Indecipherable world of the wash-care labels set to become even more tangled

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The Independent Online

Mistrusted and misunderstood, they have lurked in the darkest recesses of our garments for decades. Now the indecipherable world of the wash-care label is to become yet more complicated.

Mistrusted and misunderstood, they have lurked in the darkest recesses of our garments for decades. Now the indecipherable world of the wash-care label is to become yet more complicated.

The International Organisation for Standardisation (IOS) confirmed yesterday it was introducing two new hieroglyphs to perplex washing machine owners around the world.

An international committee at the organisation, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland, and is responsible for the 40 clothing care symbols already in existence, believes the additions are necessary to keep pace with advances – namely, new bleaches and a new form of professional cleaning.

A spokesman said: "Clothing care symbols are periodically checked to ensure they are still relevant to consumers. The substances used to clean clothes and the processes available are changing all the time."

Besides the squares, circles, triangles, dots and crosses that already appear on labels, there will now be symbols denoting non-chlorine bleach and professional "wet cleaning".

Clothing which is safe to use with one of the new bleaches will have a triangle containing two diagonal lines. The wet cleaning process, where a garment is bombarded by microscopic water droplets making it possible to machine-wash a suit, will be symbolised by a "W" within a circle.

The new guidelines are likely to start appearing on clothing from early next year starting in Europe and the United States.

Clothing care symbols have been in existence for 50 years, first being patented by a French clothing industry body setting up an international lingua franca for laundry. Impenetrable for all but the most diligent individuals, the labels, it is widely believed, still leave the dry-cleaning industry largely relying on the words "dry clean only".

The latest symbols appear to have taken about four years to develop. Freigang Muller, of the IOS committee, said: "I could tell you about all the reasons for deciding which symbol and why – but it would take me 24 hours."

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