Care Labels Guidelines: How to Read and Follow Them

Care Babels

Care labels are important for both manufacturers and consumers of garments. They tell consumers how to clean and maintain their clothes properly, and they help manufacturers avoid customer complaints and returns due to damage from improper cleaning. Different countries and regions have different systems of care labeling, some required by law and some voluntary. Care labels should be accurate and clear to avoid confusion and dissatisfaction.

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about the diverse care labeling systems, and how to apply them.

1. Overview Some Surprising Things About Care Labels Different Types of Care Labeling Systems

  • The care label shows the country where the garment was made.
  • It must be easy to find and read when buying the product.
  • The person who orders the production must make sure the care instructions are correct.
  • The care label can be added after importing, but before selling.

The following are 5 care labeling systems that are commonly used in the apparel industry.

1. 1.      The Global Care Labeling System

GINETEX is the global organization that regulates care labels since 1975. It has members from nine countries in Europe and Asia. It aims to:

  • Help consumers understand how to care for textiles with simple and consistent care symbols that do not depend on language
  • Promote the voluntary use of the same symbols internationally to avoid confusion

The GINETEX care labeling system follows these rules:

  • The care symbols show the maximum allowed treatment for each textile
  • The care symbols must be used completely and in the right order
  • The care labeling must be easy to read, use and understand by anyone
  • The care symbols must not be ambiguous or misleading for the consumer
  • The labels and symbols must be placed and used uniformly
  • The symbol-based system must reflect consumer habits and avoid technical jargon
  • The devices used for textile care must match the recommended treatment
  • Changes to the system must be minimal and avoid adding new symbols or elements
There are five basic symbols in the International care labeling system in this sequence
There are five basic symbols in the International care labeling system in this sequence

1. 2.      The Care Labeling System in Japan

The Japanese system has symbols for care labels that must follow a certain order. The rules for designing labels are:

  • Symbols should go from left to right in this order: 1) Washing, 2) Bleaching, 3) Ironing, 4) Dry-Cleaning, 5) Wringing & 6) Drying
  • Symbols for bleaching can be skipped for colored products that are not usually bleached
  • Symbols for ironing can be skipped for products that are not usually ironed. (Except ‘cannot be ironed’)
  • Symbols for dry-cleaning can be skipped for products that can be washed with water. (Except ‘cannot be dry-cleaned’)
  • The symbols should be black or dark blue, except for the red prohibition symbols on a white background.

1. 3.      The Care Labeling System in Canada

Canada did not have a legal care labeling system until July 1973. Then it introduced a new system with green, amber, and red symbols for washing, bleaching, drying, ironing, and dry cleaning. In 2003, the Canadian system changed to match the NAFTA and ISO standards, and the colors were removed.

1. 4.      The Care Labeling System in Europe

  • European Union committees are working with other international bodies to make a common system under the ISO scheme.
  • The symbols used in Europe are owned by GENETEX and a trademark fee must be paid to GENETEX, the owner, if the garments are to be sold in a GENETEX country.
  • A proper care label for European countries must have at least four and sometimes five symbols in this order: 1) Washing, 2) Bleaching, 3) Ironing, 4) Dry-Cleaning & 5) Drying.

1. 5.      The Care Labeling System in the US

The Care Label rule from the Federal Trade Commission says that care labels can use words or symbols or both. The order of the care instructions is always the same, no matter what they use:

  • How to wash (machine wash/hand wash / dry-clean)
  • How hot the water should be (hot/warm/cold)
  • What kind of cycle to use in the washing machine (delicate/permanent press / normal cycle)
  • How to bleach (do not bleach / non-chlorine bleach/chlorine bleach)
  • How to dry (tumble dry / line dry/flat dry / drip dry)
  • How to iron (do not iron / cool iron / warm iron / hot iron)
  • Any warnings

The labels that make and sell the products also have to:

  • Be attached in a way that they are easy to see when someone buys the product. If the product is in a package, on display, or folded, and the label is hidden, the care information has to be on the package or on a tag that hangs from the product
  • Stay on and readable for as long as the product lasts
  • Tell the customer how to take care of the product normally
  • Tell the customer about anything else that might damage the product

Since December 1996, a new system with only symbols and no words has been used in the United States of America. The new care symbols made by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and what they mean are shown below.

2. Meaning of the Symbols in the US Care Labeling System (ASTM Symbols)

Meaning of the Symbols in the US Care Labeling System (ASTM Symbols)
Meaning of the Symbols in the US Care Labeling System (ASTM Symbols)

Premiere Vision Standards for Fabric Performance

Symbol Name
Organic Organic

A material with mostly natural fibers (cotton, wool, silk, linen) that have been certified as organic.

Recycled Recycled

A material with mostly fibers that have been reused, from natural or synthetic sources (mainly cotton, wool, linen, polyester, polyamide or silk)

Eco-friendly finishing Eco-friendly finishing

Colors and processes that follow the most rigorous global rules (about washing, no heavy metals, saving water, lowering pollution).

Garment washable Garment washable

A fabric made to resist garment washes and fade-out processes.

Responsible Production Responsible Production

Fabric that is made with care for the environment, and/or supports ethical trade and human work.

Windproof Windproof

Feature of a fabric that prevents wind from passing through; by using a tight, coated or layered structure.

Chlorine Resistant Chlorine Resistant

Feature of a fabric to withstand chlorine products, either when it is made or when it is used, by using special fibers or colors (resistance to swimming pool water and to chlorine-water marks, regulation of the amount of whitening).

Natural Stretch Natural Stretch

A fabric that can expand in the length and/or the width, and then go back to its original size after being pulled. Feature achieved without using elastane or lycra, by making the yarn shrink, or by applying chemicals to the fabric.

Mono-Stretch Mono-Stretch

A fabric that can expand in the length or the width, and then go back to its original size after being pulled. This feature is achieved by using elastane, crimped yarns or yarns that are stretchy.

Bi-Stretch Bi-Stretch

A fabric that can extend in both the length and the width, and then return to its original size after being stretched. This feature is achieved by using elastane, curled yarns or yarns that are springy.

Easy-Care Easy-Care

Feature of a fabric designed to make its home use simpler

Fast Drying Fabric Fast Drying Fabric

Feature of a fabric allowing fast drying due to the uniqueness of its fibers and/or its shape, and/or a water-repellent treatment.

Water-Repellent Water-Repellent

Final treatment that makes a fabric able to block water in its liquid form, as well as oil or dirt. Liquids slide off the fabrics without soaking into it.

Waterproof Waterproof

Feature of a fabric that prevents water from passing through

Breathable-Waterproof Breathable-Waterproof

Feature of a fabric that blocks liquid water from entering but lets sweat escape.

Breathing Breathing

Feature of a fabric that involves moving moisture from the body to the outside thanks to fiber characteristics and/or characteristics built into its shape. A dry space can thus be kept between skin and clothing.

Coating Coating

Final treatment that puts a certain product on the top of a fabric to make it have special features

Membrane Membrane

Extremely slim synthetic layer, attached to a fabric, either loosely placed or glued, to make it water and wind resistant while keeping breathability.

Multi-Layer Multi-Layer

Fabric made by a joining process of two or more materials, each with its own features.

Double-Face Double-Face

The fabric has two different sides; each with its specific function.

Climatic Climatic

Feature of a fabric that adjusts the heat of the fiber to shield the body from outside weather conditions – whether they are warm or cool.

Thermal Thermal

A feature of a fabric that adjusts the heat of the fiber to keep a cozy and dry space between the skin and the clothing to prevent the body from getting cold.

Fleece Fleece

Kind of double-layered looped knit, highly lifted on one side or on both, creating a fluffy effect.

Stain-Resistance Stain-Resistance

Final process is meant to stop dirt from sticking to fibers.

Anti-UV Anti-UV

Feature given to a fabric by a special process of the fiber and stopping the UV rays that can harm the skin with a protection factor of more than 30.

Anti-Bacterial Anti-Bacterial

A treatment for fabric that prevents the growth of microbes from sweat.

High-Resistance High-Resistance

A fabric’s ability to withstand wear and tear, by using strong and durable fibers.

Reflecting Reflecting

A cloth’s quality of bouncing back the light. This covers fabrics that glow, shine or reflect.

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