Sometimes, we toss our clothes into the washer without considering its labeled instructions for cleaning. After drying, we then notice our favorite cotton clothing has shrunk two or three sizes smaller. If you’ve ever experienced this setback, you are probably wondering how to better take care of your clothing to avoid shrinking.
What Causes Cotton To Shrink?
Have you ever tried squeezing into one of your favorite cotton t-shirts after laundering and wondered if you added some extra pounds or if your clothes shrank? Cotton is one of the most commonly used fabrics in the world. However, there are issues consumers of this fabric have to deal with, and that is shrinking.
Cotton, being a natural fiber, shrinks when it is put in warm or when steamy air is released on it; therefore, the heat and friction process that happens in the dryer can cause it to shrink dramatically.
Although, it isn’t certain how much cotton would contract in the dryer. Cotton does not shrink every time you put it in the dryer instead, it shrinks the most the first time you put it in.
It shrinks as much as 3.5% when placed in the dryer or when it is spun into thread; sometimes, the fiber stretches tightly because many cloth manufacturers pre-shrink the clothes to prevent the cloth from shrinking further when placed in the washer.
Cotton fibers contract at any temperature above 85F. Also, cotton blends react differently in the dryer. For instance, a blend that contains a fair percentage of rayon could go through the dryer without shrinking much, while blends with a greater percentage of cotton will shrink just as much as 100% cotton under heat.
Does 100% Cotton Shrink?
100% cotton clothing can shrink if exposed to heat or moisture. Cotton is a plant-based fiber; it is completely water absorbent and will shrink or stretch under the slightest change in conditions.
Cotton clothes contract because of chemical tension applied during their production. It also absorbs water well and easily, and this can cause it to expand. So, you can stretch cotton when it is wet. The downside of this is that when heated, cotton shrinks because the fiber tightly drawn into threads loses some of its tension and contact, making the cloth even smaller.
Most labels advise washing the fabric in a completely cold water cycle and drying on low heat.
Note: While a 100% cotton cloth will shrink if washed the wrong way, clothing with a lower percentage of cotton will shrink less.
Tips To Avoid Shrinkage In Cotton
As stated earlier, several cotton items have been preshrunk and will shrink 3% after drying, while untreated cotton may shrink up to 20% after drying. Also, cotton shrinking in the dryer depends on several other factors, like whether the cloth contains a wrinkle-resistant coating and a tight or loose weaving of the fabric or not.
More often than not, manufacturers sell out preshrunk fabric to prevent further shrinking. You could also check out the care label inside the cloth to find out if it has been preshrunk, so you know what you are dealing with.
However, to prevent shrinkage in cotton when using a dryer, be mindful to keep the temperature below 85°F. Anything above this temperature could lead to shrinkage. Here are a few things to have in mind to prevent cotton shrinkage:
1. Always read labels to learn how to care for clothes. Consider following the guidelines for water temperature, laundry cycle type, and dryer cycle recommendations when you wash your clothes instead of dry cleaning.
2. It is recommended to use top-loading or front-loading high-efficiency washers without a center agitator because they are less damaging to clothes and will cause less shrinkage. The tumbling action of high-efficiency washers is more gentle on fabrics than agitators.
3. The most gentle method to prevent shrinkage is to let your clothes air dry; drying loosely woven fabrics or knits on a flat surface will prevent stretching.
4. Use lower heat settings on your dryer if you can’t air-dry your clothes, and take them off while slightly damp and let them air-dry. Overheating can damage fabrics.
5. Avoid wearing a piece of clothing for an extended period between washings, as it can cause the clothes to stretch. For instance, the fibers of 100 percent cotton blue jeans will get larger from consistent wearing, but regular washing will help control the stretching.
How to Dry Cotton Fabric
Over-drying your cotton fabric causes some shrinkage, so you need to know just the right way to dry your fabrics. Here is a simple drying guide for your cotton fabrics below:
Method 1: Machine Dry
You can dry your wet polyester fabrics in a machine in the dryer. However, do not leave it in the dryer for too long while at it or the fabric will shrink. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to machine dry cotton below:
Step 1: Load your dryer with your fabrics and add a dryer sheet to the load to prevent static clinging and shrinking. You can leave out the dryer sheet if you used a fabric softener in the wash.
Step 2: Close the door on the dryer and turn the knob on the control panel to the low or air-dry setting. The low setting will prevent the dryer from melting or shrinking the fibers.
Method 2: Air Drying
Air drying your cotton fabric is the safest method of drying to prevent shrinkage. Here is a step-by-step guide to follow below:
Step 1: After washing, take the wet garment and hold it over a sink. Then squeeze the fabric to let beads of water drip down the fabric, to make the air drying faster.
Step 2: Unfold the garment and hang it on a clothesline or drape it over a drying rack and put it in a shady area, away from direct sunlight.