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How To Prevent Clothes From Shrinking (8 Ways)

by Lily Morgen
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Prevent Clothes From Shrinking

It’s a frustrating moment when you pull your favorite wool sweater out of the wash only to find it’s too small to wear. Clothes with wool fabric shrinking in the wash is a common problem, but there are ways to prevent it.

Generally, you can prevent the fabric from shrinking by following these tips:

  • Wash your clothes in cold water. Hot water is more likely to cause shrinkage.
  • Avoid using the dryer. The heat from the dryer can also cause shrinking. Instead, hang your clothes to air dry.
  • Read the care label on your clothing. The care label will have specific instructions on how to wash the item without causing shrinkage. Follow those instructions closely.
  • Use a gentle cycle on your washing machine. The agitation from a heavy cycle can cause clothes to shrink.
  • Wash similar items together. Washing dissimilar items together (like heavy jeans with delicate silk) can cause the heavier items to rub against the delicate items and cause shrinkage.
  • Avoid overloading your washing machine. When clothes are too crammed in the washer, they can rub together and cause shrinkage.

What Causes Clothes To Shrink?

The main cause of clothes shrinking is the heat from the washing machine and dryer. The heat causes the fibers in the fabric to break down, resulting in shrinkage. Hot water and hot drying cycles are more likely to cause shrinkage than cold water and air drying.

Fabrics made from natural fibers like wool and cotton are more likely to shrink than synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon. This is because natural fibers are more vulnerable to the heat from washing and drying.

How To Prevent Clothes From Shrinking?

The best way to prevent clothes from shrinking is to wash them in cold water and air dry them.

1. Check Fabric Care Labels Before Put Them Into Laundry Cycle

The best way to prevent clothes from shrinking is by checking the care label. Different fabrics require different care instructions. Some fabrics, like wool, need to be washed in cold water and air dry while others, like polyester, can be washed in hot water and put in the dryer.

If you’re not sure how to wash a certain fabric, err on the side of caution and use the gentle cycle or cold water. Follow the washing instructions on the tags.

2. Use Cold Water Instead Of Hot Water

Washing your clothes in cold water instead of hot water is an easy way to prevent shrinkage. The heat from hot water can cause the fibers in your clothes to break down, resulting in shrinkage.

You can wash most items in cold water. Only use hot water for items that need to be sterilized, like baby clothes or bedding.

3. Hang Dry Your Clothes Instead Of Using The Dryer

The heat from the dryer can cause clothes to shrink. To prevent shrinkage, hang your clothes to air dry instead of using the dryer.

You can hang your clothes on a clothesline, drying rack, or hangers. If you don’t have any of these items, you can lay your clothes flat on a towel to air dry.

4. Use The Gentle Cycle On Your Washing Machine

The agitation from a heavy cycle can cause clothes to shrink. To prevent shrinkage, use the gentle cycle on your washing machine.

The gentle cycle is typically used for delicate items like lingerie and baby clothes. However, you can use it for any type of clothing to prevent shrinkage.

4. Dry On The Lowest Heat Setting

If you must use the dryer, set it to the lowest heat setting. The less heat your clothes are exposed to, the less likely they are to shrink.

5. Remove Clothes From The Dryer Promptly

Once your clothes are done drying, remove them from the dryer promptly. Leaving them in the dryer for too long can cause them to wrinkle and shrink.

6. Wash by Hand

Washing your clothes by hand is the best way to prevent shrinkage. The heat from the washing machine and dryer can cause clothes to shrink, but handwashing them in cold water will not.

7. Wash Similar Items Together

When washing items that are not similar to one another (such as heavy jeans with delicate silk), the heavier items may rub against the delicate items and shrink. You can wash similar items together to avoid this.

For example, you can wash all your dark clothes together and all your light clothes together. Or you can wash all your synthetic fabrics together and all your natural fibers together.

8. Avoid Overloading Your Washing Machine

When clothes are too crammed in the washer, they can rub together and cause shrinkage. To prevent this, avoid overloading your washing machine.

You should only fill your washing machine halfway or two-thirds full. This will give your clothes enough room to move around and prevent them from shrinking.

Can You Reverse Shrinking Wool Clothes?

Yes, maybe you can. You can stretch wool clothes back to their original size by hand. First, wet the wool garment in cold water. Then, stretch it out to its original shape and size. However, the stretch may damage the fibers. 

Then allow it to air dry. The wool will shrink back to its original size when it dries.  By doing so, the fibers will be made looser and the clothing will become larger.

If you don’t want to wet your wool garment, you can steam it instead. Hang the garment on a clothesline or drying rack and use a steamer to steam the wrinkles out. Once the wool is dry, it will be its original size.

Final Thought

There are 8 ways to prevent your clothes shrink while washing. If you accidentally shrink a wool garment, you may be able to reverse the process by soaking it in cold water and attempt to stretch the garment to its original size but this could damage the fibers.

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