a difference. It is a mandatory requirement in the UK to display the type of materials used and their percentages. Choosing the right fabric, with preservable quality and made with ethical methods, can be your way to contribute to a more sustainable society.
Where possible, skip petroleum-based synthetics such as polyester and nylon. They are actually made of plastic and will shed thousands of tiny microfibres out in the ocean for each clothes wash (take a look here for everything you need to know about microplastics!). Natural fabrics such as cotton (make sure its organic though) and bamboo linen are better, as is hemp, linen, silk and wool. Lyocell, made from natural cellulose found in wood pulp (harvested from sustainably farmed forest plantations), also rates fairly well.
Look for labels with environmental certifications such as GOTS for a credible assurance that an item complies with ethical and sustainable requirements, from the harvesting of the raw materials to manufacturing.
Country of origin
Knowing where a garment was made points us to how far it has travelled - hence giving us a slice of the picture in regards to its ‘eco-factor’. But consumers are also demanding more transparency about whether a clothing item has been ethically made.
The reality of major companies from Western Europe producing in the Eastern region of the continent or in Asia to cut costs by exploiting workers has been known for years and seen in the media, but the practice of underpaid labour and poor working conditions is not something that only concerns those areas. Therefore, the best way to shop sustainably is to do your research and look for official and independent certifications, such as Fair Trade. Whilst there is a lot of information out there, and it can at times seem a bit daunting, these tips to shop more sustainably are a good starting point, as well as the work that Fashion Revolution have done, for anyone who needs to get their facts straight.
Care instructions should not only be considered when washing the garment for the first time but also before purchasing an item. Will you be able to throw it in the washing machine at 30 degrees? Or does it require specialist, professional cleaning?
Knowing about the aftercare that an item requires is key information to know prior to buying, as it will impact how many times you wear it in the future. Following the care instructions on the label is really important to help your clothing last longer, so we have put together a downloadable Care Symbols guide you can print for your laundry room.
Care symbols generally include:
Washing: the item is machine washable if it has a bucket symbol.
The number of dots refers to the temperature of the washing cycle required. 1 dot = Low, 2 dots = Medium, 3 dots = High.
1 line underneath the bucket = Synthetic Cycle. 2 lines = Gentle.
Bleaching is represented by a triangle.
When the triangle is crossed out by two lines, it means you shouldn't use bleach at all.
Diagonal lines inside the triangle refer to the type of bleach to use.
Drying is represented by a square.
A square with a circle inside means that the item can be safely tumble dried, and the number of dots indicates the temperature.
Lines within the square refer to other methods (line dry, flat dry).
Ironing: the number of dots inside the iron icon refer to the ironing temperature. 1 dot = Low, 2 dots = Medium, 3 dots = High.
If it doesn’t have any dots, it can be ironed on any temperature.
If the triangle is crossed out by two lines, it means: do not iron.
Professional dry cleaning is represented by a circle.
A letter inside the circle refers to what solvent to use and the required processes the aftercare specialist must take.
A crossed out circle means the item shouldn’t be dry cleaned.
Professional Cleaning: why wet is the new dry
One thing to know about the professional cleaning instructions is that “dry-clean only” labels are often put on as a 'cover all' by manufacturers and should be taken with a pinch of salt. A lot of delicate clothing labels still recommend Conventional Dry Cleaning - this despite the process being toxic and known as a health and environmental hazard (PERC, the dominating solvent in the “dry” cleaning industry, has already been banned from France, Denmark, and many states of the US).
Wet cleaning is an expert, non-toxic alternative to conventional dry cleaning and can be used for anything with a ‘dry-clean only’ label. It’s the main cleaning technology we use here at BLANC as the process delivers a better quality clean, that's much safer for both the environment and your health. It does not generate hazardous waste, nor does the process create air pollution, it reduces the potential for water and soil contamination and machines are much more energy efficient.
Here at BLANC, our mission is to improve the life of our staff, customers & neighbours by decreasing toxicity in cleaning and the environment, enabling our customers to live more healthily and inspiring change in our industry. We have created the BLANC Lab to partner with fashion houses and ensure that the textiles used for collections are long-lasting and cleanable in a more sustainable way, ensuring designs can stand the test of time.
The BLANC Lab is also getting the conversation going about wet cleaning: brands are now more than warming to the idea, with many partnering with us for their aftercare needs - and leaders such as Reformation and Hugo Boss are already recommending “Wet Clean Only” on their garment care labels. Together we must continue to connect the dots throughout the lifespan of our clothes until we have formed an unbreakable circle.