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Why Do Clothes Shrink in the Dryer?
What causes clothes to shrink in the dryer? Learn this, how to avoid shrinking clothes, and more about laundry care by reading this guide.
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It's something we all want to know: Does the dryer shrink clothes? Along with stealing socks, this is a common occurrence for many. But why do clothes shrink in the dryer?
When clothing occasionally shrinks in the dryer, it can be really frustrating. This occurs for a variety of reasons, including the fiber content of the fabric and the amount of time it’s in the dryer.
Due to the myriad of reasons that clothes shrink, this page details the reasons to help you narrow down the reasons you might be ruining your clothes (accidentally, of course).
Unless you want to intentionally make an item of clothing smaller permanently, there are a few ways to prevent clothes from shrinking in the dryer.
Follow these tips to help your clothing fit better and last longer! You'll also find FAQs related to shrinking clothes and fabrics.
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One of the most important things you can do before starting a load of laundry is to look at the tags and determine how to wash everything. This page will help you understand symbols and terms.
>> What Do Laundry Symbols Mean?
Why Do Clothes Shrink in the Dryer? Reasons
While the dryer does a lot of the work to dry clothes, a lot of user error can be involved, too. That's why it's important to read through the reasons below for why clothes might shrink when doing laundry. This is the same for non-clothing fabrics as well.
Even if you're washing table linens, bedding, or fabric for your next sewing project, you can easily shrink them if you're not following the proper laundering techniques. But, don't fret, you are covered. After explaining the causes of clothes shrink, you'll find some answers to related questions.
Cause of Shrinking Clothes: Fiber Content
The kind of fibers in an item of clothing plays a big part in the amount of potential shrinkage in the dryer. Generally, fabrics made from natural fibers like cotton, flax (linen), and animal wool tend to shrink more than synthetics.
That being said, some synthetic materials can actually shrink, warp, or even melt when exposed to heat, so follow the care instructions on the garment or raw fabric closely.
To learn about the item you're drying, check the label. It will include the fiber content percentages and the care instructions, which may include instructions and symbols, only the instructions, or only the symbols. That's why it's important to know your laundry care symbols! Our page, What Do Laundry Symbols Mean? can help.
Cause of Shrinking Clothes: Too Much Heat Used
Drying clothes for very long periods of time or at extremely hot temperatures can also cause it to shrink. This is more likely to happen with the natural materials mentioned above.
While many fabrics can be machine-dried (especially cotton and cotton blends), some can be damaged during the process.
The tumbling motion of a dryer makes the clothing fibers rub against each other and they then tighten and shrink. The longer a dryer’s cycle is used, the more potential for this to happen.
For more help on prepping fabric before sewing, be sure to read this helpful guide full of useful information to save your next project.
>> Should You Always Wash Fabric Before Sewing? Tips for Preparing Fabric
Cause of Shrinking Clothes: The Material is Delicate
Additionally, certain fabrics are more prone to shrinking and should not be put into a dryer, even on low heat. Most kinds of wool, leather, faux fur, silk, etc. should be dry cleaned or spot cleaned and laid flat to dry.
Heavily-embellished fabrics should also not be put in a clothing dryer or they could distort. Even if washed in a machine, air drying is the best way to be sure clothing won’t shrink.
Outside of shrinking, another important factor in properly laundering clothing and other fabrics is that you should wash and dry them with similar fabrics so that there is less chance of damage.
Cause of Shrinking Clothes: Fabric Wasn’t Pre-Washed
Another reason why clothing would become much smaller in the dryer is if the fabric wasn’t pre-washed before manufacturing. Washing and drying the cloth before cutting it out and sewing it helps keep the proportions when it’s laundered as a complete garment.
Sometimes it’s hard to know if a fabric has been pre-washed, so the first time laundering a garment assume it has not been previously. Dry on a low setting that follows the care label. If you’re sewing your own clothing be sure to pre-wash and dry materials, especially cotton and cotton blends.
Find out why clothes shrink and how to keep clothes from shrinking, and you'll never throw out a shrunken t-shirt again.
>> How to Prevent Clothes From Shrinking
How to Not Shrink Clothes in the Dryer: FAQs
What causes clothes to shrink in the dryer?
An overview of this page: Clothes can shrink due to various factors including fiber content, heat, material type, pre-care, or what happens in between washings.
Do clothes shrink in the washer or dryer?
It can be both! Hot water and longer cycles with more agitation in the washer can cause clothes to shrink. Heat is also the main factor for clothes shrinking in the dryer. High heat and longer settings can cause overdrying and shrinking.
How do you prevent clothes from shrinking in the dryer?
The best way to prevent the shrinking of clothes and other fabrics is to carefully follow the care instructions, wash in cold water, and dry on a low setting for only as long as the item needs to dry.
Does cotton shrink every time you wash it?
Most manufacturers will pre-shrink cotton items, which helps to prevent additional shrinking at home. Most cotton items will only shrink once, not repeatedly with every wash.
Additional Resources for Further Reading:
- What Do Laundry Symbols Mean? - Wondering what those wash care symbols mean? This page will help you decode them.
- Should You Always Wash Fabric Before Sewing? - Is pre-washing fabric necessary when sewing? Find out with this helpful resource.
- How to Wash Lingerie Safely - Learn how to wash lingerie safely by making this mesh bag and reading the tips for using it.
- How to Clean Vintage Fabric and Clothing - Cleaning vintage clothing and fabrics can be intimidating. This page will ease your worries.
- How to Prevent Clothes From Shrinking - Learn how to keep clothes from shrinking, and you'll never throw out an ill-fitted t-shirt again.
- How to Keep Fabric From Shrinking - With this video tutorial, learn why you need to properly launder fabrics before you sew.
- How to Pre Wash Fabric Without Fraying - After reading this page, you'll get how to prepare fabric for sewing so that it doesn't fray.
- How to Stop Fraying on Fabric - Learn how to stop cut fabric from fraying and you'll have an item that looks as if it was professionally sewn.
- How to Unwrinkle Clothes - Learn how to unwrinkle clothes using everything from an iron to a tea kettle in this clever how-to.
- How to Wash Flannel Guide - Learn how to wash flannel shirts and other questions involving this popular cold-weather fabric.
About the Author:
Rebecca George is a handmade blogger and owner of the Chicago-based fashion line Purple and Lime. See her other articles on AllFreeSewing by visiting her designer profile here: Rebecca George from Purple and Lime
DIY Reusable Dryer Sheets >>
Remember these pointers to prevent your clothing from shrinking in the dryer!
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