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Modern mysteries: the fabric softener symbol

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Forget Latin. Do you speak washing machine symbol? Do you know where the fabric softener belongs? Because if you don’t, there’s a chance that you’ve been doing your laundry wrong this whole time. You’re not alone. Every minute, a load of laundry gets ruined because of misplaced laundry care products.

Fear not, we’re here to solve the mystery and set you back on the path of righteous washing behaviour, with our comprehensive guide to the fabric softener symbol – where it is, what it does and why it’s so important. Ready?

One, two, flower: getting it right

Although they can vary in design, most modern washing machines have three basic compartments, each of which contains standardised symbols:

  • I –  The pre-wash, where any special starches or pre-wash care products belong. If you use a wash setting with two or more cycles, this is also the place for any additional laundry detergent.
  • II – The main wash, where your laundry detergent belongs. Any setting that doesn’t involve a pre-wash or second cycle, will only use the contents from this compartment.
  • A six-petal flower – The laundry softener, where the magic happens.

Naturally, the type of machine you own will affect where the fabric softener compartment is located. As a general guide:

  • Top-loading machines: usually have a fabric softener dispenser at the centre of the agitator (the column in the middle of the drum). However, older models may not have any dispensers at all, so you may have to pour fabric softener directly into the drum yourself (do this during the rinse cycle).
  • Front-loading machines: usually have a dispenser drawer, located somewhere near the top of the appliance. This drawer is typically further divided into three sections that separate pre-wash, main-wash and fabric softener products. Look for the six-petal flower symbol to locate the fabric softener compartment.

Does it really matter?

When looking at the grand scheme of things, it seems like clothes, water and laundry products will mix anyhow, so why separate them? Is it really necessary? The answer is a resounding, “yes”. Doing otherwise can actually undermine your washing efforts, ruin your clothes or – most likely – both. The reason is a difference in purpose and timing.

Pre-wash and laundry detergent products were designed to clean clothes. This means that, usually, your washing machine will add them to the mix as soon as it has filled with water. From that point on, the products work hard to help lift dirt, grime and stains off your clothes and textiles. Once the wash cycle is over and done with, a rinse cycle washes the detergent out. It is at this stage that fabric softener makes its appearance to help neutralise static, soften fabric and make clothes smell divine.

If you were to accidentally switch the products around and add them to the wrong compartments – the fabric softener to the main-wash and laundry detergent to the fabric softener, for example – the process would look very different. For one, the fabric softener would be released during the wash cycle. But since it isn’t a washing product, rather than remove stains it would coat them. Your dirty (but wonderfully scented) clothes would then be rinsed with laundry detergent, which would seep deep into their fibres. Finally, your items would be spun dry, with the detergent still weighing them down, making them feel stiff, uncomfortable and possibly itchy.

In other words, if you haven’t already, brush up on your washing machine symbols now, so your woolly jumpers don’t come back to scratch you.

Spin around three times and point to the fabric softener symbol. Can’t do it? You’re not alone. But if you want perfect laundry every time, you’d better check out our guide to your washing machine…

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