What does tumble dry mean? And what does it do?

What is “tumble dry?”

When it comes to doing laundry, you probably either ignore your clothes’ care tags entirely or scrutinize them in confusion. We can help you make sense of all of the hieroglyphic-looking symbols in this quick guide, but there’s one very important drying symbol you should be familiar with right now: tumble dry.

Simply put, tumble dry means that you can dry the garment in your dryer instead of air drying it. Although many people like drying their clothes on a line or rack, especially outside, nothing can beat the convenience and speed of the dryer, especially when he needs his lucky shirt for the final tomorrow morning. Plus, no one can resist clothes soft and warm (and less wrinkled!) from the dryer.

Knowing when and how to tumble dry is key to not only saving time, but to also keeping your clothes looking their best. We can help.

To tumble dry or not to tumble dry

Any clothing with the tumble dry symbol, a square with a large circle inscribed in it, can go in the dryer, but some garments require a certain heat setting. (The more small black dots inside the circle, the higher the heat.)

Tumble dry high is best for cotton and other items that take longer to dry (sweatshirts, jeans, beach towels from family vacay, etc.). You might also need to turn up the heat when you need something done fast, like her softball jersey for this afternoon.

Tumble dry low (or Delicate/Gentle cycle) is ideal for loosely woven fabrics or anything with embellishment, like beading, sequins and iron-on decals (sports jerseys). It’s especially important to dry spandex/exercise clothing on low heat because it prevents the fabric from fraying, fading and stretching.

And what does “do not tumble dry” mean? Certain garments shouldn’t go in the dryer at all. Subjected to high temperatures, silk may shrink, wool and knitwear may pill and undergarments may shrink or lose their shape. Make sure you always check for the do not tumble dry (an X’ed circle) and dry clean only (an open black circle) symbols.

Cut down on tumble dry time with a dry towel
Dryer tip

Care Tip

Throw a clean dry towel in with your just-washed load to help soak up excess water and cut down drying time.

Tips for tumble drying

Knowing whether you can tumble dry an item (and even at what temperature) is not enough. Follow these tips for optimal results.

  1. Keep like clothes together so lightweight or fast-drying items don’t overdry. Don’t put large sheets or towels with permanent press garments in one load, for example. Undergarments and delicates should be dried separately.

  2. Washed clothes should be wet but not dripping. If they’re soaked, leave them in the washer for another spin cycle to wick away excess moisture.

  3. Lightly shake out items from the washer and fill the dryer about halfway for permanent press loads and three-quarters of the way for normal loads. Tightly balled up clothes or an overflowing drum leads to slower dry times and wrinkled results.

  4. Use just a quarter or half of a dryer sheet because it creates a waxy build up on the lint screen. Clean the screen after every load to maintain good air circulation for fast dry times.

Find your new Whirlpool® Dryer

Now that you know how to better care for your family’s clothes and prevent damage, shrinkage and overdrying, check out dryer innovations, like Intuitive Touch Controls, that help deliver optimal fabric care. Shop our complete lineup for dryers that keep laundry day rolling — and then get on with the rest of your day.