09/15/2011 03:12 pm ET | Updated Oct 11, 2012

How To Decode A Fabric Care Label

OK, I admit it: Fabric care labels are hard things to get excited about. I rarely give anything but a passing glance to them...until I shrunk a cotton dress that I thought would be machine washable.

Though I definitely save on dry cleaning costs with this devil-may-care route initially, there comes a time when the inevitable "Whoops" moment happens...usually with one of the pricier garments in the closet. And I'm not alone. From the ShelterPop inbox, the top 3 "Whoops" laundry mistake moments that can be avoided by just reading the label are:

- Dresses turning into sacks. Bagged-out pleats and warped hemlines originate from being casually tossed into a dryer when the garment should've been line dried. Oops.
- Accidental reverse tie-dye. Some garments are so close to white that it's easy to say "Let's just throw some bleach in there." And that's when we discover that a white dress was actually ivory. Or bone. Or any other color that's "not white." Now it has a Jackson Pollock-like smattering of bleached blotches.
- Melting fabric. This is from ironing a garment that felt like a natural fiber, but was actually a wonder of science, shot with synthetics. Or completely synthetic. At least it was, before it melted on your ironing board.

So, I get it. We all should read the label. But get this...new labeling guidelines are now coming into effect, where symbols replace text instructions. While some of them are easy (like an iron with an "X" through it), there are some downright strange ones (like a circle-in-a-square).

To bring us up to speed on what means "wash" and what means "dry clean only," I've called upon Jonathan Scheer, President and CEO of the high-end textile restoration company J.Scheer & Co. The go-to textile and stain expert for everyone from Madonna to Sotheby's, you might remember him ingeniously removing a lipstick stain in our last exclusive video.