FAQ: Why are my clothes shrinking after washing?

In a technical sense, your clothes aren’t actually shrinking at all; they’re simply returning to their natural state. Let’s take a t-shirt for instance. The fibres within threads out of which the garment is made are already quite stretched. That’s what has allowed them to be woven into the garment in the first place. Not unlike the rest of us, these fibres relax when bathed in soapy water, and can tighten to their original state.

The end result is a garment that appears to have magically shrunk in size; the truth is simply that it’s not as stretched as it once was.

Is shrinking happening because of the washer or the dryer?

If your clothes have shrunk after a trip to the laundry, you might be wondering who the culprit is – the washer, or the dryer? The fact is, it may be a little of both. The primary cause of shrinking in clothes is heat, so if you’re washing in hot water, that’s likely to have an effect on your clothing. This is the reason you’ll find most things in your wardrobe have a care label recommending cold or warm washing.

A dryer exposes your clothes to much higher temperatures than if they were air-dried, and so can have the same effect. This shrinking is not necessarily a bad thing though - there are plenty of occasions where slight shrinking of a garment is the desired effect.

How can I prevent my clothes from shrinking?

There are a few ways to combat turning your wardrobe into a collection of clothing for dolls. First, look for pre-washed clothing. These garments are washed repeatedly at the manufacturing level, and have much less give when being washed.

Depending on your preferences, a blend of natural and synthetic fibres may be something you’d want to seek out for new purchases, as polyester absorbs less water than cotton and thus won’t shrink in the same way. There are also clothes that are designed to be shrink-resistant, meaning that are manufactured in such a way that the fibres won’t relax in the same way during a washing cycle.

Of course, avoiding shrinking is also about washing processes. Washing in cold water in most cases is practical. Continual machine drying is not optimal for any garment, so opt for air-drying where possible. The best part of this? Both of those solutions will also cut down your electricity bill!

How to fix it when clothes have shrunk

In the event of a little bit of shrinkage, here’s a tried and true remedy. It takes a little elbow grease, but it’s worth it to get your garment back to normal.

  1. Soak the garment in soapy lukewarm water in the laundry sink.
  2. Wring out the garment.
  3. Place it on a towel, and roll them up tightly together. This will release a significant amount of water, and leave the garment damp.
  4. Place on a dry towel, and gently stretch the garment.
  5. Let air dry. 
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