What Temperature Shrinks Clothes When Washing And Drying?

Once you’ve gone to the trouble of buying new clothes, you’ll want to keep them looking their best for at least this season. It also helps if they keep fitting you after being washed and dried. 

So it’s a good idea to understand how the various temperature settings on your washing machine will affect your clothes, and that’s what this article is all about.

If you want to help prevent your clothes from shrinking, keep reading.

What Temperature Shrinks Clothes In The Washing Machine?

There is no specific temperature at which clothes will shrink either in the washing machine or during hand washing. It depends on the fabric used to make the clothes.

Some natural fibres like wool for instance can shrink even in cold water. At the other end of the spectrum, some synthetic fibres won’t shrink unless exposed to temperatures of 90 degrees C.

Temperature is only one factor when it comes to causing clothes to shrink. Another contributing factor is agitation, which is what happens as the drum turns inside the washing machine (and tumble dryer).

There are actually 3 factors which will determine whether your clothes will shrink in the washing machine which are;

  1. The Material
    The material your clothes are made from plays a huge part in whether they’re likely to shrink in the wash or not. Natural fabrics like: wool, cotton, linen, silk and cashmere are far more likely to shrink than synthetic man made fabrics like polyester and nylon.
  2. The Temperature
    Many clothes are less likely to shrink if washed at cooler temperatures. The exception to this is wool which can shrink even if washed in cold water.
  3. The Movement
    As the drum on your washing machine rotates, it causes the clothes to collide which can cause the fibres to weaken, contract and shrink.

What Happens To Clothes At Various Temperatures?

Let’s look at what happens to clothes at the different temperature settings found on washing machines.

Washing Clothes At 30 Degrees C

Washing clothes at 30 degrees C can, in many cases, help prevent shrinkage. However, even at 30 degrees woollen clothes can still shrink because the motion of the clothes in the machine’s drum can cause them to shrink.

Washing Clothes At Temperatures Of 40 Degrees C

Washing certain clothes, especially those made from natural fibres like cotton, silk and wool, at 40 degrees C is likely to cause them to shrink. There are exceptions to this, for instance, washing pre washed or preshrunk cotton clothes at 40 degrees are less likely to shrink.

Man made synthetic fibres like nylon, rayon, acrylic and polyester are unlikely to shrink at 40 degrees.

Washing Clothes At 50 Degrees C

Washing clothes at 50 degrees C is likely to produce similar results to washing them at 40 degrees. This means that natural fibres are going to be prone to shrinkage whereas synthetic fibres should be OK.

Washing Clothes At 60 Degrees C

A 60 degree C wash is considered to be a hot wash and washing clothes at this temperature increases the chances of them shrinking.

Natural fibres are more likely to shrink at this temperature however, synthetic fibres should be fine at 60 degrees C.

Using A 90 Degree C Wash

A 90 degree wash is considered to be a very hot wash. Washing any fabrics at 90 degrees C is likely to cause them to shrink. This is especially true for natural fibres but also includes synthetic fibres too.

Washing Machine

Why Do Clothes Shrink In The Washing machine?

There are 3 reasons that clothes shrink when washed in a washing machine. Which are;

  • Felting
    Felting affects those fibres made from animal hair like cashmere and wool. These fibres have microscopic scales along their surface which collapse and gel together when subjected to heat and moisture. This causes the fibres to shorten which causes the clothes to shrink.
  • Relaxation
    This affects natural fibres like cotton and linen. The yarns or threads of material are stretched during the process of weaving. Once the clothes are washed in warm water the fibres relax back to their original size which makes the clothes shrink. There is less likelihood of this happening if the clothes were prewashed.
  • Consolidation
    Consolidation occurs mainly due to the mechanical action of the washing machine and tumble dryer. As the drum rotates, the clothes are literally bashed together. This causes the fibres to soften and become compressed which shrinks the clothes.

What Causes Clothes To Shrink In The Tumble Dryer?

We all like the simplicity of putting our washed clothes in the tumble dryer to get them dry quickly. However, tumble drying certain clothes can cause them to shrink.

Why Do Clothes Shrink In A Tumble Dryer?

There is a scientific term for the reason clothes shrink in the tumble dryer. That term is;

  • Contraction
    Contraction is caused when the fibres dry out too much which removes all moisture content from the fabric. Natural fibres like wool and cotton should always have a moisture content. Wool should have a moisture content of 17% and cotton should have a moisture content of 5%. Any less than this and the fibres contract causing the garment to shrink.

Added to this the heat produced in a tumble dryer can reach a maximum temperature of between 70 to 75 degrees C which means natural fibres like cotton, wool, silk etc are likely to shrink.

You should always remove all items from the tumble dryer as soon as the cycle ends. This is to prevent the garment from over drying due to sitting in such a hot environment for longer than is absolutely necessary.

Will Washing Clothes In Cold Water Prevent Them From Shrinking?

In many cases, washing clothes in cold water will prevent them from shrinking. However, some fibres don’t shrink because of the temperature, they shrink because of the rough and tumble of the washing machine’s drum.

These fibres will shrink even at low temperatures if you select the wrong washing cycle. You should always select the gentle or delicate cycle for items such as those made from wool.

Ways To Help Stop Clothes Shrinking 

There are a few simple ways that can help stop your clothes from shrinking. These include;

  • Do What The Care Label says
    Manufacturers provide all of the washing and drying instructions on the care label of their clothes. You should always follow the advice given on the care label when washing and drying your clothes.
  • Wash In Cold Or Cool Water
    To help prevent your clothes from shrinking, you should always use a cold or cool wash whenever possible.
  • Use The Gentle Or Delicate Cycle
    As some clothes shrink due to the rough treatment they receive in the washing machine (and tumble dryer), you should always select the delicate or gentle program to help prevent shrinkage. 
  • Air Dry Clothes
    Your clothes are less likely to shrink if air dried instead of tumble drying. You can use a clothesline, retractable washing line or a clothes airer to dry your clothes without the risk of shrinking them.

SEE ALSO: Does Sun Drying Clothes Cause Them To Fade?

Frequently Asked Questions

Does a 40 degree C wash shrink clothes?

Depending on the fabric, a 40 degree C wash can shrink your clothes. This is more prevalent in clothes made from natural fibres like wool, silk and cotton.

Does 60 degrees washing shrink clothes?

As the temperature of the wash increases, so does the risk of your clothes shrinking. Particularly natural fibres which include wool and cotton. 60 degrees C can definitely shrink clothes.

At what temperature do clothes start to shrink?

Clothes can shrink even in cold water washes. There are other factors that affect whether clothes will shrink for instance; natural fibres like wool and cotton can shrink even at 30 degrees if the wash program you select is too harsh for the material. However, the higher the temperature, the higher the risk of the clothes shrinking.

Does spinning shrink clothes?

Spinning clothes can cause them to shrink because of the rough action of the machine as it spins.

Does low heat still shrink clothes?

Drying your clothes on a low heat is better for preventing your clothes from shrinking. However, it is far better for your clothes if they are air dried.

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