Do Clothes Shrink in the Washer or Dryer? Here’s The Truth!

Do Clothes Shrink in the Washer or Dryer? We’ve all experienced that moment of panic when our favourite sweater or perfectly fitting jeans emerge from the laundry room looking like they’ve been borrowed from a doll.

It’s shrunk! But the culprit? The washer? The dryer?

I’ll explore the factors influencing shrinkage, debunk common myths, and offer practical tips to help you maintain the size and shape of your clothes.

Clothes can shrink in both the washer and the dryer, but the reasons differ slightly. In the washer, clothes may shrink due to agitation and high temperatures, especially when washing fabrics like cotton, linen, or wool too vigorously, causing the fibres to tighten and the garment to shrink. Hot water washing cycles can also contribute to shrinkage. In the dryer, high-heat settings can also damage the fabric and cause shrinkage.

Remember, natural fibers like cotton, wool, and linen are more prone to shrinkage, requiring extra care during laundry.

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Understanding the Science Behind Clothes Shrinking: Does it Happen in the Dryer or Washer?

Do Clothes Shrink in the Washer or Dryer

1. Understanding Fabric Shrinkage

  • Yes, Clothes Can Shrink: Fabric shrinkage occurs due to changes in the molecular structure of fibers. High temperatures, mechanical stress, and moisture play a significant role.
  • Fabric Tightening: Imagine your fabric as a network of interconnected threads. When exposed to heat or water, these threads contract, causing the material to tighten. Voilà—shrinkage!

2. The Role of Heat and Agitation: Explaining the Shrinkage Process


  • Washer’s Heat: During the wash cycle, hot water can cause fibers to relax and contract. Cotton, wool, and other natural fibers are particularly susceptible.
  • Dryer’s Heat: The real shrinkage culprit! The dryer’s high temperatures amplify the process. The heat breaks down hydrogen bonds in the fabric, leading to irreversible shrinkage.


  • Washer’s Agitation: Aggressive spinning and tumbling in the washer stretch fibres. When they snap back, they’re shorter—hello, shrunken clothes!
  • Dryer’s Agitation: The constant tossing and turning in the dryer further compacts the fabric. It’s like a mini wrestling match for your T-shirts.

So, it’s not just the dryer or the washer alone – the combination of these forces can wreak havoc on your clothes.

3. Dryer vs. Washer: Which Machine is More Likely to Cause Shrinkage?

  • Heat Intensity: The dryer wins hands down. Its intense heat accelerates shrinkage. If you want to play it safe, air-dry your delicate items.
  • Air Circulation: The hot dryer circulates the clothes, ensuring uniform shrinkage. The washer, on the other hand, is gentler but less consistent.

However, it’s important to remember that both machines can contribute, and the specific culprit depends on the type of fabric and the washing/drying settings used.

4. Tips to Prevent Clothes from Shrinking: Best Practices for Garment Care

  1. Always Check the Care Label:
    • The care label inside your garment holds valuable instructions. It’s like the secret code to preserving your clothes. Pay attention to symbols and written instructions.
    • Different fabrics have different needs. Some are more susceptible to shrinkage than others. By following the care label, you’ll avoid unnecessary surprises.
  1. Wash in Cold Water:
    • Cold water is your shrinkage-fighting ally. It’s gentle on fabrics and helps preserve their size.
    • Opt for a gentle wash cycle to minimize stress on the fibers. Remember, hot water is the enemy of non-shrinking clothes.
  1. Air Dry When Possible:
    • Instead of using your dryer, consider air drying your clothes. It’s a fresh, natural alternative that prevents shrinkage.
    • Hang your clothes or lay them flat to dry. Your garments will thank you.
  1. Handle Delicate Fabrics with Care:
    • Delicate fabrics like wool, silk, and linen require special attention. Hand-wash them or use the gentlest cycle on your washing machine.
    • Iron your clothes before they’re completely dry. This relaxes the fibers and prevents them from contracting.
  1. Avoid High-Heat Drying:
    • The dryer’s intense heat is a shrinkage accelerator. If you must use it, choose low heat settings.
    • Remember, their tightly woven structure makes nylon, polyester, and spandex less likely to shrink.

5. The Truth About Fabric Types and Their Susceptibility to Shrinking

Not all fabrics are created equal when it comes to shrinkage. Here’s a breakdown of some common fabrics and their shrinking tendencies:

  • Natural Fibers:
    • Cotton: A wardrobe staple but also a champion shrinker. Cotton fibres relax easily with heat, so avoid hot water washing and high-heat drying.
    • Linen: Like cotton, linen is prone to shrinkage with hot water and high heat. However, it can soften beautifully with gentle washing and air drying.
    • Wool: This luxurious fabric requires special care. Hot water and agitation can cause wool to shrink. However, opt for cold water handwashing or gentle cycles with wool-specific detergents.
  • Synthetic Fabrics:
    • Polyester: Generally, less prone to shrinkage than natural fibers, but high heat drying can still cause it to shrink. Stick to low heat or air drying.
    • Nylon: Like polyester, nylon can shrink in the dryer due to heat. However, it’s known for its wrinkle resistance and durability.
  • Blends:
    • Cotton/Polyester Blends: These can shrink depending on the cotton percentage. Always check the care label and prioritize cool water washing and low heat drying.
    • Synthetic Blends: Blends with rayon or viscose can shrink similarly to natural fibers. Read the care label carefully and prioritize gentle washing methods.

Pro Tip: The best way to ensure minimal shrinkage is to always check the care label on your garment for specific washing and drying instructions.

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How to reverse shrinking clothes

1. Soak and Relax:

  • Lukewarm Water and Conditioner: Fill your sink with lukewarm water and add a tablespoon of baby shampoo or hair conditioner. This gentle concoction works wonders for woven fabrics like cotton and wool.
  • Submerge and Soak: Completely immerse your shrunken garment in the water. Let it soak for at least 30 minutes to allow the fabric to soften up.

2. Squeeze and Roll:

  • Remove Excess Water: After soaking, gently squeeze the garment to remove excess water. Avoid wringing it out vigorously.
  • Roll It Up: Lay the damp garment on a large towel and roll it up. This helps remove more water while maintaining its shape.

3. Gentle Stretching:

  • By Hand: Gently stretch the fabric by hand. Imagine coaxing it back to its original dimensions. Be patient and take your time.
  • Weigh It Down: Place a weight (such as a heavy book) on the stretched garment to help it maintain its shape.

4. Air-Dry:

  • Original Shape: Lay your clothes flat and let them air-dry back into their original form. The sun’s gentle rays can work their magic.
  • Caution for Tight Weaves: Remember that fabrics with tighter weaves (like silk, rayon, or polyester) may not reshape as easily.

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Conclusion: Understanding How to Preserve Your Clothes and Avoid Unwanted Shrinkage Effectively

By gaining insights into the science behind clothes shrinking and following proper garment care practices, you can effectively preserve your clothes and minimize the risk of unwanted shrinkage.

Remember to consider the impact of heat and agitation, sort your laundry by fabric type, and use cold water and gentle cycles when washing.

With these tips, you can enjoy well-maintained clothes that retain their original size and shape.

Understanding the factors contributing to clothes shrinking empowers you to make informed decisions during your laundry routine.

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