What causes clothes to shrink in the dryer? How to prevent it?

Clothes shrink in the dryer

What causes clothes to shrink in the dryer? If you’re asking this question each and every time you pull out your favorite pair of jeans, you’re not alone!

There are several variables which can cause clothing to shrink in the laundry. High heat is the most obvious.

But, think about it. If everything you threw in the dryer shrunk, and didn’t expand, would we ever wash and dry our clothing? Probably not.

So, understanding how to prevent shrinkage, and which materials are most likely to shrink in the dryer, will help you in properly washing and drying your clothing, and also guaranteeing they fit properly when you go to put them on.

The types of clothing shrinkage which occurs in the dryer are: felting, consolidation, and relaxation. With felting, you’re usually dealing with materials like wool or animal hair.

These are thicker fibers, and tend to shrink easily in warm temperatures.

With consolidation, it’s a combination of chemical reaction, moisture, and heat which are causing your clothing to shrink.

And, with relaxation, the clothes shrink because fabrics are exposed to liquids or excessive moisture too quickly.

Does cotton shrink in the dryer?

Does Cotton Shrink with Each Wash?

No… but, you need to take proper care in washing and drying your cotton clothing.

Of course, if the cotton material is pre-shrunk, it’s highly likely that no shrinkage will occur at all when you wash and dry it.

The reason is, the material has already been treated by the manufacturer, and has been shrunk down to the size it will remain for as long as you own the clothing.

So, if you want to avoid the possibility of your clothing shrinking altogether, this is an alternative you might want to consider when shopping for cotton clothing.

But, if it isn’t preshrunk, how do you make sure your cotton clothing isn’t shrinking each time you wash and dry them?

First off, the answer to whether cotton will shrink when washing, is no.

Cotton, and other materials that do shrink, are going to shrink in the drying process. This is typically due to high heat exposure levels.

The rapid drying process will cause the natural fibers in cotton to scrunch together.

In terms of clothing shrinking, you should be aware that

  • Cotton will only shrink down to a certain extent
  • Only after a few washes/dry cycles, will the cotton shrink
  • In most cases, it won’t shrink more than 20% of the original size of the clothing you purchased

What’s the solution to avoid it shrinking at all? Well, as mentioned above, washing your cotton clothing is not what is causing it to shrink. It’s when you dry it, especially at extremely high temperatures.

Some solutions to prevent cotton clothing from shrinking altogether are

  1. Hang dry your clothes (out of the sun, in a room which is about 75 degrees F)
  2. Dry your clothing on a “cool” dry setting
  3. Use low or no heat on the dryer when drying cotton clothing

Obviously, the best method is to hang dry. But, this does take some time.

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Alternatively, you can tumble dry on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes to get the excess water off the clothing, then hang dry. Or, you can dry with low or no heat temperature settings.

Try a few different methods to see which works best. But, remember, your clothing will only shrink so much, so it’s not going to shrink down enough to fit your child after a few dryer cycles.

Does spandex shrink in the dryer

Does Spandex Shrink?

Materials like spandex, polyester, and nylon, are not going to shrink at all. These materials are already preshrunk.

Think about your workout clothing, or your favorite pair of leggings.

You’ll notice that every time you put them on, the fit is the same. They are tight, form-fitting to begin with.

Spandex is a synthetic material. This means it is treated.

It also means it is going to resist water-based stains better than cotton, or other materials which are natural.

You’ll notice that a static reaction might occur when you pull out spandex, or other material clothing from the dryer. And, some items might tend to wrinkle a bit more than other materials.

However, it is not going to shrink in the washer. And, your spandex clothing is not going to shrink in the dryer either, regardless of the temperature settings you choose when drying them.

How should you wash and dry your spandex clothing for the best care, cleanliness, and longevity?

  • Machine wash spandex in warm water
  • Use all-purpose detergent
  • Dry on warm to low heat settings
  • If you want to prevent the static shock when removing the spandex clothing from the dryer, you can add a couple of fabric softener sheets into the dryer.

Proper care of your spandex clothing will help preserve it, and ensure it maintains its vibrant appearance for a longer duration of time.

However, if you are worried about your favorite leggings, or your (already tight) workout clothing shrinking down any further, this is not something you have to worry about (no matter how hot your wash/dryer cycle is).

With this synthetic material, you are not going to experience your clothing shrinking down from the natural size you purchased.

Will 60 Cotton 40 Polyester Shrink?

Okay, how about a combination blend of 60% cotton and 40% polyester. Will it shrink in the washer?

Remember, we already noted that your cotton clothing is not shrinking in the washing machine. If it does shrink, it is because you are placing it in a dryer that is too hot.

So, a 60% cotton blend shirt, is less likely to shrink in the dryer, than a 100% pure cotton shirt.

With the 40% polyester material, you’ll notice almost no significant shrinkage (possibly none at all) when washing the clothing.

In most cases, the material has been chemically treated, similar to that of the spandex material, so it is less likely to shrink than materials which aren’t treated.

But, can you prevent it from shrinking 100% of the time? No. Especially if you are placing the clothing in a dryer.

To prevent shrinking, or at least minimize the possibility that it will occur, your best bet is to wash in cold or warm water settings. After washing it, wring out the material as much as possible.

You can then either let it hang dry, which will usually take some time to complete, especially with thicker clothing materials.

Or, you can also dry it in the drying machine for 15 to 20 minutes, then let it air dry until completely dried.

Similar to 100% cotton clothing, if your 60 cotton 40 polyester clothing does shrink, it is only going to be minimally.

And, because the polyester blend is probably pretreated with some kind of chemicals which are shrink proof, this will minimize how much your clothing is going to shrink, if at all.

And, with these blended materials, the clothing will typically expand with heat and with wear.

So, you’ll notice it is going to stretch out a bit as you walk and wear it throughout the course of the day (think of your favorite pair of jeans, and how hard they are to put on after a hot shower).

Do Clothes Shrink in the Dryer if They’re Already Dry?

Okay, so if you chose to prevent your clothing from shrinking by air drying, and your clothes is dry, what happens if you throw it in the dryer?

It’s still possible that your clothing will shrink, even if they are completely dry when you put them in the dryer.

If the purpose of placing your clothing in the dryer is to spruce it up a bit before wearing, you might want to do so on a low dry temperature setting.

Set the dryer to a low air setting, and this can help in the prevention of shrinking, but it’s not 100% guaranteed that no shrinkage will occur.

If you place it in the dryer at the hottest temperature setting, even if it is completely dry when you do so, it is possible that your clothing is still going to shrink a bit.

The heat has an effect on the fibers of your clothing, which can cause them to shrink.

So, the only true way to prevent any shrinkage at all, is to avoid placing your clothing in the dryer altogether, and to choose to air dry it after you have washed them in the washing machine.

What’s the Solution to Prevent your Clothing from Shrinking?

Buy new clothes every time! No, not really. Seriously, washing and drying your clothing can be a tricky thing, and the different material blends can be confusing to some.

Materials most likely to shrink are cotton, wool, and animal hair fibers. If it is synthetic, it’s almost 100% guaranteed that your clothing won’t shrink.

Remember, it is usually in the dryer, not when washing, that you are going to notice your clothing will shrink.

So, if you are used to setting the dryer at the hottest temperature, change that practice to prevent your clothing from shrinking.

Instead, choose to air dry it, or a combination of air drying and drying clothing at cool air temperature settings for the best results possible.

Reader Comments (2)

  1. Thankyou for such a detailed article.
    Is Pre-Shrunk Bio Washed 100% Cotton better than 80-20 Cotton-Polyester blend when it comes to shrinkage?
    If we need to screen print on these two tshirts, which will hold prints better over time and should “plastisol printing” or “Discharge printing” be used?
    NOTE: The prints will be small area coverage.

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