It’s a lucky person who has never had their clothes shrink. Many of us have pulled out a favorite shirt from the clean laundry pile to find that it is two sizes too small.
This raises the question, can clothes shrink in the dryer or washer?
If you’re wondering if there’s more risk of one appliance shrinking your clothes than the other, this isn’t the case.
Both the washing machine and dryer can affect your clothes, leaving you with items that don’t fit anymore.
We’ll cover more about why clothes shrink in the dryer or washer in this article.
You’ll also learn how to prevent your garments from shrinking, as well as why some fabrics are prone to shrink more than others.
Why Does The Dryer/Washer Shrink Clothes
There are several reasons why your clothes may shrink in the dryer or washer.
While some materials are more prone to this than others, clothes usually start shrinking in these appliances due to the following factors.
The material is reverting to its original shape. Textiles like cotton are stretched while they are being manufactured.
If moisture and excess heat affect the material, it can return to its previous size. The fabric isn’t shrinking, but it is going back to its normal size.
A rough drying or washing cycle can make the scales contract. Some textiles, like wool, have tiny scales in the material.
If these are affected by motion and heat, the scales can start tightening, leading to the material shrinking once you take it out of the dryer.
Heat and movement are the main reasons why your clothes may shrink, even if the way different textiles shrink differs.
How Do Types Of Fabric Shrink
Strictly speaking, not every type of textile that looks like it’s shrinking, is getting smaller.
Some of these are reverting to their original size, while others are going through a process known as felting. Even so, there are a few types of fabrics that are truly shrinking.
Here is a list of the most common varieties of textiles that shrink in the dryer and wash. We’ve also added a description of why these materials shrink, to begin with.
Silk is a delicate fabric that can shrink if it isn’t cleaned well.
Extra force and water from the drying and spin cycles can make the silk fibers contract and tighten. If silk is affected by heat, the material can start to shrink on itself.
This is probably the most well-known fabric that can shrink in the dryer or wash.
Spin and drying cycles involve motion, which can make the cotton fibers expand.
If the heat from the dryer or water in the washing machine touches the fabric, it can alleviate this stretching, making the cotton shrink.
Wool is another fabric that is prone to shrinking in the washer. Wool is prone to felting, a type of shrinkage that happens to scaly, natural fabric fibers.
Most of the shrinking occurs from movement and soapy, hot water, leaving the scales in the wool to tighten up.
This can also happen to other types of textiles that are made from animal fur.
Linen is another delicate material that can shrink when affected by heat and water. Linen is best hand-washed to avoid shrinking.
Even so, it’s best to remember that linen is expected to shrink slightly, even if you use colder water temperatures to clean the fabric.
If you know that your garments are made from the fabrics in this list, look at the instructions on the care tag to avoid laundering disasters later.
You might be able to get away with improper care occasionally, but this wear and tear can build up, shortening the life of the clothes.
You can keep your clothes lasting for longer by following the correct care guidelines for each type of fabric. For rugs, see our separate post here.
How To Stop Clothes Shrinking In The Washing Machine
You can try several steps to prevent your clothes from shrinking in the washer.
Here are four things to remember the next time you do your laundry:
- Examine the labels on your clothes before you wash them. This is the best way to ensure that your clothes won’t shrink in the wash. You should also check that the settings on your washer are suitable for the garment.
- If you are unsure, use a colder water setting. If you can’t find a label on your clothes or suspect that an item might shrink, washing the garment in cold water can help prevent shrinking. Shrinkage is usually the result of heat and air during the drying and washing stages, but cold water will remove the heating element.
- Don’t use lots of water unless required. Some fabrics, like silk or linen, will shrink after exposure to large quantities of hot water. Always ensure that you use the correct amount of water for the garments you are washing.
- Some pieces of clothing need to be dry cleaned or hand washed. There will always be some garments, like silk scarves or suit blazers, that should only be dry cleaned or washed by hand. You can check if this is required by looking at the care tag on your clothing.
How To Stop Clothes Shrinking In The Dryer
Just like the washer, your clothes can also shrink after they have been through the dryer.
Here are four tips to remember that can help prevent this from occurring:
- Always check the care tag. We can’t stress this point enough. Some fabric varieties shouldn’t be placed in the dryer and left to air dry. Always examine the care tag to check the drying guidelines.
- Be wary of heat. Heat is one of the main causes of shrinking garments. Make sure that the heat setting on the dryer is best for the type of fabric you are washing.
- Never over dry your clothes. Some fabrics, such as cotton, can shrink on themselves if they are dried for a long time. This is why it’s best to dry and wash cotton clothing separately, away from your regular laundry pile. Most modern dryers have settings that can help you avoid over drying cotton.
- Some pieces of clothing aren’t safe for the dryer. We know that some types of garments, like bathing suits and lingerie, shouldn’t be placed in the dryer, but this is also the case for particular textiles. Silk clothing, for instance, should never be machine dried, but left to air dry in a ventilated area.
Lots of dryers have built-in sensors to automatically stop the drying process once all of the garments have dried.
If your dryer doesn’t have this ability, you can prevent shrinking by separating your laundry into different groups.
For example, you might have a group for cotton clothing, one for delicate items, and another for wool.
Your specific material groups will depend on the types of clothes in your wardrobe.
Tips On Avoiding Your Garments From Shrinking
Here are some more ways of preventing your pieces of clothing from shrinking.
Opt For Anti-Shrinkage Finishes
If you are purchasing cotton clothes that can shrink easily, look out for anti-shrinkage labels. You may also find wool items that have been treated similarly.
Polyester Cotton Blends
Another way of preventing your clothes from shrinking is by purchasing garments made from polyester-cotton blends. This material is stronger and resistant to damage.
You can find clothes that have already been shrunk by the producer.
These clothing items will have released the tension within their fibers, meaning they have shrunk to their maximum amount.
This can help avoid any mishaps in the dryer or washer later.
The Bottom Line
Your dryer and washer can both make your clothes shrink. This usually occurs from the combination of heat and motion, which both appliances use to launder clothing.
Always check the care tag on your clothes before you clean them, and make sure that you air dry any items that aren’t safe for the dryer.
You can follow our tips above to ensure you’ll never shrink another one of your clothes again!
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