Does Cotton Shrink? How to Prevent Cotton from Shrinking?

Does Cotton Shrink? How to Prevent Cotton from Shrinking

Picture it—a random laundry day in 2020. You’re about to go for a morning stroll with your favorite mug filled with delicious coffee. You check the weather and determine it’s too chilly just to wear a long-sleeve tee. Not to worry, you’ve just completed a load of laundry and your favorite cozy cotton sweater just so happens to be in the dryer at that very moment. You walk to the laundry room excited to open the dryer door and pull out a clean and gently warm sweater when to your dismay, you realize that your sweater doesn’t look the same. In fact, it has shrunk significantly.

If you’ve ever wondered why certain clothing items transform from your size to a child or toy size, you are not alone, my friend. There’s no weird magic happening between your washer and dryer. The culprits for clothing shrinkage boil down to agitation, temperature, and fiber. Learn how cotton shrinks and how you can prevent it from happening. 

A Guide to Stop Cotton from Shrinking

Boasting qualities like comfortability, breathability, and versatility make it no surprise that cotton is a highly sought-after fabric. However, like other natural materials, cotton is known for shrinking when surrounded by extreme temperatures and various agitation types from washers and dryers. But, hold on, this doesn’t mean you have to accept the shrinkage of your garments; there are a few easy steps you can implement to take care care of your cotton clothing; so if you’ve been wondering how to prevent clothes from shrinking, you’ve come to the right place.

Does Cotton Shrink in the Wash and the Dryer?

Cotton shrinking is not a bad thing, more like a natural occurrence. Cotton shrinks because there is tension being applied to its yarn and fabrics during the construction of the particular garment. The heat from the washer or dryer releases the tension, which causes the material to shrink down to its original size. You’ve probably noticed that your favorite women's cotton shirts have mysteriously shrunk after your first washing, right? Did you check your washing or dryer settings, or did you add your detergent and hit wash? Your answers to these questions might reveal why your garments continue to shrink. The best option to avoid shrinkage is to wash your items by hand. If possible, make it a practice to use cold water and choose the delicate cycle option on your washing machine. Try hanging your cotton clothing on hangers to dry or a flat table surface to lay them flat to dry. If using the dryer is your only option, use the lowest heat setting possible.

How Much Does Cotton Shrink?

Shrinkage varies depending on whether the cotton items were pre-shrunk before you purchased them. This is a widespread practice for clothing manufacturers and is done with the consumer’s convenience in mind. Think about it; you don’t want to purchase a fun shirt dress that is just the right size only to have it shrink in the wash after your first wear. For the most part, care label instruction will say whether the cotton item has been pre-shrunk. If it has, you can expect shrinkage as low as 2% and as high as 5%; if it isn’t labeled, prepare yourself for additional shrinkage.

Caring for Cotton

If you are tired of feeling like you’ve poured money down the drain because your once favorite top can now fit your pet puppy, wait, don’t through in the towel just yet. Instead, be sure to read the labels on your clothing even before you decide to purchase them. Ask yourself, do you have the capacity to take a few extra steps to ensure that your garments don’t become victim to shrinkage? Can you take a few seconds and turn your washer dial from hot to cold? Can you take a few more seconds and flip your garment inside out to reduce colors from fading? These small acts can make a world of difference to your cotton fabrics. One of cotton clothing’s great benefits is that the fabric is highly washable and can be washed in a variety of temperatures. However, if you need to wash your garments in hot water, it is recommended that you pretreat stains before washing to reduce stains from setting.  

How to Prevent Cotton Clothes from Shrinking?

Whether your clothing is crafted from 100% cotton or a premium cotton blend, you should know that any clothing that contains cotton can shrink when subjected to high heat. To prevent shrinking, you should use appropriate protocols, i.e., cold water, delicate wash cycles, and low dryer settings. It’s also important that you follow label care instructions as written.

Machine Washing

A great rule of thumb: Turn your washing machine to cold water when washing cotton and use the delicate cycle. Remember, hot water will shrink your cotton garments. 

Hand-Washing Option

Submerge your cotton garment in warm water and add your detergent choice, rub the garment in-between your hands, and allow it to soak.

To rinse the item:

  1. Drain the sink and quickly refill it with cool water.
  2. Continue to gently rub and rinse the garment by hand until suds no longer form. Repeat this step as often as needed.
  3. Wring excess water out of the clothing, but be sure not to wring out your garments aggressively; this can cause significant wrinkles and will be a bear to iron out. (If you thought shrunken clothes were annoying, imagine having 1,000 tough wrinkles fighting for your attention.)
  4. Remove the excess water, and dry the garment on a clothing line. You may also choose to lay it flat to dry. 

Can You Reverse Cotton Shrinkage?

Even if you are the best care-label reader around, it’s a huge possibility that you may shrink one of your favorite garments. You know, like the favorite cardigan that you can pair with almost anything? Fortunately, all is not lost; you have a chance to claim victory over accidental shrinkage. 

If you find yourself staring at a tiny long-sleeve top, don’t get upset; there’s help for you to reverse the shrunken shirt drama. First, fully submerge your clothing item in water. Next, began to gently stretch your wet garment out on a flat, clean surface or a drying rack until you achieve your desired size. Be sure not to excessively tug at your garment, for this could cause distortions to the intended shape. 

The good news is that cotton usually only shrinks once, and then it remains that size until it’s ripped or worn out, which isn’t always a bad thing. Those types of items become a favorite go-to garment for lazy days around the house. But, if you are really looking forward to saying goodbye to cotton shrinkage, be sure to incorporate a suitable cleaning process for your cotton garments; you’ll help preserve your clothing and maintain its vibrant look. By using these tips, we feel confident that your next trip to the laundry room will be void of anxiety and full of anticipation of seeing your favorite women's t-shirtscotton cardigans button-down shirt, Christmas sweaters, and perfectly, worn-on high rise jeans in the same state that you left them before washing.


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