Why Do Shirts Shrink?

The biggest reason cotton T-shirts shrink when you wash them is heat. With cotton items, lowering your washing temperature and drying it with an air dryer helps keep your clothing from shrinking. A 60 percent cotton, 40 percent polyester clothing will not shrink as quickly, even with hot-water washing.

Why Do Shirts Shrink?
Why Do Shirts Shrink?

Shirts shrink because heating them releases the tension in their fibers. Shirts are made of fibers that are stretched during the creation of the garment, and they are under tension. This tension preserves the shirt’s look. When the shirt is heated, the tension disappears because the fiber expands naturally, so it shrinks.

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. Typically, preshrunk cotton clothing can shrink another 2% to 3% when washed in hot water.

When exposed to hot water, untreated cotton clothing can shrink by as much as 20%. While 100% cotton garments will shrink if not washed properly, lower cotton percentages may not shrink nearly as much.

Tips for Preventing Cotton from Shrinking

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 garment. To keep cotton clothes from shrinking, wash cotton clothes on a gentle cycle in cold water.

For shrinkage, you should always wash cotton T-shirts in cold water. The first time you pass a shirt is when the majority of the shrinkage is likely to happen; that is why you should always wash shirts in cold water because that does not break down the tensile force on individual shirt fibers. To prevent shrinkage of your shirt, wash your sweater in cold cycles and dry it on the lowest setting.

Wring excess water from cotton clothing, but ensure you do not wring out the clothing vigorously; doing so will result in significant wrinkles, which are a pain to iron. For cotton-poly mixes, you may want to wash the clothing in cold or hot water and then dry it on a low setting in your dryer.

Washing and drying your cotton allows its fibers to relax, returning it to its preshrunken state. Fabrics like cotton get damaged by being washed on a regular cycle. On the opposite end of the scale, cotton and other natural materials require cold washing to prevent shrinkage. Fabrics made from cotton or wool generally should be washed in cold water.

Some Garments Come Preshrunk

Some garments made from these fibers are preshrunk and unlikely to shrink when washed repeatedly. Cotton and wool absorb a fair amount of water, leading to shrinkage. This happens when natural fibers, such as cotton, are exposed to water, causing fibers to expand and reducing overall clothing sizes. When exposed to the water and heat of your laundry, the fibers will revert to their standard size.

Heat – either water or air – releases that tension and causes cotton to revert to its standard size. Hot water, the heat of the dryer, or even steam all make fabric slack, so the cotton shrinks. While your other clothes resist heat from water in your washing machine and dryer, cotton is highly affected by heat. Washing polymer, wool, and cotton in hot water cause the polymer to expand as it absorbs moisture from the washer.

Cotton may shrink each time you wash it if you put it through hot water or a high dryer temperature setting. Cotton is a natural fiber, and like all natural fibers — wool, silk, and cotton — it shrinks when mixed with heat. Whether your clothes are made with 100% cotton or from a high-quality cotton blend, you need to know that any garment containing cotton can shrink if exposed to high heat. Like other natural materials, cotton is known for shrinking when it is exposed to extreme temperatures and agitation by washing machines and dryers.

How Cotton Fibers Lose Tension

Once a cotton cloth is heated — say, tumbling through the dryer — the fibers lose this tension, which causes the cotton to shrink slightly after its first washing. Cotton shrinks after a first wash because of chemical pressures applied to the cloth and yarns in manufacturing. Cotton shrinks because of the tension applied to its wool and fabric during the building process of the specific clothing item. Most T-shirts are made from cotton or cotton blend, and cotton tends to shrink due to the tension applied in the construction process.

Looseness makes your cotton shirt feel good and soft, but it also leaves many air gaps, which allows that fabric to shrink terribly. Because cotton is a naturally breathable fiber, it is likely to shrink under heat, according to textile expert Suzanne Holmes at Cotton Incorporated. The good news is that cotton typically only shrinks once, then stays the same size until itas torn or worn, which isn’t always a bad thing.

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent your favorite cotton dress shirt from shrinking or stretching, so the next time you head to the store, you can make your purchase confidently. You can do some easy things for your cotton, so if you have been wondering how to keep clothes from shrinking, look no further.

Hang on that doesn’t mean you need to accept that clothes will shrink; there are some easy steps you can take to take care of your cotton clothes; so if you have been wondering how to prevent clothes from shrinking, you’ve come to the right place—separate laundry before you wash it to avoid washing fabrics that might be prone to shrinking by accident.

The combination causes fabric fibers to free themselves from any pulls or stresses placed when building your garment, which loosens up the fibers, allowing them to revert to their natural state (which is almost always more minor).

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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