Despite how common this problem is, not everyone knows the correct methods on how to wash clothes so they don’t shrink.
There is nothing more heartbroken than seeing your beautiful pieces of clothing gets shrunk. I once accidentally put a wool sweater in the dryer. When it came out, it was so small that it could fit a 5-year-old kid!
You can prevent this easily if you are aware of the proper ways to avoid shrinkage. After reading this article, you will have the techniques you need to wash and take care of your clothes.
A Scientific Explanation On Why Clothes Shrink
Some clothes shrink from washing and drying, and some clothes don’t. It mainly depends on the materials of your clothes.
For synthetic clothes, their fibers are strings of petroleum-based chemical chains (1) . The heat from the washing machine and dryer simply is not hot enough for these fibers to change their molecular structure. So they don’t shrink when you wash or dry them.
But other materials, such as cotton or wool, contain natural fibers. This means they are made from the bodies of plants or animals (2).
Plant-based or animal-based materials like these are naturally curly and tangled. When people weave them into fabrics, they pull and stretch them out to make them straight. Once they interact with the heat and mechanical energy from the machines, they will shrink.
Check this out to find out why clothes shrink when you wash them!
Types Of Shrinkage In Clothes
Before learning about the proper ways to wash your clothes, let’s get to know 3 typical causes of shrinkage: felting, relaxation, and consolidation. Understanding which sort of shrinkage is affecting your pieces of clothing might be helpful in the washing process.
1. Felting Shrinkage
This type of shrinkage usually happens in clothes made of animal hair fibers such as wool or mohair. These materials may compress and mesh together when exposed to moisture and extreme heat.
Animal hair fiber shrinks a little bit each time it is washed. This form of shrinkage is commonly referred to as progressive shrinkage.
2. Relaxation Shrinkage
This occurs when an absorbent fabric (such as cotton, silk, or linen) is exposed to liquids or excessive moisture. When the fibers of these fabrics are exposed to water, they absorb it completely and decrease in size.
Relaxation shrinkage affects less than 1% of the overall garment size and has little impact on the fit of a garment.
3. Consolidation Shrinkage
Consolidation shrinkage happens due to moisture, heat, and mechanical activity. These factors release any tugging or stress of the fabric from the garment’s manufacture. This will return the fibers to their natural condition (which is smaller).
The Best Way To Wash Clothes So They Don’t Shrink
If you don’t want to see your favorite clothes shrink every time you wash them, there are several things you need to remember. Follow this step-by-step tutorial to find out the best way to clean and maintain your garments.
1. Read The Labels
The labels on your clothes are there for a reason. Different garments have different instructions for washing and drying. So always read the labels carefully to avoid ruining your favorite pieces of clothing.
2. Sort Your Clothes
Before putting your laundry in the washing machine, you must always separate them into different groups.
Most of the time, people will only separate whites and colors. But this sorting method is not suitable when dealing with shrinkage in clothes.
Instead, I recommend separating them into 3 groups: Cotton, synthetic and delicate. And then sort out the whites and colors from those groups.
3. Use Cold Water
To minimize shrinkage, you should always choose the coldest water setting on your washing machine. Using cold water can prevent the garments from shirking, prolong the lifespan of your clothes, and save electricity! So it is beneficial for your wallet AND the environment.
However, if you want to remove stains or foul odors from your clothes, you still need to choose hot water.
4. Select The Lowest Spin Speed
The lower the spin speed, the more gentle it will be. Clothes made from cotton or tough fabric can withstand higher spin speed, but you should still pick this setting. It will help your clothes maintain their original shape and size.
To make things easier, just choose the preset “delicate” on your machine. The machine will automatically select the cold water and low spin speed setting for you.
5. Air-Dry Your Clothes
When the washer finishes its cycle, the best option is to dry the clothes outdoors. Hang your clothes to dry under the sun. Avoid hanging delicate clothes under direct sunlight since this can also shrink your garments.
If this option is not available, simply hang them on drying racks indoors until they are completely dried.
Let’s sum up this section with a lively demonstration!
More Tips On Washing Clothes To Prevent Shrinkage
Besides the steps I mentioned above, keep in mind these extra tips to avoid shrinkage in clothes.
1. Use Liquid Detergent
To minimize shrinkage, we must use cold water. However, powder detergent doesn’t dissolve well in cold water. Sometimes it will leave residues on your clothes, leading to detergent stains. So to be safe, switch to liquid laundry detergent.
2. Pick The Lowest Heat Setting On Your Dryer
If you prefer using the tumble dryer, there are several things you need to remember. Only use the lowest heat setting on the machine. Or you can pick the air-dry option on the dryer (if it’s available). It will take longer for your clothes to dry, but it is much safer.
Remove the laundry immediately after drying. You can also get the clothes out while they are still damp and hang them on a drying rack.
3. Hand Wash Your Clothes If You Can
Handwashing is by far the best way to maintain the shape of your clothes. If you are handling clothes with delicate fabrics or non-washable items, grab some detergent and hand wash your garments. It is more time-consuming, but the ending result will be worth it.
How To “Unshrink” Your Clothes
Can you undo the shrinking? Well, yes, you can! Learn how to salvage your clothes with these simple tricks and save them from ending up in the rag bag.
1. Using Baby Shampoo
This is by far the easiest method to unshrink your clothes. Follow the steps below and return your clothes to their original form.
Step 1: Soak It
Fill a bucket with warm water and pour a capful of baby shampoo into it. You can replace baby shampoo with some hair conditioner or laundry detergent for delicate clothes. Leave your clothes in the mixture for at least 15 minutes.
Step 2: Stretch It
Squeeze out the water from your clothes. No need to rinse it, you want to keep the baby shampoo in there.
Lay the clothes flat on a towel to absorb excess moisture. Then, gently stretch your garment when it is still wet. Keep pulling until you are happy with the result.
Step 3: Dry It
Let it sit on the towel until they are completely dry. Once done, try on your clothes again to see if it fits. Repeat the steps if necessary.
Learn more about unshrinking your clothes with this!
2. Using A Clothes Iron
If you don’t have any baby shampoo or hair conditioner, check out this clothes iron method and give it a try.
Step 1: Steam It
First, turn the garment inside out and lay it on the ironing board.
Turn on the iron’s steam setting and lightly hover over the clothes (don’t let it touch the fabric). The hot steam will enter the fibers and relax them, making it easy for you to reshape.
Step 2: Stretch It
Just like before, gently stretch the clothes when it is still warm. Keep doing so until the fabric cools down. And just like that, your clothes can fit you again.
Unfortunately, this method won’t unshrink your clothes permanently. The clothes will probably shrink right back the next time you wash them in the washing machine.
3. Using Borax (Or Vinegar)
This method is excellent for delicate materials such as wool or cashmere. It works on cotton as well, but you won’t have much luck treating synthetics with it.
Step 1: Soak It
Fill your sink with about 1 liter of lukewarm water and add 1 tablespoon of borax to it. If you don’t have borax, add half a liter of white vinegar instead. Both borax and vinegar can relax the fibers of your fabric.
Soak your clothes in the mixture and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. Make sure that it is fully submerged.
Step 2: Stretch It
After 30 minutes, keep the clothes underwater and start stretching it. Afterward, let it soak for another 5 minutes.
Step 3: Stuff It With Towels
Gently squeeze out as much water as you can, but don’t rinse it. Grab some towels, roll them up, and stuff them between the layers of your clothes. Using more than 1 towel will make this process easier.
Try to position the towels well to help shape the garment back to its original size. Make sure that it is flat and smooth. Let it sit for 30 minutes or until it is no longer damp.
Step 4: Dry It
Hang your clothes to dry completely. Try to avoid direct heat and sunlight. Alternatively, you can lay it on a dry towel if the material of your clothes is delicate.
Repeat the steps if necessary until you are happy with the results.
Still have some concerns? Check out these FAQs for more information regarding this topic. If you have questions of your own, feel free to comment them down below.
Be Mindful Whenever You Wash Clothes!
It is hard enough to find a piece of clothing that you love, but it is even harder to keep it in tip-top shape. However, with all the information I shared in this article, I hope you now know the best way to wash clothes so they don’t shrink.
Remember to like and share this post if you find it helpful. Thank you, and have a great day!
- Wikipedia, 2022. Synthetic fiber
- Wikipedia, 2022. Natural fiber