Fabrics That Are Most Likely To Shrink In The Laundry (And How To Prevent It)

Have you ever taken your clothes out of the dryer and found that they were half the size they used to be? Accidentally shrinking clothes is one of the most common mistakes that one can make while doing laundry. It's the worst feeling to know that you have damaged your favorite sweater or pair of jeans. Garments can shrink even if you do everything right, as the process of washing and drying your clothing naturally results in shrinking. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to prevent your clothes from shriveling up, and it can be helpful to know which types are the most prone to damage, as certain fabrics are especially susceptible. Keep a close eye out on items made out of wool, cotton, denim, linen, and silk.  

To prevent making your clothes too small, checking the clothing's care tag is crucial. You can also make small changes to your appliances' settings like the water temperature or type of drying cycle to prevent this problem. Overall, when maintaining your garments, it's so important to understand why fabrics shrink, how to prevent it, and what to do if one of your favorite items has already shrunk.

What causes certain fabrics to shrink in the laundry?

Rebecca van Amber, a senior lecturer and textile scientist at RMIT University, says that clothes shrink because of the way that they are made. Clothes are manufactured under tension and pulled taut, and when we wash them, it can cause them to get smaller. "When we wash the fabric, the water acts like a lubricant and allows the yarn to relax, and sometimes it relaxes to the point of not being under tension any more," Amber says (per The Guardian). The high heat from the dryer can also shrink your clothes, as it can cause some fabric fibers to shrink and curl up. Delicate fabrics, such as cashmere and wool, are especially prone to shrinkage in the dryer. 

While items made out of wool, silk, linen, denim, and cotton are the most prone to shrinking, rayon, a semi-synthetic fiber, could also get smaller when being washed or dried. Some fabrics like wool and cotton will naturally shrink over time no matter what you do. Most fabrics will start to get smaller within the first three washes, but sometimes it can take up to 10 washes before an item fully shrinks. Other fabrics are not prone to this problem. Synthetic fibers, such as polyester and nylon, do not shrink much, if at all.

How to prevent clothes from shrinking

There are several things that you can do to keep clothes from shrinking. First, always pay attention to the care labels on your clothing, and if they say to use a certain cycle, adhere to the instructions. Also make sure you use the cold water setting in the washing machine and choose the low heat setting when drying clothes. If possible, buy used clothing whenever possible, as these items have already been shrunk. Finally, because agitation from the spin cycle can cause shrinkage and front-loading washing machines are gentler than top loaders when it comes to agitation, if you're buying a new appliance, a front-loading type may be best.

However, what if the shrinkage has already occurred? There are things you can do to reverse this and make your clothes look brand new. You can try using steam, as a large amount of hot steam can loosen up the fabric of the clothing that has shrunk. Get out your iron, add water, and turn it on the steam setting. Make sure you turn the clothing item inside out when ironing it, and stretch it out gently as you iron. You can also soak the items in warm water and detergent for 30 minutes. Once the time is up, let the excess water drip out, lay the garment flat on a towel, and roll it up for 15 minutes, then stretch it out with your hands.