Rules for Clothing Care Label Instructions To Change

FTC to Allow Care Symbols, Boosting International Trade Goals, But Will Require Accompanying Written Instructions for 18 Months

Share This Page

For Release

Beginning July 1, 1997, consumers may see some changes in the care labels they find inside new clothing and other textile products. On that date, the Federal Trade Commission will permit clothing manufacturers to start using specified care symbols, in place of written instruc tions, on permanent labels inside garments to indicate a method for properly cleaning them. The FTC will require manufacturers to include written information explaining what the symbols mean in hangtags or elsewhere with the garments for the first 18 months the new symbols are in use. The FTC also said it plans to hold a public meeting soon to coordinate a national campaign to educate consumers about what the new, voluntary symbols mean.

The care labeling symbols that manufacturers may use beginning July 1, 1997, are displayed in an attachment to this release. [The attached care labeling symbols are available in PDF format]

Today’s FTC action is in the form of a conditional exemption to its Care Labeling Rule that will permit manufacturers to use care symbols developed by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM), rather than the written care instructions required by the rule on garment labels. The FTC said allowing manufacturers to use symbols to comply with the rule’s labeling requirements will harmonize American clothing labeling regulations with those of Canada and Mexico, thereby allowing companies to use the same care labels on garments offered for sale in any or all of the countries that are parties to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The FTC solicited comments in November 1995 on a proposal to grant this conditional exemption. It received 39 comments, 37 of which supported allowing the voluntary use of a system of symbols. The agency now has adopted the November 1995 proposal with minor modifications, primarily to the symbols themselves. The FTC said it welcomes public comments on these modifications -- which include, among others, changes to the “do not bleach” symbol,water temperature explanatory chart, and two “iron” symbols -- until Jan. 27, 1997.

The FTC also reaffirmed its conclusion that adoption of the International Standards Organization system of symbols used by European countries is not appropriate for the United States at this time, in part because it is not as comprehensive as the ASTM system and also because issues associated with the fact that the ISO standard is trademarked have not been adequately resolved. The FTC said it intends to continue its liaison efforts to promote harmonization of U.S. and European care labeling systems, however.

The Commission vote to modify the Care Labeling Rule to adopt the conditional exemption was 5-0, with Commissioner Christine A. Varney issuing a separate statement in which she said she supports the conditional exemption for "achieving harmony with our NAFTA partners," but also expressed concern that, in choosing the ASTM system over the ISO system, "we may have missed an opportunity to achieve global consistency." She concluded by stating that she supports the FTC staff’s efforts to pursue further harmonization efforts through negotiations with the ISO.

A notice to be published in the Federal Register shortly summarizes the comments received already in this proceeding, as well as the modifications on which the FTC seeks comments beginning today.

Copies of the Federal Register notice and Commissioner Varney’s full statement, as well as the FTC’s Care Labeling Rule, are available on the FTC’s web site at as well as from the FTC’s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest FTC news as it is announced, call the FTC’s NewsPhone at 202-326-2710.

(FTC Matter No. R511915)

Contact Information

Media Contact:

Bonnie Jansen or Victoria Streitfeld
Office of Public Affairs
202-327-2161 or 202-326-2180

Staff Contact:
Bureau of Consumer Protection
Elaine D. Kolish, 202-326-3042
Constance Vecellio, 202-326-2966