Why do clothes shrink in the washer and dryer?
There are several reasons why your clothes might shrink in the wash. These include fiber content, excess moisture, and heat and agitation.
- Fiber content – Certain natural fibers, such as wool and cotton, are more likely to shrink than others. Wool fibers are covered in scales, and when these scales come into contact with heat and moisture, they mesh together, causing fabrics to shrink. This is known as felting shrinkage. Additionally, cotton and wool can both absorb quite a bit of water, which can also lead to shrinking.
- Excess moisture – Natural fibers like cotton, linen and silk can also be prone to a condition known as relaxation shrinkage. This happens when these absorbent fibers are exposed to water, which causes the fibers to swell and the overall size of the garment to decrease.
- Heat and agitation – Sometimes, the combination of hot water and the agitation from the washer and dryer can cause consolidation shrinkage. These conditions cause fibers, which are tightly woven and stretched out during the manufacturing process, to release this tension and return to their natural, smaller and shorter shape.
There are several components that contribute to clothes that shrink, such as water temperature, fabric, and heat exposure. It’s important to understand why it’s happening before you change your laundry routine.
Why Your Clothes Shrink
There are a few different ways garments will shrink and to avoid each type requires a unique approach.
This type of shrinkage isn’t very common but it would occur in cotton, linen, silk, or synthetic fabrics. After a garment is exposed to large amounts of lukewarm water or steam, it may shrink.
This is frequently found in animal hair or fur-based materials such as wool or cashmere. Under a microscope, these fibers have scales on the surface and will compress under excessive heat or moisture.
This is the most common type of garment shrinkage and is related to how it’s manufactured. Knitting, weaving and other fabric manufacturing techniques create friction in the fibers. When that friction faces moisture and heat and is then tossed around in the agitation and tumble of the washer and dryer cycles, some of that tension is released and the garment will shrink.
How to Prevent Your Clothes from Shrinking
To avoid potentail shrinkage, you must take prevenative steps prior to the first wash. Once a garment has shrunk, there is nothing that can be done to restore it.
Always Read Your Labels
The manufacturer has provided these instructions to help you get the longest wear and best fit out of your favorite garments. Trust their process!
Wash By Hand
Take the old school route and wash it yourself! While this process is tedious, it can be quick and will reduce the friction and heat exposure most washers and dryers inflict on your garments.
Wash In Cold Water
Cool temperatures are the least likely to cause fit or shink issues with your clothes and should be your defauls approach to washing most pieces.
Invest In a Drying Rack
Dryers are convenient but they can damage your clothes over time due to prolonged heat exposure. Hanging your close to dry causes little to no damage to your clothes and is more sustainable than the tumble dry cycle. This is also essential for any delicate pieces and synthetics.
Lower Heat Settings
It is critical to prevent overdrying! Exposing clothes to too much heat in the dryer can also lead to shrinking. This is another reason to check your labels. Some clothes can go through the drying cycle on low heat, and some should be air-dried to maintain their size and shape. Additionally, you should avoid running your clothes through more than one dryer cycle if possible.
If air drying isn’t for you, lower the heat settings on your dryer to give your clothes the best possible chance at longevity and preservation of fit.
How to Unshrink Clothing
If you’ve accidentally shrunk your favorite piece of clothing, don’t despair, It’s possible to reverse the damage with a simple little trick. If at all possible, send it to be professionally cleaned with a dry cleaner. Dry cleaners have the proper machinery and heat settings to more effectively restore garments to their original condition.
If you are doing it on your own, here are some tips. Fill up a sink or tub with lukewarm water and add a capful of baby shampoo. Place your garment into the water and allow it to soak for about five minutes. This process relaxes the fibers in the clothing.
Next, gently squeeze the clothing to remove water, but do not rinse it. Roll the garment up in a towel to absorb any additional moisture. Finally, get a fresh towel and lay the garment out on it. Reshape it to its original dimensions and allow it to air dry.
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