How to avoid shrinking clothes (10 tips)

Learn different methods you can use to prevent clothes from shrinking. Find ways to stop this shrinkage of fabric during washing, before and after it.

People who do laundry have a lot of horror stories to tell. At times what comes out of the wash is enough to give the weak-minded something like a heart attack. A shrunk piece of clothing is one such horror story.

How to wash clothes without shrinking

If possible, I never let any of the people in my house wear clothes off the rack from stores, because you do not know how many people have tried them on their body or how many chemicals are leached on to new fabric. And then after a wash, they decide to shrink even before you have worn them!!

Most of the time, Clothes shrink with no discrimination- they shrink all over. The garment shrinks one size smaller, but your body size remains the same. If only it was this easier to shrink my body. Maybe sometime in the future, someone will invent something which will shrink the human body as needed. Anyone listening —– I do not want to go to space. You must think I need to see a shrink than get a shrinking machine. 

Well, back to clothes which shrink fairly easily. Sometimes garment shrinkage is partial. Shirts end up shorter than you want them to be especially waist length tops end up showing too much skin, slacks/ jeans get uncomfortably too tight near the crotch, tall people get uncomfortably short pants, the length of the sleeve gets to be lesser than what you think is flattering, the chest straining, the lining shrinking more than the outer fabric resulting in puckers, the waist showing all the bulges you want to conceal in soft folds rather than this shrunk tight garment.

Too tight clothes are flattering only on a small percentage of people

This is more of a horror story when you have made the garment yourself. Countless hours of labour wasted – knitted, crocheted clothes, scarves etc shrink and there is no going back, mostly. You do not want the handmade scarf you have made for your dear daughter to shrink to the size of a wash cloth.

Some people go through all this and more before finding ways to tackle them. Like me.

Do-able Workarounds to keep clothes from shrinking

1. Accept the inevitable

Well, some fabrics shrink, period. Just resign yourself to some shrinkage. Some fabrics shrink more than others. Some 3% shrinkage is accepted of almost all clothing but more than that can alter the fit and may almost make it non-wearable.

Know the fabric of your garment. This is very important in preventing or stopping shrinkage.

Which clothes/fabrics shrink ?

100% Cotton, linen, cotton knits  and most natural fabrics are more susceptible to shrinkage in the wash than synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon. Animal fibers like wool, cashmere, angora, or alpaca shrink more than all other fabrics. 

I always see Cotton Denim jeans shrink just after a wash, though after wearing them they expand somewhat.  Stretch jeans shrink very less. What I have come to learn is that un-sanforized denim shrinks about 8-10% whereas sanforized denim shrinks 1-2%. So if you are buying jeans/denim fabric you know what to look for if you want to avoid shrinkage. Check out more types of denim here.

Synthetic fabrics mostly shrink in the dryer than with washing, because of the heat. Have you seen a cotton spandex clothing after a long tumble in high heat in the dryer? Try it, and you will see. If the fabric is already heat set then shrinking may be negligible. But I would not take the chance.

Check out this post that deals with the problem  – Does Polyester shrink?

Rayon is one of my favoruite fabrics for dressmaking. Most of the dresses and tops in stores are made of rayon because they drape so well on the body. But the fabric does shrink, especially if washed in hot water or tumble dried in a dryer

Shortening of the t-shirt length is a problem I see often. Cotton t-shirts are more prone to shrinkage than blends.

preventing shrinking of clothes

Accept the shrinkage reality and buy accordingly. In fact, every time I buy a cotton dress from a store I always try on a bigger size in anticipation of it shrinking somewhat. Especially for clothes which are very close fitting.

I am wary of the armhole, bust, waist and the hip area tightening. So when I try clothes in shops, if they are slightly tight there, I know it will get even tighter with washing, unless the clothing is made of pretreated or preshrunk fabric.

2. Buy good quality stuff.

Most low quality garments made of cheap fabric shrink very badly.

Pretreated fabrics like cotton are available but slightly more expensive than regular fabrics. Preshrunk fabrics are another option – they are already washed and shrunk.

keep clothes from shrinking

3. Read the care label in your garment

You will get clarity on the laundry techniques you can use with that particular garment.

“Preshrunk” is the label you should look for in the laundry care label, if you want carefree laundry. This means that the fabric of the clothing is already shrunk before it is finished. This ultimately means it maynot shrink on you.

4. Always prewash fabric before using them for sewing.

Especially cotton and knit fabric. Even if you are giving the fabric out to sew, give it a small prewashing to allow the sizing to go and finish with whatever shrinking they will eventually do.

If you sew not prewashed fabric, the finished garment will shrink on you later. Why ask for trouble. Most of the time you will be using cotton underlining for synthetic fabrics like polyester, silk blends etc. In this case the lining can shrink more than the outer fabric. It always ends up looking bad.

Prewashing yarns before crochet or knotting them into beautiful things is something all experienced craftsperson do without fail. If you have dry-clean only fabric you may want to dryclean the fabric or take your chance at hand washing. 

5. Hand wash shrinkable garments.

Delicate washing can prevent the shrinking of garments.

Machine washing and drying for a long time can add to the shrinking problem. So if you suspect that a garment may shrink in the wash, do not pop it into the machine and forget about it. Use some elbow grease and you will be rewarded. Check out this post on proper ways to hand wash clothes

6. Use cold water in the wash.

Hot water aids the shrinking of fabric. So never let it near your new clothes you fear may shrink.

Why do clothes shrink with heat?

This article in readers digest rightfully describes why clothes shrink with heat. It says polymers that make fibers are short to begin with; they are then stretched to make your clothes. With the application of heat, they are shrunk back to what size they were to begin with, which is small – resulting in your horrified silence at seeing the newly shrunk clothing.

In fact this will be indicated in the fabric care label in your clothing. “Do not use hot water.”

 Some people even try washing clothes in ice cold water or even dump some ice to the washing machine to prevent shrinkage as much as possible. Anything to keep that favourite blouse losing getting too tight.

7. Use appropriate cycle in the washing machine

 If using a washing machine, do not use a very long cycle or a strong agitation. These can also activate shrinkage.

8. Clothes almost always shrink more in the dryer.

So use that clothing line more often. Even if you have to, Do not overdry clothes in the dryer. Also, use lower heat settings as heat can result in shrinking. If possible simply avoid the heat setting in the dryer – just use the tumble setting to dry which is more “non-shrinking” than using heat.

Try to take them out as soon as they are DRY. Overdrying in the dryer can result in more shrinkage of clothes. This is especially true for denim jeans

As already said, air drying clothes, especially synthetic fabrics like spandex mixed fabric ( in fact, most clothing is a  blend nowadays) will prevent shrinkage to a great extent.

Why do clothes shrink in the dryer?

A dryer is something of a necessity for most people who do not have access to long clothing lines and open spaces. That small balcony in most apartments allows for only this much of clothing line space. But the enclosed space in the dryer with all that heat and the tumbling motion can shorten the fabric fibers.They tighten together resulting in shrinkage.

So if it is possible use a clothing line to dry to clothes.

9. Do not give up on shrink clothes.

Do laundry first aid to unshrunk clothes as soon as possible.

If you feel your favourite jeans have shortened due to shrinkage in the wash and you are tall and you need that length, stretch it as soon as it is out of the wash and it is not completely dry. This will stretch the fibers and prevent the shrinkage to a degree.

( If you never have this problem, this means you are short like me and always have to shorten the hem of the jeans – here are 6 ways to hem your jeans and shorten it properly)

Some fabrics like wool can also be stretched back into their original size even if they have shrunk a little. Cotton and knits also can be stretched back like this.  Do the stretching method when they are slightly damp.

Infact ironing clothes when slightly damp may just bring some length to the fibers and unshrink them.

10. Give for dry cleaning.

This is the laundry secret sauce to perfect looking clothing. Especially for very shrinkable 100% woolen clothes. 

If I am not wary of the chemicals used in dry cleaning or the killing cost of dry cleaning and its horrific effect on my household budget I will give my good clothes to be dry cleaned every time.They never end up shrinking.

Be sure to give to a reputable one, who knows his job. Otherwise, you will end up in hot sauce rather than my so-called secret sauce. 

Check out the post on Dry cleaning to know more about this fabric cleaning process.

Are you satisfied with the ways to avoid shrinking clothes?

Reference :;

Related posts : How to shrink a dress; How to stop color bleeding; Basic fabric care

Extra questions

Which fabrics shrink the most and which do not?

All natural fiber fabrics like cotton, linen, silk shrinks. All synthetic fiber fabrics like Nylon, Polyester, Microfiber, spandex resist shrinking. Blends shrink depending on the percentage of natural fibers in them. Rayon is a favourite dressmaking fabric today but it also shrinks. If blended fabrics with spandex/elastane fibers, shrink, it will still fit as it will stretch to accomdate your body.

Do clothes shrink more when you wash in hot, warm or cold water?

Hot water shrinks clothes more than cold water so it is better to avoid washing clothes in hot water if you do not want to shrink them

How to dry clothes without shrinking?

Avoid tumble drying in 100% dryer. If possible dry flat; especilly clothes that you do not want shrinking.

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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