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Garments, Fashion & Retail
  Care labelling of apparels

It is very much essential for the garment manufacturers to make awareness campaign regarding the utility of care labels for the consumers, say K N Chatterjee, R K Nayak, S Bhattacharya and N R Kansal.

Apparels and textiles are soiled during their normal use. From economic point of view these items must be cleaned and refurbished for reuse without substantially altering their functional and aesthetic properties. Consumers should be provided the knowledge of various processing conditions for care of the apparels. This is the joint responsibility of the apparel industry and the textile care industry.

According to Federal Trade Commissions (FTC) rule 16 CFK 423, apparels should have permanent care label that pro-vides information about their regular care. The purpose of the rule is to give the consumers accurate care information to extend the useful life of the apparel. All the textile wearing apparels used to cover or protect the body and all piece goods sold for making home-sewn apparels are covered apart from shoes, belts, hats, neckties, nonwoven, one-time garments.

Care labels should not be considered as a guarantee or a quality mark of the product. Manufacturers and importers of textiles, apparel and piece goods (sold to consumers for making wearing apparel); and any organisation that controls the manufacturing or import of textile wearing apparel or piece goods for making wearing apparel are covered in this rule.

According to ASTM D 3136-96, a care label is a label or other affixed instructions that report how a product should be refurbished. FTC defines “care label means a permanent label or tag, containing regular care information and instruction, that is attached or affixed in some manner that will not become separated from the product and will remain legible during the useful life of the product”.

Different processes covered in care labelling

a. Laundering:
A process intended to remove soil or stains by washing with an aqueous detergent solution (and possibly bleach) and normally including subsequent rinsing, extracting and drying.

b. Chlorine bleach: A process carried out in an aqueous medium before, during or after washing processes, requiring the use of chlorine based bleaching agent for the purpose of removing stains and/or improving whiteness.

c. Non-chlorine bleach: A bleach that does not release the hypochlorite ion in solution, for example sodium perborate, sodium percarbonate, etc.

d. Dry-cleaning: A process for cleaning textile articles by means of organic solvents (eg, petroleum, perchlorethylene, fluorocarbon). This process consists of cleaning, rinsing, spinning and drying.

e. Tumble drying: A process carried out on a textile article after washing, with the intention of removing residual water by treatment with hot air in a rotating drum.

f. Ironing: A method of pressing using a heated hand iron sometimes together with moisture or steam, and a gliding motion.

g. Pressing: A process of smoothing and shaping by heat and pressure, with or without the presence of steam.

Apart from the above processes, the other terminologies used in care labelling are:

a. Detergent: A cleaning agent containing one or more surfactants as the active ingredient(s).

b. Soap: A cleaning agent usually consisting of sodium or potassium salts of fatty acids.

c. Bleach (in care of textiles): A product for brightening and aiding the removal of soils and stains from textile materials by oxidation that is inclusive of both chlorine and non-chlorine products.

d. Cleaning agent: A chemical compound or formulation several compounds which loosens, disperses, dissolves, or emulsifies soil to facilitate removal by mechanical action.

e. Consumer care: Cleaning and maintenance procedures as customarily undertaken by the ultimate user.

f. Professional care: Cleaning and maintenance procedures requiring the services of a person specially trained or skilled in their use.

g. Refurbish: To brighten or refresh up and restore to wearability or use by cleaning such as dry-cleaning, laundering, or steam cleaning.

h. Stain removal: A cleaning procedure for localised areas with cleaning agents and mechanical action specific to the removal of foreign substances present.

i. Solvent relative humidity: The humidity of air over dry-cleaning bath and in equilibrium with the solvent and small amount of water.

Requirements of care labels

Various care labelling systems are followed worldwide. Whatever the system may be it should follow the following principles:

  • The care labels should not be visible from outside and should not be inconvenient to the wearer.

  • They should be easily visible and not hidden which would otherwise lead to difficulties in conveying information.

  • The symbols and letters on the labels shall be legible throughout useful life of garment.

  • The labels for a particular style should be positioned at one place in all pieces.

  • If not readily seen due to packaging, care information must be repeated on the outside of the package or on a hangtag attached to the product.

  • All the symbols used in the care labelling system should be placed directly on the article or on a label which shall be affixed in a permanent manner to the article.

  • Care labels should be made of suitable material with resistance to the care treatment indicated in the label at least equal to that of the article on which they are placed.

  • Label and symbols should be large enough so that they are easily visible and readable and they denote the maximum permissible treatment for an apparel.

  • The consumers should easily understand the symbols irrespective of the language.

  • The care instruction symbols are applicable to whole of the garment including trimmings, zippers, linings, buttons, etc unless otherwise mentioned by separate labels.

  • The care symbols selected should give instructions for the most severe process or treatment the garment can withstand while being maintained in a serviceable condition without causing a significant loss of its properties.

At present, there is no universal symbol system. The ASTM symbols are accepted in NAFTA countries. ISO/GINETEX symbols are accepted in most of Europe and Asia, and Japan has their own symbol system. Negotiations are under way to harmonise the two major systems; ASTM and GINETEX, into a truly universal symbol system for care procedures. Among the various systems the major systems, which are followed worldwide are listed below:

a. International Care Labelling System (GINETEX)
b. ASTM Care Labelling System
c. British Care Labelling System
d. Japanese Care Labelling System
e. Canadian Care Labelling System
f. Indian Care Labelling System

a. International Care Labelling System: International Symposium for care labelling was established in 1963 in Paris. It was replaced by International Association for Textile Care Labelling (GINETEX) in 1975. The symbols used in GINETEX system represent that the garment can withstand the process and a cross indicates the process is not possible for the garment. The following five symbols are used:

The number inside the washtub indicates the maximum permissible temperature of water in degree centigrade. A hand in the washtub indicates only hand wash is possible. An underline beneath the washtub indicates a milder treatment is in order. Numbers above the washtub indicate different washing programmes and these are not always identical with those actually used in washing machines. There may be some additional indications which are not followed everywhere.

‘CL’ inside the triangle indicates that chlorine bleaching is possible. The dots (1, 2 or 3) inside the iron symbol indicate the maximum temperature at which ironing can be done. The letters (A, P or F) inside the circle indicate the dry-cleaning process with the solvent to be used. In addition, they give information to consumers about the possibility of using coin-operated dry-cleaning. A circle inside a square indicates the particular garment can be tumble-dried.

b. Japanese Care Labelling System: Japanese Care Labelling System uses basic symbols that are different from other systems of care labelling. Some of the symbols with their meaning are discussed below:

Washing Instructions
Symbol Instructions
Machine wash at 95oC or less water temperature.
Hand wash in water temperature of 30oC or less
Do not wash (not washable).
Bleaching Instructions
Symbol Instructions
Use chlorine bleach.
Do not use chlorine bleach.
Ironing Instructions
Symbol Instructions
May be ironed directly at 180-210oC
May be ironed directly at 140-160oC
May be ironed directly at 80-120oC
Do not iron
May be ironed directly at 180-210oC if a cloth is placed between iron and garment.
Dry-cleaning Instructions
Symbol Instructions
Any dry-cleaning agent can be used.
Only petroleum-based agent can be used.
Do not dry-clean.
Wringing Instructions
Symbol Instructions
Wring softly by hand or spin dry by machine quickly.
Do not wring by hand.
Drying Instructions
Symbol Instructions
Hang dry.
Hang dry in shade.
Lay flat to dry.
Lay flat to dry in shade.

c. British Care Labelling System: The British Care Labelling System uses graphic symbols to provide information on care labels.

The five basic symbols are described below:

Symbol Instructions
Washtub indicates washing.
Triangle indicates bleaching.
Iron indicates ironing.
Circle indicates dry-cleaning.
Square indicates drying.
Cross superimposed on any of the preceding five symbols indicates that such a treatment or process should be used.
d. Canadian Care Labelling System: Canadian Care Labelling System consists of five basic symbols that are illustrated in three conventional traffic light colours.

If any message is not conveyed by the care labelling symbols, words in English and French may be used. The five symbols must appear in the following order on the care labels: washing, bleaching, drying, ironing, and dry-cleaning. 

The symbols are described in the following table: 

Washing Instructions
Symbol Process
Green washtub- Machine wash in hot water (not exceeding 70oC).
Green washtub- Machine wash in warm water (not exceeding 50oC).
Orange washtub- Machine wash in warm water (not exceeding 50oC with reduced agitation).
Orange washtub- Machine wash in lukewarm water (not exceeding 50oC with reduced agitation).
Orange washtub - hand wash in lukewarm water (not exceeding 40oC).
Red washtub - Do not wash..

Bleaching Instructions
Symbol Process
Orange triangle - Use chlorine bleach.
Red triangle - Do not use chlorine bleach.

Drying Instructions
Symbol Process
Green square - Tumble dry at medium to high temperature and remove article from machine as soon as it is dry. Avoid over-drying.
Orange square - Tumble dry at low temperature and remove article from machine as soon as it is dry. Avoid over-drying.
Green square - Hang to dry after removing excess water.
Green square- “Drip” dry-hang soaking wet.
Orange square- Dry on flat surface after extracting excess water.

Ironing Instructions
Symbol Process
or Green iron- Iron at a high temperature (not exceeding 200oC). Recommended for cotton and linen.
or Orange iron- Iron at a medium temperature (not exceeding 150oC). Recommended for nylon and polyester.
or Orange iron- Iron at a low temperature (not exceeding 110oC). Recommended for acrylic.
Red iron- Do not iron or press.

Dry-cleaning Instructions
Symbol Process
Green circle- Dry-clean.
Orange circle- Dry-clean, tumble at low temperature.
Red circle- Do not dry-clean.

e. ASTM Care Labelling System: In the ASTM System there are five basic symbols: washtub, triangle, square, iron and circle indicating the process of washing, bleaching, drying, ironing or pressing and dry-cleaning respectively. The prohibitive symbol “X” may be used only when evidence can be provided that the care procedure on which it is superimposed would adversely change the dimensions, hand, appearance, or performance of the textile. The symbols are described below:

 f. Indian Care Labelling System: The symbols used in Indian care labelling system are same as that of International care labelling system. The five basic symbols are washtub, triangle, iron, circle, circle inside a square for the processes of washing, bleaching, ironing, dry-cleaning, and tumble drying processes respectively. The cross symbol superimposed on any of the basic symbols indicates the treatment is not permitted. In addition to the above five symbols a bar under the washtub or circle indicates that the treatment should be milder than that indicated by the same symbol without a bar, and a broken bar under the washtub indicates a very mild washing process at 400oC.


For consumers care symbols make sense when they can understand and follow the instructions. Symbols should provide the same information to everyone without language barriers. Use of symbols allow for smaller and more comfortable care labels. Smaller labels also cost less and this could translate into consumer savings. The symbols are easy to understand with few basic symbols. For manufacturers care symbols make even more sense.

When harmonised with other countries, symbols will allow participation in a global marketplace where symbols will clearly communicate the same information in all countries. Smaller labels cost less to buy or manufacture and also cost less to inventory. Eliminating the need for different labels for different countries can further reduce total inventory. So all the manufacturers should attach care labelling instructions to the garment for the benefit of the consumers and to keep their brands at a higher position.

Due to globalisation and liberalisation processes it becomes more relevant for the garment manufactures to use care labelling systems in the apparel. It is also very much essential for the garment manufacturers to make awareness campaign regarding the utility of care labels for the consumers. However while applying the care labels it is very important for the garment manufacturers to understand the comfort criteria of care labels.


1. IS 14452: 1997, Textiles – Care Labelling Code Using Symbols, Indian Standard.
2. ASTM D 5489 – 98, Standard Guide for Care Symbols for Care Instructions on Textile Products.
3. ISO 3758: 1991 Textiles – Care Labelling Code Using Symbols.
4. Deadlock on Care Labelling, Textile Horizons, August1985.
5. Care Labelling: A New Regulation Takes Effect. Textile Chemist & Colorist, Jan’1984
6. Care Labelling - By Dr M V S Rao.
7. Managing Quality in the Apparel Industry – By P V Mehta & S K Bhardwaj.
8. http://www.apparelsearch.com/care_label_symbols.htm
9. http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/5556.html
10. http://www.textileaffairs.com/lguide.htm
11. http://www.apparelkey.com/apparelkey/document/cate3/3.7.4/Japanese_CL_01.htm

The authors are with the Fashion & Apparel Engineering Department, The Technological Institute of Textiles & Sciences, Bhiwani, Haryana 127 021

published September , 2006
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