It’s true that flannel is prone to shrinkage, but it’s equally true that the material will hold up well if you treat it properly. That applies to everything from the trusty flannel shirts you wear in the fall to the cozy sheets you break out when temperatures take a nosedive in the winter.
Given that it’s so soft and comforting, flannel is worth the extra love and care you give it to maintain its texture, fit and appearance through the years. Here’s what you need to know to make sure the material looks and feels its best–all without shrinking in the process.
The only reason flannel may shrink is if you wash it in hot water and dry it on a high heat setting. In other words, avoid excessive heat at all costs–it’s the saving grace that will protect the integrity of your cozy flannel pajamas and prevent them from losing their color or their shape.
Instead, wash them in either cool or warm water. Always opt for the gentle cycle; anything stronger could cause too much friction, which could result in unsightly loose fibers that take away from the garment’s comfort and lead to pilling. You might even prefer to hand wash and air dry your flannel pieces if you want to avoid any type of disturbance to the fabric.
Next, consider your detergent of choice. It’s easy to grab the nearest bottle of whatever you might use regularly, but flannel holds up best when it’s washed in soap that is mild and gentle. Inclusions like phosphates, chlorine, and enzymes can all take their toll on the fabric and cause it to lose both its depth of color and its soft hand.
Although it’s tempting to add fabric softener to the load, try to avoid this. The chemicals in the liquid will create an invisible barrier on the fabric that actually suffocates the fibers as it builds up, essentially starving them of air and preventing them from holding their shape. You might notice that they become stiffer and more brittle over time. If you’re concerned about the soft texture, add a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle. This will protect the material’s appearance and leave it softer.
Disasters often happen in the dryer, a dark hole where once-comfortable women’s sweaters magically become two sizes too small and flannel sheets lose valuable inches on all sides. You can avoid those kinds of travesties by being mindful of the material’s needs.
Because flannel is innately thick, full and luxurious to the touch, it requires special handling in the dryer. The sad truth is that heat can cause even pre-shrunk flannel to shrink down further, and while most products are generously cut to accommodate for any loss, it’s still a good idea to practice best drying habits.
Since the most reliable and softest flannel sheets and garments are typically made of sinfully soft cotton, you should exercise great care when drying them. Use the lowest heat setting, and remove the item as soon as the cycle ends. That will prevent wrinkling and minimize the time spent in the heat. To avoid the potential of shrinkage altogether, you can simply air dry your flannel instead. Just wring out the water and lay it flat in its natural position. That will help it retain its shape without losing even an inch of its size.
Wrinkles can detract from the beauty of your flannel robes tops and pajamas. But can you put a hot iron on the material and expect it not to suffer in some way? To be safe, turn the garment inside out and iron that side, spraying it lightly with water as you go to smooth out any creases. That will help the piece stay fresh and lend it a smooth finish. Make sure to inspect the garment periodically while you’re working. Less is more when heat on flannel is concerned; you don’t want to burn the material or change its appearance in any way.
If you love your flannel–and who doesn’t?–it’s smart to have a few extras on hand so that you don’t have to repeatedly wash and dry the same items frequently. For example, you could grab a couple of sheet sets in your favorite colors so that you always have something cozy on hand when one is in the wash. A few spare flannel button-down shirts are always essential to any wardrobe.