Can a Shirt Shrink in the Washer?

The first time you wash your shirt, you will typically see the most considerable shrinkage, but you can still expect to see a lot of shrinkages throughout your dress shirt. The lowering is why most cotton clothes will shrink in their first washes. Because of reduced, most cotton items shrink due to the heat and steam of washers and dryers.

A shirt can shrink in the washer. This is especially likely to happen if the washer uses hot water or if the item in question is made of cotton. When an item shrinks in the washer, it may do so by up to 5% of its total volume. In order to avoid clothing shrinkage, consider using cold water or dry cleaning.

Most people assume that warmer temperatures (whether in a washer or dryer) will shrink the cotton more quickly, but that is simply untrue. A 60 percent cotton, 40 percent polyester clothing item does not shrink as quickly, even with hot-water washing. Many clothing manufacturers prevent shrinkage in cotton by preshrinking garments, so not every cotton garment shrinks when washed. Most cotton garments are preshrunk and shrink less than 3 percent after wash, although raw cotton can shrink as much as 20 percent in warm water.

Cotton Items Are Prone to Shrinking

Preshrunk, 100% cotton, may shrink up to 3 percent during the warm wash cycle, while untreated cotton can shrink as much as 20 percent after exposure to hot temperatures. Cotton may shrink each time you wash it when exposed to high-temperature water or high-heat settings of the dryer.

Your clothing is unlikely to shrink on your second washing, although you should still avoid using hot water or a high heat setting in your dryer. If you wash your dress shirt and then dry it on a high-heat setting in your dryer, you will experience much more significant, and unpredictable shrinkage. If you dry a wet clothing piece by hand, it may shrink forever.

In general, however, you can prevent 100% cotton items from shrinking simply by washing them in cold water and letting them dry naturally. The two best ways to keep your cotton from shrinking are washing cotton clothes in cold water and following the directions on the manufacturer’s labels inside the clothing. Because cotton and wool soak up a fair amount of water, they shrink more quickly, so you will want to wash these items in cold water. Some clothing made from cotton or wool is preshrunk, making it unlikely that it shrinks more when passed more.

When you put fabrics such as cotton in the washer, their fibers soak up the moisture and expand. Once natural fibers curl, the whole cloth will shrink, leaving you with a garment that is entirely too small for you (or, more commonly, for anyone else in the vicinity). When these wicking fibers are exposed to water, they will absorb all the water and puff, which causes the entire garment’s dimensions to decrease.

How Cotton Items Experience Strain

The heat releases this strain from washing and drying, which causes the garment to shrink. The tension is released with the heat from your washing machine, dryer, steam, or even sunlight, which causes cotton to shrink back to its natural size. Heat — either water or air — releases that tension and pushes the cotton to re-contract to its natural size. Steaming heat will permeate a woolen cloth, shrinking it until it is at your desired size.

Washing polymer, wool, and cotton in hot water cause the polymer to expand as it absorbs moisture from the washing machine. Washing clothes in hot water (or drying clothes with hot air) shrinks your cloth. Cotton clothes tend to shrink more when you first wash and dry them, mainly fabrics that are preshrunk or treated to prevent wrinkles. To prevent this shrinkage, wash cotton clothes in cold water and dry them in an air-drying method when possible.

The best way to prevent shrinkage is to wash most cotton clothes by hand or to use cold water and the gentlest setting on the laundry machine. Fabrics like cotton will get damaged if they are washed on the regular cycle. Heat is not your friend if you try to prevent your clothes from shrinking, particularly ones made from natural fibers such as cotton, wool, and mohair.

If you lay a damp clothing piece flat after you wash it, there is no further shrinkage and the fibers in the garments de-swell and reform back to their original sizes. In most cases, cleaning a T-shirt and then drying it low heat in the dryer will restore it to its original size.

Dry-Cleaning a Shirt Mitigates Strain

Indeed, if you wear your shirt rarely and only occasionally let the dryer spot-clean it, it will not shrink nearly as much as it would if it were washed regularly in water. The first time you wash the shirt is the one that can cause most of the shrinkage; that is why you should always clean the shirt in cold water because that does not break down the tensile force on the individual fibers in the shirt.

Regardless of clothing type–shirts, cotton, sweatshirts, and pants/jeans–or fabric, from rayon to 100% cotton, the most common process of clothing that is likely to shrink is washing them in hot water in the washer and drying them with a hot dryer.

Cotton is the machine-washable fiber most likely to shrink using a standard shrinking process: wash it on the hot cycle followed by a high-heat cycle in your dryer. A good rule of thumb is that anything above 50% cotton is likely to shrink slightly, so preshrunk cotton or cotton blends are also popular choices.

Cotton does shrink after its first wash because of chemical tensions applied to the cloth and yarns when it is manufactured. This happens when natural fibers such as cotton are exposed to water, causing fibers to expand, reducing the overall size of the garment.

Grandma Dee

Hello, I'm Grandma Dee. I created Fairy Epic because I love the beautiful world depicted in fairy tales, and I wanted to help make it a reality.

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