Shrinking clothes: How to prevent it and what to do if it happens

drying hanging clothes

It’s a sad moment when you put your clothes in the washer and dryer like normal and when the cycle is finished, a few of your clothes are shrunk. It’s like your shirt went in for an adult and came out for a 5-year-old. What caused this and how do you prevent it?

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What causes clothing to shrink

Some fabrics are perfectly fine in the washer, while others shrink. It’s good to read the tags of your clothing before washing so they’re not ruined.

Washing polymer, wool, and cotton in hot water causes the fabric to swell because it soaks up the water in the washer. Then, the heat from the dryer will shrink the fibers back to its normal size. The fibers were originally stretched to make the clothing.

Different materials react in different ways to heat and rotation. The dryer throws and tosses fabrics in a barrel of heat, which forces some fibers to gradually constrict — thus making clothes shrink. Separate laundry before washing so you don’t accidentally wash fabrics that could shrink.

How to prevent clothing from shrinking

Since heat and tumbling are these fabrics’ worst enemy, try to avoid both when cleaning your garments.

To prevent shrinking, wash by hand in cold water with a little laundry detergent. If that’s not possible, wash in cool water on a delicate setting and set the dryer to a low heat setting or hang them to air dry. Dry cleaning is a great way to prevent shrinking as well. 

A quick video

Take a few seconds to watch part of this video that explains why clothes shrink:

Other ways to take care of your clothes

  • Dry on the lowest heat setting possible.
  • Get a drying rack for wool and all-cotton garments.
  • Follow the washing instructions on the tags.
  • Avoid drying multiple times — one round should do it.
  • Hanging clothes to air-dry in the shower on the rod.
  • Use cold water while washing.
  • Immediately remove laundry from the dryer when finished and begin folding.
  • Use the “tumble” setting (that only uses motion) to dry clothes. Best for delicates.

Best Wash has the best washers and dryers for your washing and drying needs. Quickly clean your clothes and laundry at any of our Illinois- or Missouri-based laundromats, or have it picked up and delivered! Read about us or look up locations.