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How to Prevent Clothes from Shrinking

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There’s nothing worse than falling in love with a piece of clothing, only to have it shrink up into something entirely unwearable. Thankfully, there are ways to keep clothes clean and comfortable while still maintaining their original size. Read on to learn what makes clothes shrink in the first place, and discover our best tips on how to prevent it from happening to you.

preparing wash cycle

Why Clothes Shrink

The fibers in your garment generally start out on the shorter end and then get purposefully stretched out during the production process. This is done to help the fabric fit to particular patterns and, in turn, drape over the body a certain way. Shrinkage is what happens when the fibers change in length by either expanding or contracting.

The process of shrinkage can occur from wearing, washing or drying. Generally, it’s the combination of heat, moisture and agitation (like washing and drying) that causes your clothing to shrink. The fibers in your clothing absorb water during washing and then the heat from either the washing or drying cycle causes them to shorten, tightening back up to what they were before they were stretched out during production. This is what makes your clothes look tiny, or shrunken, when you take them out of the machine.

Stopping the Shrink
Shrinking doesn’t necessarily occur consistently across the garment, which can be quite a nuisance as this means it’ll affect how it fits you. Instead of a sweater feeling tight all over, you might get puckering or pulling in certain areas, but not others. This inconsistency in shape and fit is why it’s so difficult to stretch a shrunken item back to its original state, and why it’s best to avoid shrinking from happening in the first place. Here’s how to do that.

Person reading clothing label

Read the Labels Carefully

Natural fibers (like cotton, silk or wool) absorb water better, so they’re more likely to shrink. Synthetic fibers (like nylon, polyester and acrylic) don’t absorb as much water, so they’re less likely to shrink. Garments labeled as “pre-shrunk” have purposefully already undergone shrinkage and are less prone to accidental shrinking later on. Before you put anything into the washer or dryer, be sure to check its material composition and the care instructions for specific requirements or warnings. 

Stick to the Low Heat Settings

When clothing prone to shrinkage encounters a moist, high heat environment, it’s very likely you’ll have a problem. Remember that exposure to heat is what causes the fibers in clothing to contract back and shorten to their original length. Use high heat or heavy-duty settings on the wash only once you’ve confirmed it’s safe for your item and when it’s absolutely necessary for sanitary purposes. And always try to use the lowest dryer setting that you’re able to.

Use a Drying Rack on Delicates if Necessary

Handle sweaters or other delicate items made of natural materials with extra care during washing and drying. Protect items by washing them in a mesh bag and run the cycle on the coolest, most delicate setting possible. If your dryer settings are limited, you may also prefer to use a flat drying rack to preserve the shape and size of your garment. Never hang wet sweaters on hangers or a clothesline to dry, as that will also cause distortion.

Invest in a Quality Washer/Dryer

A washing machine and dryer that offer you a variety of settings can help ensure that you can care for your clothing properly. Whether you opt for a top load washer, a front loading washer or a washer and dryer combo, look for brands and styles that allow you to select from cold and/or gentle cycles, as well as several options for spin speeds. For dryers and washer and dryer combo options specifically, look for models that offer low heat or air dry settings to help save you the time and effort of using a drying rack.

Find Fabrics and Appliances That Work for You

With a little bit of research and delicate handling, it’s certainly possible to prevent your clothes from shrinking in the wash. Thankfully, with so many options for both types of clothing and ways to care for them, you’re able to choose fabrics and appliances that work best for you and your wardrobe.

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