Why Do Clothes Shrink in the Dryer?


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.

Why Do Clothes Shrink in the Dryer

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.

Join Our Sewing It Up Newsletter For More >>

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.

Learn how to not shrink clothes in dryer. Image shows a few pieces of clothing in a dryer.

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.

Learn laundry care symbols. Image shows clothing tags that show washing and drying instructions.

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.

Clothes shrink in dryer at times when the heat is too high or the materials get damaged. Image shows two white shirts layered and the one on top has been shrunk.

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.

Wash fabrics with like fabrics and colors. Image shows a mix of clothing items in a dryer.

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.

​​​​​​​You never know when a manufacturer has pre-washed the clothing you purchase. Image shows a piece of clothing in a dryer.

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:

P.S. Pin This Guide on Pinterest!

Why Do Clothes Shrink in the Dryer? pin

Want More?

DIY Reusable Dryer Sheets >>

Remember these pointers to prevent your clothing from shrinking in the dryer!
What other tips do you want to know?

Your Recently Viewed Projects

Leave a Comment


Cancel Reply to Comment

Thanks for your comment. Don't forget to share!


Report Inappropriate Comment

Are you sure you would like to report this comment? It will be flagged for our moderators to take action.

Thank you for taking the time to improve the content on our site.

Close Window