Why Does My Clothing Shrink? Learn How To Prevent It

Having an item of clothing shrink after washing is annoying. There are few sartorial quandaries more irritating than discover your favorite cashmere polo is now a crop top. So, in this article, we answer an important question: will cotton/polyester blends shrink in the wash? If so, how can we mitigate the risk?

Why Does Some Clothing Shrink?

 The reason some pieces of clothing shrink and others don’t lies in a little bit of chemistry. Most of the clothing we wear, be it natural fibers like cotton or wool or synthetics like polyester, rayon, or nylon, is made from polymers. Polymers are large, chain-like molecules linked tightly together.

Cotton, wool, and silk have naturally short fibers, but we stretch them when weaving them into clothing. Problems arise, however, when excessive heat (such as from a mechanical washer or dryer) is applied. The fibers then shrink back to their natural state- unfortunately for us, the wearers, the clothing shrinks as well.

Do All Fibers Shrink?

Not all fibers used in clothing will shrink, however. Man-made fibers like polyester, nylon, and rayon are much more resistant to contraction. The difference here is, as we created them, the fibers in polyester are already longer. We haven’t had to ‘artificially’ stretch them because we designed them to be like that. 

Another way around this issue of fibers shrinking is to even look for items that have been ‘pre-shrunk’ or ‘pre-laundered.’ Some pure cotton garments have this property, but it’s most common in clothing with synthetics woven in.

Will 60% Cotton Clothing Shrink?

The answer, in short, is yes- but not as much a pure cotton garment will. The man-made components woven into the article reduce the amount of “shrinkable” material in it.

The key here is the man-made part. By reducing the cotton percentage, and replacing it with a fiber doesn’t shrink, there’s less of the ‘shrinkable’ item in the garment.

Clothing Shrink

So, is there a ‘perfect’ blend of fibers to stop your clothing from shrinking?

If you’re wondering if, say, 90% cotton and 10% synthetics will shrink- the answer is yes. If you throw a cotton/spandex t-shirt in the warm cycle and dry it on medium heat, it will shrink almost as much as a 100% cotton piece.

However, a radical shift happens when about 30% synthetics are woven into a garment, and exponentially increases at about 40% synthetics.

Your 60/40 Blend Makes a Difference

1. Comfort

While synthetics are cheaper to produce and shrink less, they can be scratchy on the skin. This is why very few quality dress shirts are blends. However, for casual wear- t-shirts, workout clothes, and activewear-a blend of 60/40 may be just what you need.

2. There’s less wrinkling

Another problem with pure cotton fibers is their tendency to wrinkle, especially if they’re only partially dry. Long applications of heat in your dryer can address some of those unsightly wrinkles- but, of course, that results in the shrinking problem! A blend of fibers can address some of this issue, though.

3. You have less static

On the other end of the spectrum, too much synthetic results in the garment clinging to you while building up a huge amount of static. You might even shock yourself with static, especially when it’s cold out! But, blends of natural and synthetic fibers drape well without sticking to you.

4. It’s still pretty breathable

People love cotton as it’s cool and breathable, but that 60% cotton 40% polyester blend still won’t wrap you up and feel like you have been swathed in a blanket. Yes, it’s not the same as 100% cotton but at least you don’t have the same issues surrounding shrinkage.

What About Full Polyester?

Synthetics are cheap and resistant to shrinking. Are these the way to go, then? In short, no.

  1. While they’re more resistant to shrinkage, they’re not immune. Wash at a temperature higher than required and it can still damage the fibers and shrink.
  2. While they’re more flexible than cotton and can ‘wick’ away moisture, these garments will retain odor, especially from sweat.
  3. They tend to be less durable than natural fibers like cotton or, especially, wool.

Full polyester is an option, but a 60/40 natural/synthetic blend is a good balance for avoiding shrinkage, reducing odor, and addressing durability

Wrapping Up: FAQ’s around Shrinkage

Indeed, pulling a beloved shirt out of the wash to find it’s shrunk is beyond irritating. Our community has certainly commiserated about it over the years. In fact, here’s another discussion specifically about poly/cotton blend shrinkage. But, we hope these tips will help you prevent issues.

Wash Cold to Minimize Clothing Shrink

Read the label. Theoretically, you can dry-clean items with a 60/40 blend. But, it’s not really necessary- in fact, many of the chemicals used in the dry cleaning process can actually damage your garments. Instead, wash them in cold water (or warm, if you must) with a light application of your favorite detergent.

Drying

While the heat of the water can cause a problem, heat from a dryer is even worse. The label has all the information you need, though. However, if you can air-dry something, we recommend doing it whenever possible.

A Little Stretch Can Help

If you plan on washing and then air-drying, or even partially drying in a machine, we recommend stretching your items. Simply gently stretching the wet garment lengthwise can help reduce shrinking.

Don’t Constantly Wash Them

Reducing how frequently you wash your clothes can also help to combat clothing shrink.

If an item is stained, apply a stain remover and leave it on as long as possible before washing. Putting it through a cycle and repeating the process because a mark won’t come off only puts more stress on your clothing. There’s only so much pressure and heat those cotton fibers will be able to withstand.

While we aren’t saying you should only wash your t-shirts every few months, throwing something into the wash after it’s only been briefly worn increases the likelihood of that article shrinking. Additionally, frequent washing with detergent, fabric softeners, and other chemicals can have a significant impact on not only your clothing but the environment as well.

Thanks for reading, and we do hope this helps!