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How to Prevent Clothes From Shrinking

How many times have you managed to accidentally shrink your favourite sweater in the wash? We’ve all done it: we separate our laundry haphazardly, don’t pay too much attention to what we are doing, and throw an item into the wrong pile. When it comes out of the washer much smaller than it used to be, we have no one but our absentmindedness to blame. 

While you are practically bound to shrink at least one other item over the rest of your lifetime, here is what you can do on a regular basis to prevent clothes from shrinking in the washer and dryer.

How to Prevent Clothes from Shrinking

To prevent your clothes from shrinking, always check their laundry symbols before washing or drying them, wash them in cold water and use the lowest heat when tumble drying. 

This does not guarantee an item won’t shrink, and you may still need to wash certain items by hand, or take them to be dry cleaned to be on the absolute safe side. 

Check Laundry Symbols Before Making a Purchase 

Before you buy a clothing item, read the laundry symbols on its label, and consider if you will be able to care for it. You may want to skip items that require special care, if you normally can’t be bothered to remember which item needs extra attention. 

Checking the labels before you put an item in the washer or dryer can also ensure you don’t accidentally chunk it in with the wrong pile. After a while, you’ll most likely remember how each item you own needs to be washed and dried. 

Separate Your Laundry Religiously 

Something as simple as investing in a couple of different laundry baskets can prevent you from shrinking your clothes in the wash. 

Clearly label each basket, and have the presence of mind to check your piles before you turn the washer on. This trick will also help you stay on top of your laundry in general, not only take care of your clothes better. 

Wash Items That are Likely to Shrink by Hand 

Clothing made out of natural materials is more likely to shrink, so washing it by hand may help you avoid this unpleasantness. Use a gentle laundry detergent and wash your more delicate items in the sink or tub. Press the water out of them (as opposed to wringing it out), and carefully lay them out to dry. 

Wash Clothes in Cold Water 

There is no guarantee that washing a garment in cold water will prevent it from shrinking in the washer. However, cold or warm water will always do a better job than a hot wash cycle, so aim for the lowest temperature your washing machine offers when washing items that are more likely to shrink. 

Use a Delicate Washing Cycle 

A delicate washing cycle is also less likely to shrink your clothes, so try using it for more than just the items that are normally considered delicate, like your underwear. Expect them to be less wrung out though, and make sure you have a flat space prepared for them to dry. 

Use a Front-Load Washing Machine 

Front-loading washing machines are also less likely to cause shrinking, as they don’t have a central agitator like top-loading washing machines. High-efficiency washers also tend to be more gentle than standard ones, as they apply less force to the items being washed. 

If you’re not in the market for a new washing machine though, just make sure you get your cycles and temperatures right for each load. 

Air Dry Your Clothes 

Tumble dryers are also liable to shrink your clothes, so if you can, try to air dry all of your items. If you are in a hurry, at least do your best not to whack any natural fibres in the dryer, as you may not be satisfied with the result. 

Any items that are also liable to stretch, like woven or knit jumpers, should always be dried flat too, as you don’t want to end up with a garment that is a bit bigger than you bargained for at all the wrong places. 

Use the Lowest Heat on Your Tumble Dryer 

If you absolutely have to dry your clothes in a tumble dryer, at least use the lowest heat setting, and try to finish by air drying, as the high heat is liable to shrink all kinds of fibres. 

Even if you have previously had good results when drying an item, the amount of clothing and the combined consistency of the materials can impact how an item is dried, so err on the side of caution, and don’t use too high a heat. 

Choose the Tumble Setting on Your Dryer 

Your tumble dryer most likely comes with a tumble setting, which uses motion instead of heat to dry your clothes. This will help prevent any damage that can lead to shrinkage. 

It may be tempting to turn the heat up as well, so rather aim to organise your washing and drying better, than to whack up the heat. 

Take Your Clothes to the Dry Cleaner 

Items made out of wool, cashmere or mohair should ideally be dry cleaned. The agitation caused by both washing and drying them in an at-home setting will more likely than not cause them to shrink, so if you have invested in this quality item, invest a bit more, and make sure it lasts as long as possible. 

Why Do Clothes Shrink? 

When clothing is made, its fibres are pulled and twisted in all kinds of ways. Washing and drying fabrics like cotton and linen, and even some synthetic fabrics too harshly will cause these fibres to tighten further, and eventually shrink the item. 

Cotton items are especially liable to shrink in the first wash. When these items are made, a lot of tension is applied to each strand of fabric. The heat from the washer and dryer will release this tension, and the garment will return to what is actually its natural size. 

How to Unshrink Clothes

There is a way to unshrink clothes if you have accidentally shrunk them in the laundry. 

All you have to do is fill a tub with gentle shampoo or soap, and soak your item for 30 minutes. Then gently squeeze the water out, and lay the garment on a dry towel. Gently stretch it out back to its previous size, and let it air dry. 

Wrapping It Up 

We’ve all managed to shrink an item or two in the laundry. If you’re hoping not to repeat the experience, make sure you stick to these tips, and your future cycles should come out in great condition. 


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