Does Cotton Shrink When Washed In Cold Water?

The short answer is no, cotton shouldn’t shrink when washed in cold water. There are exceptions to this but generally, cotton shouldn’t shrink if washed in cold water.

Why Does Cotton Shrink When Washed?

To fully understand whether cotton will shrink when washed in cold water, you need to know how cotton clothes are produced. Cotton is spun into yarns or threads which are then woven together to create cotton material.

The cotton material is then turned into t-shirts, trousers, etc. The way the fibres are turned into a yarn or thread involves stretching those fibres which makes them longer than they should be.

The first time they are subjected to warm water, the fibres will return to their original size which is what makes the garments shrink.

How much a cotton garment shrinks is affected by;

  • The Type Of Cotton
  • Whether It’s Been Pre-shrunk
  • The Weave Of The Fabric
  •  The Way It’s Been Washed

How Much Does Cotton Shrink By?

100% cotton can shrink by as much as 20% in its first wash. That’s the equivalent of a large t-shirt going into the wash and coming out as a medium t-shirt.

This is why many cotton garments are prewashed or pre-shrunk before they get to the clothes store’s shelves. The problem is, not all cotton clothes are pre-shrunk and even if they are, it’s not always made clear on the label.

If the cotton clothes have been pre-shrunk, they’re only likely to shrink by around 2 to 3% which is often not noticeable.

Is Cold Water Likely To Cause Cotton Clothes To Shrink?

The truth is, cotton clothes are far more likely to shrink in warm or hot water. This is because the fibres become softer in warm or hot water which makes them more likely to shrink back to their original size.

With that said, it’s not impossible for cotton clothes to shrink in cold water, just highly unlikely.

In other words, cotton fibres are more prone to shrink if they are subjected to heat.  This means washing cotton clothes in cold water will help prevent them from shrinking. 

As long as you keep them away from the tumble dryer after washing. The heat of the tumble dryer in addition to the rough and tumble action can cause the cotton fibres to contract back to their original size.

Always check the wash care labels

Ways To Prevent Your Cotton Clothes Becoming Too Small

There are a few ways you can prevent your cotton clothes from becoming too small after a trip to the laundry. They include;

  • Always Consult The Care Label
    Clothing manufacturers put care labels on their clothes to advise you on the best way to wash, dry and iron them. You should follow the advice given on the care label to keep your cotton garments in top condition.
  • Use A Cold Wash
    Exposing cotton fibres to heat is likely to cause them to contract and shrink. Using a cold water wash is the best way to help prevent this from happening. 
  • Keep Cotton Clothes Away From The Tumble Dryer
    The heat and rough action of the tumble dryer makes it more likely that cotton clothes will shrink. Always air dry your cotton clothes to prevent shrinkage.
  • Iron Only When Necessary
    Ironing, even on the low heat setting can cause the cotton fibres to contract which causes shrinkage. Many times, cotton clothes that have been air dried don’t need ironing anyway.
  • Buy Cotton Clothes 1 Size Larger
    If you’re in doubt whether the cotton garments have been pre-shrunk or not you could buy a size larger than you need and wash them to allow them to shrink to your size.

Is It Possible To Restore Cotton Clothes That Have Shrunk?

In many cases, it is possible to stretch cotton clothes that have shrunk. It’s worth trying because once the clothes have shrunk there’s nothing else you can do with them anyway.

All you need to do is;

  1. Mix ¼ cup of baby shampoo or hair conditioner into 1 gallon of warm water.
  2. Soak the garment for 15 to 30 minutes.
  3. Remove the garment from the soak and gently squeeze as much water as you can out of it.
  4. Then gently stretch the garment from side to side.
  5. Then gently stretch from top to bottom.
  6. Air dry the garment.

If this doesn’t work on the first attempt, repeat the process one more time. If this doesn’t work, you have now got a new cleaning cloth (unless you know someone the garment will fit).

SEE ALSO: How To Stop Clothes Shrinking (when washing & drying)

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it OK to wash cotton in cold water?

It is OK to wash cotton in cold water. Cotton is a natural fibre and is likely to shrink if subjected to high temperatures. Which means washing cotton in cold water is better for preventing shrinkage.

Will 30 degrees shrink cotton?

In most cases, washing cotton clothes in a 30 degree C wash will not shrink them. However, it’s not just the temperature that can cause cotton clothes to shrink. Cotton clothes can shrink if exposed to too much agitation. You should always use a cool wash and a delicate or gentle wash program to help prevent cotton clothes from shrinking.

Does cotton shrink more in hot or cold water?

Cotton is more likely to shrink in hot water than in cold. The heat of the water causes the natural fibres in the cotton material which were stretched to create the thread or yarn, to contract back to their original size. Which causes the garment to shrink.

How do you wash 100% cotton without shrinking it?

The best way to wash 100% cotton to prevent shrinking is to wash in a cold water wash on a delicate cycle. Heat and agitation are the two main contributing factors which cause cotton to shrink. By using a cold water wash and a delicate cycle you reduce the temperature and amount of agitation the cotton is exposed to.

Is 30 degrees a cold wash?

30 degrees C is considered to be a warm wash, 20 is a cold wash.

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