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Can Clothes Shrink More Than Once? (And how to fix it)

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Have you ever been disappointed to find a new item of clothing shrinks after only one wash? It’s so annoying, isn’t it? When you first wore that shirt, it looked great, but now it’s misformed and smaller, making you wonder what went wrong.

Clothes can shrink more than once. They can shrink up to 5 percent, reducing their size by more than one. The shrinkage also depends on the type of fabric, such as wool and cotton, and how you wash them.

We’ve all been there. We’ve accidentally thrown a woolen sweater or stretchy jeans into the washer or dryer, and they came out a third of the size they were initially. Sure, you can stretch it out to salvage it, but it won’t be the same. 

Why Do Clothes Shrink?

The fabric structure is what causes clothes to shrink. Water lubricates the yarn when it’s washed, allowing it to relax, and sometimes it relaxes to the point that it’s no longer under tension. This results in shrinkage as the yarns eventually retract.

Wear and washing performance will be determined by the type of fiber, weave, and manufacturing process used. You can still experience shrinking and stretching even if you carefully follow all the instructions for doing laundry. 

Different types of clothing fiber react differently. Most synthetic fibers, such as acrylic, polyester, and nylon, have less stretch than natural fibers, such as cotton, wool, and bamboo. 

When exposed to water, heat, and agitation, loose fabric weaves tend to stretch more than tighter ones, which means a loose fabric weave will shrink or tighten more than a sturdy one.

If you apply proper laundry techniques, you can still reduce shrinking and stretching and improve your clothes look. However, almost every garment will suffer some shrinkage or stretching from wear and tear over time. 

A slight shift in size every time a garment is cleaned adds to any shrinkage or stretching at any time.

Does Cotton Shrink Every Time You Wash It?

With its natural breathability, durability, and comfort, cotton makes one of the top fabrics for clothing. Moisture is naturally wicked away from the skin when wearing cotton clothing, helping you stay cool in every season. 

Cotton shrinks when washed due to its natural absorbency. During the weaving process, all the fibers that were stretched tightly together relax under warm water. As a result, its diameter shortens, and its shape snaps back into its original form.

Cool water isn’t going to shrink cotton as much as hot water. Washing cotton in hot water reshapes the fabric by contacting the relaxed fibers. Cotton will continue to shrink each time you wash it in hot water. Let your cotton clothing drip dry and use cool water to avoid shrinkage.

If you buy preshrunk clothing and wash your clothes carefully, you can help prevent further shrinkage.

Poly-Cotton, a blended cotton fabric, is less likely to be altered by hot water. Conversely, 100% cotton is sensitive to hot water or high dryer temperatures.

It may be worth buying 100% cotton shirts larger than usual if this happens. If you prefer perfectly fitted shirts, buy your normal size, but wash and dry them properly.

Why Do Shirts Shrink Lengthwise?

Cotton and linen are two fabrics prone to shrinkage, and top-quality shirts are usually made from them. 

While yarns and fabrics are manufactured, tension is applied to them throughout the process. The washer and dryer release tension through heat and agitation, permitting the threads to loosen somewhat and be compressed to a degree. The result is shrinkage.

I wrote a guide on how to keep your pants from riding up that may interest you.

How To Prevent Clothes From Shrinking

If you wish to prevent your clothing from shrinking, follow these tips. 

Read the Labels 

Read the labels before purchasing clothing. Look for the word “preshrunk” on natural fibers. 

Clothing manufacturers, especially budget brands, will stretch the fabric as far as it can be stretched during production to use less cloth in production. Preshrunk fabric is woven before it’s cut and sewn, thereby reducing shrinkage during that garment’s lifetime.

Also, consider the guidelines regarding washing at home and dry cleaning, the type of laundry cycle, the water temperature, and any dryer cycle recommendations.

Wash Your Clothes Gently 

When washing fabric, warm or cold water is less damaging than hot water. However, cold water won’t prevent all shrinking.

Hand washing or using a gentle wash cycle is also less damaging than using agitation and high rotation spin cycles on a washer to remove water.

Here’s my step-by-step guide on how to wash clothes by hand.

Use the Right Washer 

Compared to top-loading washers with a center agitator, front-loading or top-loading high-efficiency washers don’t damage clothes as much, causing less shrinkage. This is because high-efficiency washers tumble rather than push, which is gentler on fabrics than typical washer agitators.

Air Dry Your Clothes 

Air drying clothes is the gentlest and most effective method for preventing shrinkage. The garment will also not stretch if dried on a flat surface for loosely woven fabrics or knits. 

If you can’t air-dry your clothes, lower the heat settings on the dryer. Remove the clothes from the dryer when they’re damp slightly and air dry. Using excessive heat can be harsh on the fabrics.

Regularly Wash Your Clothes 

Stretching can occur if a piece of clothing is worn between washings for an extended period. Blue jeans, for example, are made of 100% cotton and expand as you wear them. Regular washing will prevent the jeans from stretching out of shape.

How To Unshrink Clothes

You can easily reverse the shrinkage of your favorite garment if you accidentally shrunk it. Here are the steps:

  1. Add some baby shampoo to lukewarm water in a sink or tub. Let the garment soak in the water for 5 minutes. The water will loosen the fibers.
  2. Then gently squeeze the garment to remove excess water without rinsing it. To absorb any additional moisture, roll it up in a towel. After that, lay it out on a clean towel. You can reshape it as needed and let it air dry.

Final Thoughts

Which is the most important laundry lesson we could all benefit from learning? It has to be reading the labels before washing a piece of clothing. 

You should buy cotton clothing that fits well, and you should read and follow the care instructions carefully to extend the life of your cotton clothing.

Next, you can learn how to fold your clothes fast, or how to properly line dry your clothes.

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