How to Prevent Clothes from Shrinking

It takes me a while to curate the perfect wardrobe. I spend hours browsing my favorite stores and looking out for sales and limited offers to get the best clothes. Oh, the horror when I launder these clothes and realize they are a few sizes too small after! I’ve had to learn a few tricks other than donating the clothes.

Laundry shrinkage is largely preventable by making a few adjustments to your laundry practices.

Why Do Clothes Shrink?

The conditions that cause clothes to shrink are a combination of the following settings:

  • High heat
  • Water
  • Agitation
  • Manufacturing practices

When clothes bounce around in the washing machine, the stress on them is so much that the fibers start to constrict. The level of constriction depends on these factors: the time the clothes spend in the washing machine, the amount of heat, and the type of fabric.

The absorbency of the clothes fiber also contributes to the shrinking problem because fibers stretch out when they absorb water and constrict to a size smaller than the original when exposed to intense heat.

During the clothes manufacturing process, the type of fibers used and the weaving technique play a heavy role in how the clothes will behave, including how much they will shrink.

Natural fabrics like cotton or wool, especially when they have loose weaves, shrink the most during washing, and some manufacturers take precautions to combat this problem.

How to Stop Clothes from Shrinking

Preventing clothes shrinkage is simply adjusting your laundry practices to account for shrinking.

Sometimes, clothes will shrink regardless of any precautionary method. In this case, you want to reduce the shrinkage.

Tip 1: Read the Care Label

clothing care label

Every clothing item has a care label with the necessary information and care instructions.

Some of the information on a care label is:

  • Fabric type: whether it is cotton, wool, polyester, etc.
  • The washing instruction: if it is machine washable, hand wash or dry clean only.
  • The recommended wash cycle: which wash cycle will the clothes need in the washing machine?
  • The heat level: whether you wash and dry the clothes in a cold, warm, or hot setting.
  • Laundry additive: what type of detergent to use and if bleach and fabric softeners are suitable for the clothes.

The care label will inform you if the clothes manufacturers pre-shrunk the fabric. Pre-shrunken clothes hardly shrink in the washing machine.

Tip 2: Sort the Clothes

Many people only think about color when they are sorting clothes for washing. But, each fabric type has a unique washing procedure, and mixing fabrics can result in a situation where some clothes shrink while others don’t.

Before washing your clothes, use the guidance of the care label to sort them into similar fabric or washing procedures. For example, put cotton clothes in a pile and polyester in a separate load.

Tip 3: Use Cold Water

If you don’t do anything else to prevent shrinking, use cold water to wash your clothes because they hardly shrink in cold water.

Water, in general, can shrink clothes, but there will be a significantly lesser shrinkage compared to washing in hot water.

Most people use hot water to wash their clothes because it is better for removing stains and debris. However, detergent companies have introduced new technologies to clean clothes well with cold water.

Refer to your clothes care label for instructions about the water temperature, but it is advisable to use cold water even if it allows higher temperature.

A bonus of using cold water when washing your clothes is the reprieve your utility bill will experience.

Tip 4: Choose the Correct Wash Cycle

wash cycle

Washers have preset wash cycles with different spin speeds and wash times; these are factors to consider when you want to prevent your clothes from shrinking.

The most suitable wash cycle for preventing shrinkage is “gentle/delicate.” This wash cycle uses slow spin speeds and a shorter wash period. There is no intense agitation with the “delicate” wash cycle, so the clothes will not bounce around as much.

Although it will not eliminate shrinking, it will lessen the effects.

Tip 5: Consider the Type of Washing Machine

You should also take note of the type of washing machine you use to wash your clothes. High-efficiency front-loading washers are better at preventing shrinkage because it uses less water, and there is no center agitation putting more stress on the clothes.

High-efficiency top-loader without center agitation is an alternative for preventing shrinkage, but not a better one.

If you don’t have access to this washing machine, a trip to the laundromat will serve you well.

Tip 6: Don’t Leave Wet Clothes in the Washing Machine

Remove the clothes from the washing machine immediately after the washing ends.

When clothes fibers absorb water in the washing machine, it stretches out. You need to remove the water from the clothes quickly to avoid the damaging constriction that follows the massive stretching.

Leaving the clothes wet in a squeezed state will cause the fibers to constrict faster and take the shape of the current condition of the clothes.

Tip 7: Select the Correct Dryer Settings

dryer settings

As stated previously, high heat can cause the clothes to shrink to a smaller size. There is no time to take precautions surrounding heat than when your clothes are in the dryer.

When drying the clothes, they return to their previous size before the expansion of the fibers due to water absorption. Be careful so that they don’t shrink terribly.

Choose the “tumble” setting because it has little movement and agitation. Also, select the lowest heat settings to eliminate the biggest culprit in shrinkage.

Another thing to consider when your clothes are in the dryer is the drying time. Dry the clothes for 15 or 20 minutes before you remove them to prevent overdrying and shrinkage.

If possible, remove the clothes when they are damp and air-dry them.

Tip 8: Air-Dry your Clothes

If you don’t want to risk the potential shrinkage that occurs from placing your clothes in the dryer, let them air-dry.

Hang your clothes on a drying rack in a well-ventilated room, but don’t squeeze or flap them. Place the drying rack near a fan or dehumidifier to speed up the process.

People with space outside can spread their clothes on a clothesline. However, avoid the heat of direct sunlight and spread your clothes in a shaded area; the gentle breeze should be sufficient to speed up the drying process.

Lay clothes with loose fibers flat to dry because hanging them will cause stretching.

Tip 9: Try Hand Washing the Clothes

Hand washing your clothes is the most suitable alternative to machine washing if you want to prevent shrinkage.

Follow the same precautions in this list like; following the instructions on the care label, sorting the clothes into different fabrics, and using cold water to wash the loads.

Hand washing makes you control the agitation level and use gentle movements to prevent shrinkage.

Avoid squeezing or wringing the clothes, but gently press them to remove excess water. Air-dry the clothes immediately after washing.

Tip 10: Contract Dry Cleaning Services

Sometimes, you need professional assistance. Using a reliable dry cleaning service is the ultimate way to guarantee your clothes will not suffer shrinkage.

Also, a dry cleaning service is better for some fabrics that are hard to wash, like wool, suede, cashmere, etc.

There is no reason to risk damaging your clothes if you can manage the cost of a dry cleaner.

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