Does The Tumble Dryer Shrink Clothes?

There’s nothing worse than reaching for your favourite top only to find that it’s shrunk. Due to the fast pace of modern life, and all of the time saving appliances we all rely on, shrinking clothes are sadly a fact of life.

This article looks at the shrinking of clothes from the perspective of the tumble dryer. As a direct answer to does the tumble dryer shrink clothes? We would have to say, yes, but not always, only sometimes.

Why Do Clothes Shrink In The Tumble Dryer?

The main reasons why clothes shrink are: exposure to high temperatures and rough handling. This means your clothes could be shrinking just as easily in the washing machine as in the tumble dryer.

Using a general wash cycle (not a delicate or gentle cycle) and a hot water wash can be more than enough to cause clothes made from certain materials to shrink.

The problem with tumble drying clothes is you subject them to heat and agitation as the clothes tumble around the drum.

Clothes can shrink even without any applied heat, certain fabrics can become damaged solely by the rough and tumble action of the drum’s rotation. The addition of heat which dries the fibres at such a fast rate simply compounds the chances of shrinkage.


Which Materials Are Likely To Shrink In The Tumble Dryer?

If subjected to high enough temperatures and enough agitation, all fabrics have the potential for shrinking. However it is widely accepted that wool is the most likely material to shrink in a tumble dryer. Closely followed by cotton.

This is because both of these natural fibres have a constant moisture content. Wool has a natural moisture content of around 17% and cotton has a natural moisture content of around 5%. Drying either of these to an extent which is lower than their natural state will result in shrinkage.

Materials That Are Likely To Shrink In A Tumble Dryer

As we said almost all materials can potentially shrink in a tumble dryer but some are more likely. These include;

  • Cotton
    100% cotton can shrink if subjected to high temperatures in the washing machine and tumble dryer. Cotton blends are less likely to shrink than 100% cotton but it’s not impossible.
  • Wool
    Wool cannot deal with too much heat or rough treatment in either the washing or drying process. The problem with wool is that it doesn’t just shrink, it actually changes its structure. The fibres are scaly and if exposed to high temperatures they collapse and mesh together. 
  • Cashmere
    Cashmere is another fabric that should never be exposed to heat or the rough and tumble of the tumble dryer. Like wool, cashmere is an animal hair and all animal hairs react in the same way to too much heat and rough handling.
  • Lace
    Lace is an extremely delicate fabric that can be made from several different materials. Many of which can shrink due to the heat of the tumble dryer. Added to this, the rough and tumble of the dryer can damage or weaken the material.
  • Linen
    Linen is a popular material which is often used for bedding. As it is a natural fibre, linen is likely to shrink under high heat which can happen in both the washing machine and tumble dryer.
  • Viscose
    Every time viscose is exposed to high temperatures it will shrink. This means that viscose will shrink more and become smaller each time it is tumble dried.
  • Silk
    Silk is way too delicate to withstand the rigours of a tumble dryer. SIlk should be taken to a dry cleaners or hand washed and air dried.
  • Rayon
    Like silk, rayon cannot handle heat or rough handling. It will shrink and become damaged in the washing machine and especially the tumble dryer. Rayon should be hand washed and air dried.
  • Spandex/Lycra/Elastane
    If exposed to high temperatures, these fabrics are likely to shrink. It is possible they will return to their original size once worn again but every time they shrink and get stretched, you weaken the fabric.
  • Leather
    Leather, as well as pleather of faux leather will shrink in the tumble dryer. Plus leather is likely to become damaged due to the rough mechanical action of the washing machine and tumble dryer. The material will crack, rip, tear and become scuffed.
  • Suede
    Suede, and faux suede, like leather will shrink and become damaged in both the washing machine and tumble dryer. Just like leather suede should be cleaned using specialist products designed for these materials.

It’s Not Just Shrinking You Need To Worry About

If your clothes become shrunken in the tumble dryer, in most cases, that’s the end of the road for those clothes. However, it’s not just shrinking that can happen to your clothes in the tumble dryer.

Colour Fades

There is a scientific process known as sublimation which is where a solid transforms to a gas without first turning into a liquid. What happens is colours from one garment can bleed into another which causes the first garment to lose colour and fade.

Sublimation usually only occurs at extremely high temperatures and most modern tumble dryers cannot reach such high temperatures. But it could potentially still happen and is something to be aware of before you turn to the tumble dryer as your first means of drying your clothes.

Wear & Tear

When fabrics are subjected to high temperatures and friction through being tumbled altogether, the fabrics can become damaged. This damage leads to small rips, tears and holes appearing in the clothes.

As soon as the items are worn again, those holes become larger and the garment will either need to be repaired or replaced.

Always check the wash care labels

Ways To Prevent Clothes From Shrinking In The Tumble Dryer

There are a few ways to prevent your clothes from shrinking in the tumble dryer. These include;

  • Always Consult The Care Label
    You should always check the care label before placing any item of clothing in the tumble dryer. There are 6 symbols relating to tumble dryers on wash care labels which will inform on whether the item can be tumble dried and at which setting.
  • Keep Drying Times To A Minimum
    The less time your clothes are rotating in the dryer’s drum, the less opportunity there is for damage to occur.
  • Avoid Using A Hot Wash
    If your clothes enter the dryer at a lower temperature, they are less likely to suffer from any heat damage including shrinkage.
  • Always Select The Low Heat Setting
    High heat settings mean the clothes are more likely to shrink. Low heat settings allow the fabrics to shed water without overheating. Which lowers the risk of your clothes shrinking.
  • Remove Clothes From The Dryer As Soon As The Cycle Ends
    As soon as the dryer cycle ends, remove your clothes from the drum. Leaving clothes in the drum after the cycle ends means they are still being subjected to heat. Which gives them more chances of shrinking.

Alternative Ways To Dry Clothes

There are several alternative ways to dry your clothes which eliminate many of the risks associated with tumble drying. These include;

Air Drying Clothes

You can air dry your clothes on a washing line, rotary clothesline or retractable washing line. If you don’t have access to a garden or outdoor space, you can use a retractable washing line indoors or use a clothes horse (airer).

Using A Dehumidifier

You can speed up the drying process indoors by using a dehumidifier. Dehumidifiers work by removing excess moisture from the air. As the moisture is removed it allows the clothes to release more moisture which results in your clothes drying faster indoors.

See Also: Types of tumble dryers explained

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I keep my clothes from shrinking in the tumble dryer?

To keep your clothes from shrinking in the tumble dryer, you should refrain from using high heat settings, fast spins and heavy duty cycles. Use the delicate setting and always follow the advice on the wash care label.

What setting on a tumble dryer shrinks clothes?

High heat and rough treatment are the 2 main causes of clothes shrinking in the tumble dryer. So using the high heat setting is likely to cause clothes to shrink.

How much do 100% cotton clothes shrink in the dryer?

100% cotton clothes can shrink by up to 20% in the dryer if they haven’t been pre-shrunk. Pre-shrunk 100% cotton clothes can still shrink by 2 to 5%.

What temperature should I dry my clothes so they don’t shrink?

You should select the low heat setting on your dryer to help prevent clothes from shrinking. If your dryer doesn’t have a low heat setting, look for the delicate or gentle setting.

What shrinks most in the dryer?

The clothes that shrink most in the dryer are woollen clothes. Closely followed by 100% cotton clothes.

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