How To Stop Clothes Shrinking (when washing & drying)

It can be very irritating when your favourite t-shirt comes out of the washing machine 3 or 4 sizes smaller than it went in. Unfortunately we’ve all done it at one time or another.

In this article we’ll look at ways to prevent clothes from shrinking during the washing and drying process.

Why Do Clothes Shrink?

Have you ever wondered why certain clothes are prone to shrinking while others seem to be shrink-proof. The reason is some materials react differently to heat and agitation.

The drum on both the washing machine and tumble dryer force the clothes to collide with each other as they spin. Plus using a hot water wash can cause certain fabrics to shrink beyond repair.

Natural materials like wool, silk, cotton, linen and hessian are much more prone to shrinking than synthetic man made materials like nylon and polyester.


Ways To Prevent Clothes From Shrinking

There are several ways to help prevent clothes from shrinking, these include;

Paying Attention To The Care Label

Before you wash, dry or iron any item you should always check the care label first. Not only will the care label tell you whether the garment is washable, it will also tell you the advised temperature for washing, rinsing and drying.

There are many clothes that can be safely washed and dried using machines. But there are also many which are more delicate and need to be treated with more care. Plus there are more still that will require hand washing or even need to be dry cleaned.

Unless you pay particular attention to the care label you run the risk of shrinking your clothes and damaging them beyond repair.

Always Sort Your Clothes By Fabrics & Colours

Because all materials and clothes dyes are different, you should never bundle all of your washing into one wash. Some fabrics require cold water hand washing and air drying to prevent damage, colour fade and shrinkage.

You should always separate dark and light colours to prevent the dyes from bleeding and wash delicate clothes separately in a cool wash or by hand.

Always Use The Correct Detergent & The Correct Amount

If you’re worried about your clothes shrinking, you should never use any chlorine based detergent because it can damage the fabric, burn through the fibres and cause your clothes to shrink.

Depending on the hardness of the water in your area, you should always use the correct amount of detergent. Using more detergent than is necessary can also make clothes more prone to shrink.

Wash Clothes In Cold Water

Many fabrics are OK to be washed in a washing machine but some don’t tolerate too much heat. Hot or even warm water can be enough to damage the fibres of the clothes and cause them to shrink.

The reason is that some fabrics have a low thermal resistance which means they can shrink because the fibres melt when exposed to high temperatures.

It is always best practice to wash clothes at lower temperatures if you want your clothes to last longer. Many should also be air dried instead of tumble dried too.

Select A Gentle Wash Program

To prevent clothes from shrinking you should always choose a gentle wash cycle and a low spin speed. Fabrics that are washed in cold water and on a gentle wash cycle are far less likely to become damaged which leads to shrinkage.

This applies to the tumble dryer too, always select the lowest tumble dryer heat and the delicate or gentle setting when tumble drying clothes to help prevent shrinkage.

Air Dry Clothes Whenever Possible

Many fabrics don’t survive the experience of tumble drying unscathed. Lots of materials have a low thermal resistance which means they are likely to become damaged in the tumble dryer.

This damage can come in the form of some of the fibres actually melting which leads to shrinkage.

To avoid this from happening, you should air dry your clothes whenever you can. If you don’t have access to a garden and a washing line you could always use a clothes horse (airer) indoors.

Plus, air drying white clothes on a washing line not only helps prevent them from shrinking, it also helps to keep them white.

The sun is a great whitening agent for many white clothes. You should take care with certain fabrics because if they were to dry out too much in the hot sun they could shrink.

Cotton should have a 5% moisture content and wool should have a 17% moisture content. If their relative moisture content drops below these levels, the garments are likely to shrink.

If you use an airer indoors, you can be sure the clothes fully dry by placing a dehumidifier in the room with the drying clothes.

Always Remove Clothes As Soon As The Tumble Dryer Finishes

Even on a low heat setting, the tumble dryer can produce enough heat to shrink some fabrics. This is exacerbated if you leave the clothes in the drum after the dryer has finished.

This is because the heat is still contained in the dryer and particularly in the drum. This means your clothes are still being subjected to heat which will still be drying the fabric.

Don’t Iron Clothes Unless Absolutely Necessary

Many clothes don’t actually need to be ironed and ironing clothes too often is likely to damage them. If you do need to iron a few items, always choose the coolest setting on your iron.

Many fabrics will shrink if they’re exposed to too much heat. A good way to help alleviate this is to spray cold water onto the garment as you iron it and you should always apply the least amount of pressure possible to the iron.

SEE ALSO: Will Salt Damage My Washing Machine Or Clothes?

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do my clothes keep shrinking?

The main reasons for clothes shrinking include exposing them to too much heat and treating them roughly when washing and drying them. To help prevent shrinkage you should wash your clothes in cold water, select a delicate or gentle cycle on the washing machine and air dry your clothes.

Can you Unshrink clothes?

In some cases you can unshrink clothes, it doesn’t always work but it is worth a shot. All you need to do is mix ¼ of a cup of baby shampoo or hair conditioner in a bucket full of cold water. Soak the affected clothes for 15 to 30 minutes and then gently pull them into shape. Starting with the sides and then from top to bottom.

Does fabric softener prevent shrinking?

Fabric softener can be used to try and prevent clothes from shrinking. The idea is that the fabric softener helps prevent the fibres from catching on each other. However this has a limited effect especially if the clothes are being washed in hot water.

Do clothes shrink after the first wash?

Certain fabrics are more prone to shrink after the first wash. Materials like cotton for example which are made using stretched strands of yarn are likely to revert back to their unstretched state after the first wash.

Will washing at 40 shrink my clothes?

Washing certain clothes at 40 degrees is likely to shrink them. This includes cotton and woollen clothes.

Is 30 degrees a cold wash?

30 degrees is considered to be a warm wash. A cold wash is below 20 degrees, 30 and 40 degree washes are warm washes, 60 degrees is a hot wash and 90 degrees is a very hot wash.

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