How To Keep Your Clothes From Shrinking

Doing laundry may seem like one of those mundane tasks we rarely think about too often. However, you can easily make a mistake that can cost you your favorite outfit. 

When you have clothes that make you look and feel good, you at least want them to fit the same way they did when you first bought them. Fortunately, there are techniques you can learn for how to keep your clothes from shrinking.

Let’s discuss what causes materials to shrink and how to prevent shrinking clothes. Ultimately, you should know how to prolong the lifecycle of your clothes and handle accidental shrinkage.

Why Do Clothes Shrink?

How clothes perform after wearing and washing depends on factors such as the type of fibers, weave, and manufacturing techniques. High temperatures and agitation typical in washing and drying cycles can distort the fabric and cause your clothes to shrink.

Fabrics such as cotton, wool, and linen shrink or stretch more than their synthetic counterparts. For example, washing cotton too vigorously can cause the fibers to tighten and eventually shrink your item of clothing. Similarly, loose fabric weaves stretch more than tighter weaves but shrink more when exposed to heat, water, and agitation than a sturdy weave.

High-heat dryer and hot water washing cycles can also damage the fabric and cause shrinkage. The fibers in fabric contain polymers that manufacturers stretch to make clothes. The high heat and aggressive tumbling typical in a regular dry cycle release the tension on the polymers, causing them to shrink. This process explains why most cotton clothes will shrink during their first washing.

Synthetics like nylon, polyester, and acrylic fare better in the dryer, and their tough nature prevents them from shrinking easily. However, intense heat can still shrink, scorch, or melt a synthetic garment. But, whatever items you put in the dryer, you should know how to keep your clothes from shrinking.

How To Prevent Clothes From Shrinking

The following tips on how to keep clothes from shrinking can help you avoid the misfortune of dealing with shrunken clothes.

Read Labels Before You Purchase a Garment

Check a garment’s care tag before purchasing to give you an idea of what to expect. With natural fibers, look for the word “preshrunk.” Preshrunk fabric undergoes minimal shrinkage during the garment’s lifetime.

To achieve this, clothing manufacturers stretch the fibers in garments as far as they can go during construction to use less fabric and minimize the cost of production.

Read the Labels To Learn How to Wash Clothes So They Don’t Shrink

Most people shrink their clothes while doing laundry. But with the right laundry tips, you’ll know how to wash clothes without shrink issues. Clothes will often shrink in the washer or dryer if you use incorrect settings. It helps to learn as much as possible about your washer and dryer settings because choosing the wrong ones can shrink and ruin your clothes.

However, before you even get to the washing part, you can save your clothes from shrinking by reading the manufacturer’s care label inside the garment. Most labels or tags hide at the back of a collar, waistband, or inside a seam near the garment’s hem. Read the instructions carefully.

Follow manufacturer guidelines regarding dry cleaning versus hand washing, water temperature, dryer cycle, and laundry cycle recommendations. This tiny tag will often tell you if your garment requires dry cleaning, hot or cold water, and whether you can place it in the dryer.

It takes a moment to check the clothes’ care label and learn the laundry symbols, but once you know and understand them, you have learned something about how to keep your clothes from shrinking. Reading the label and following instructions will prevent you from accidentally washing clothes in the wrong setting and prevent them from shrinking.

If you use a washing machine, sort clothes by color, then separate cotton, silk, and linen garments to wash in a separate load. This approach minimizes the time and hassle of sorting through a large load of wet clothes to find garments you want to avoid shrinking. Wool especially succumbs to heat shrinkage more than most fabrics.

Consider having a separate hamper for clothes that need special attention. That way, you’ll have an easier time sorting things out come laundry day.

Ok, suppose you read the manufacturer’s tag and find out that your pants contain 100% cotton and can go in a cold-water wash and gentle dryer cycle. Now you need to figure out how to use these settings on your washer and dryer.

Most washers have two separate knobs, setting devices, or dials. One controls the water temperature, while the other determines the agitation and length of cycles the machine will use. Dryers often only have a single knob or setting device with options such as fluff dry, cooling cycles, and permanent press.

Turning down the heat on your washing and drying cycles could help prevent your clothes from shrinking, but you won’t know the best setting until you check the care label.

Use Cold Water and the Proper Wash Cycles

As a general rule, washing clothes in cold or warm, gentle cycles can help prevent them from shrinking. That’s because cooler temperatures will less likely compromise the bonds between the fabric’s thread. Washing clothes in cold water helps preserve the garment’s original size and requires less energy.

Related: Temperature For Washing White Clothes

You also want to avoid fast spins, heavy-duty cycles, and high-heat drying to prevent shrinkage. Use a gentle cycle and place delicate clothes in a mesh laundry bag for added protection. When drying, opt for low heat or air drying.

Some washing machines have a pre-set “delicate” cycle that uses minimal agitation and a shorter spin cycle, which lowers the chances that your clothes will shrink. As mentioned earlier, always follow the instructions on the care tag when in doubt.

Hand Wash Cotton, Silk, and Linen Garments To Avoid Shrinkage

Hand washing your clothes is one of the best tips on how to wash clothes without shrinking. With some water and the right laundry detergent, you can clean your clothes with little to no worries about destroying their shape. Hand washing takes a little time but is worth the extra effort.

Select the Tumble Dry or Air-Dry Setting

Newer washer and dryer sets feature various convenient functions that allow greater flexibility when doing your laundry. Some dryers come with a “tumble,” “air dry,” or “spin” setting that uses motion rather than heat to dry your clothes, helping to prevent fiber damage that leads to shrinkage.

If your dryer doesn’t have air dry or tumble dry option, that doesn’t mean you don’t have options on how to keep your clothes from shrinking. Simply use the dryer’s “low heat,” “gentle,” or “delicate” setting. Again, always check your clothing’s care tag for optimal temperature and dryer setting to avoid shrinkage.

Avoid Overdrying

Exposing your clothes to extended cycles of high heat and overdrying them can cause them to shrink. Opt to dry your clothes in short intervals and check for dampness after each cycle rather than turning to the longest dryer setting and letting it time out on its own.

Alternatively, remove the clothes while they’re still damp and hang them on a drying rack or lay them on a flat surface to finish drying. Some high-efficiency dryers have an “automatic dry” option that shuts the machine off once your clothes are dry. Besides saving energy, this protects your clothes from unnecessary heat exposure.

Air Dry Your Clothes

Air drying your clothes offers an energy-efficient and shrink-proof way to dry your clothes. After washing, hang your clothes on a drying rack, rod, or outside on a clothesline.

If you opt to hang clothes outside, try to avoid hanging wool in direct sunlight to avoid shrinkage. Similarly, avoid hanging clothes in storms or high winds to prevent damage or stretching.

Dry Cleaning

Dry cleaning is another great way to avoid shrinking your clothes. The dry-cleaning process launders clothes using a chemical solvent with little to no water. While the process still involves some heat and friction, these rarely reach levels that can cause your clothes to shrink.

However, shrinking may still happen even after dry cleaning, but dry cleaning will have a gentler effect than a washer or dryer. Plus, dry cleaning experts have the knowledge and expertise to care for delicate items.

If your clothes contain wool or cashmere, consider taking them to a dry cleaner for proper cleaning. Any agitation can cause these delicate fabrics to shrink. So, for animal-based fabrics and other high-maintenance garments, taking them to the dry cleaners will save you in the long run.

Of course, dry cleaning costs more than washing your own clothes, but it offers a convenient and effective way to avoid shrinking your clothes.

Upgrade Your Current Washer/Dryer

If you keep wracking your brain over how to not shrink clothes, look at your old washer and dryer set. Upgrading to a modern washer with customized settings adapted to various material types may come in handy.

Generally, front-loading or high-efficiency top-loading washers without a center agitator will less likely damage your clothes and cause less shrinkage than standard top-loading washers. High-efficiency washers also feature gentle tumbling action compared to the forced movement of a standard washer agitator.

Can You Save Shrunken Clothes?

For woven cotton or linen clothes, you could flatten the tightened-up fibers by pressing the material with a hot iron. That may add some length to a sleeve or a bit of room to the body. A shrunken woolen sweater may regain its form after rewashing and reshaping.

Bottom Line: How To Stop Clothes From Shrinking

Since you can’t really avoid clothes made from materials that shrink easily, learning how to prevent shirts from shrinking can help avoid the problem. The best tip on how to keep your clothes from shrinking is to read the tag or care label inside the garment and follow the instructions carefully.

In addition, using cold water in your washing machine helps prevent shrinking. Special dryer settings like air fluff can also minimize shrinking. And the gentlest way to care for your clothes is to hand wash and air-dry garments.

Get Help From Professional Dry Cleaners

Need help from experts in the East Bay, CA area? Contact Martinizing Dry Cleaners today at (925) 938-5000 or text (925) 309-5298 to speak to a member of our dry-cleaning team. Contact us for a free consultation on how to keep your clothes from shrinking.