Why do clothes shrink in the dryer? University Study Explains

One of the most frustrating things that can happen to you after cleaning your clothes in a dryer is finding out that they no longer fit.

Unfortunately, you have to use a dryer for your day-to-day cleaning and hygiene. For many people, the reason behind the shrinking of their clothes remains a mystery, and they play Russian roulette with their clothes every time they put them in the dryer.

So, why do clothes shrink in the dryer? The shrinking of clothes in the dryer is due to the washing process that has broken down the hydrogen bonds in the fabric that were spacing the fibers. The elimination of water during drying reveals that the fibers are now closer together which reduces the size of the overall fabric.

John A Rippon, research scientist at University of Vic, stated that fabrics will shrink in the dryer because of the release of the strains added to the fabric in the manufacturing process. The fibers relax in the dryer since the hydrogen bonds that were created in fabrication had been broken down once the fabric has gone through its first wash.

In this section, we will go in-depth about some of the details found in the study completed by the University of Ohio, the shrinking of clothes in the dryer phenomenon, how to keep your clothes from shrinking and why and how your clothes shrink.

Do clothes shrink in the dryer every time?

Clothes do not shrink in the dryer every time. Once the fabrics have been relaxed once after the first wash and dry, they will not be able to become even closer together with further drying sessions.

The adage “once bitten, twice shy” hits hard for people who have ever cleaned their clothes with a dryer and later found out that their clothes had shrunk in size and can no longer fit them.

The fear of washing their other clothes increases, and they become wary that a similar scenario can happen, resulting in them losing their favorite clothes due to shrinking.

However, the fear is unfounded, and it’s not true that every time you wash your clothes or dry them in a dryer that they will shrink. What is true is that there are a lot of factors that determine whether your clothes will shrink in size or remain the same if you decide to use a dryer. One of those factors is the type of material the clothing is made of.

Different fabrics react differently with heat and water according to an article written by today.com. The Truth is, more fabrics shrink when exposed to high temperatures than expand. Therefore, knowing which fabric your clothes are made of is a step in the right direction when it comes to taking care of your clothes and preventing them from shrinking during dryer washing.

Take cotton, for instance. It is made from cellulose, an organic compound that consists of long chains of thousands of units. At its molecular level, cotton is hydrophobic, meaning they can absorb water at a faster rate than other types of fabrics. They also take much longer to dry, and that is where dryers kick in.

In the dryer, cotton soaks water fast and swells quickly during the cleaning session. However, during the drying session, the fabric can dry up to its normal size, but with a caveat, the absorbed water molecules act as lubricants between the cellulose molecules, making the fabric curl up and hence shrink.

Clothes made of linen and fibers also have the same properties as cotton, whereby they absorb water quickly and are hydrophilic. They also start curling up and become smaller when in a dryer, making them shrink every time they are washed in a dryer.

Tumbling can also cause fibers to constrict and shrink the clothes. A combination of tumbling and heat applied in the dryers also can make your clothes wear out faster.

The Following Chart Highlights What Forum visitors Feel are the Reasons that Clothes Shrink in a Dryer. Some of these reasons do not seem to be based on science:

Article of clothing that shrunk in a dryerPercentage of total results
If the clothing is 100% cotton, there is a great possibility that your clothing will shrink in the dryer.27.27%
Many forum users found that the heat of the dryer will cause your clothing to shrink, and that hang drying is a solution.22.73%
Wool-based clothing tends to shrink especially inside of a dryer.13.64%
An incorrect combination of fabric and detergent can contribute to shrinking clothing.9.09%
Inferior quality of clothing can be a factor that shrinks when put in a dryer.18.18%
The quality of the water being used to wash can affect whether your clothing is shrunk in a dryer.9.09%
Data derived from various clothing-related forums online

How do I keep my clothes from shrinking in the dryer?

Not using dryers to dry your clothes is the surest way of preventing your clothes from shrinking. Or purchasing clothing that has been pre-shrunk.

To prevent your clothes from shrinking when using a dyer is the solution you are looking for because in most cases, you are forced to use the dyer due to its swiftness and effectiveness. So what should you do to ensure that your clothes don’t shrink when using dyers? Below are some solutions you can use to prevent your clothes from shrinking:

  • Buying clothes that don’t shrink
  • Purchasing clothes that are either synthetic or pre-treated. The pretreatment includes manufacturers adding a protective to cotton, linen and wool clothes.
  • Buying pre-washed/pre-shrunk clothes ensures that your clothes cannot shrink anymore.
  • Using cold water while washing your clothes and the lowest temperature setting while using the dryer can also prevent your clothes from shrinking.

Here is a video that shows you how to unshrink your shrunken clothes:

How many washes until clothes stop shrinking?

It takes only one wash until clothes stop shrinking. The manufacturing process that had added strain to the fabric keeping them apart, is released during the first wash. Further washes will not cause further shrinkage.

Clothes are very delicate, and their durability and usability can depend on how much they shrink each time they are washed.

If you are worried about buying t shirts that will shrink, I recommend the pre-shrunk good life cotton mock turtlenecks. Click here to view on Amazon.

Therefore, it is important to know how much shrinking your clothes can take before they start to tear and wear. That is why you need to know how many times you need to wash your clothes before the shrinking stops.

For starters, washing clothes in hot water, setting your dyers to the highest available temperature, and increasing the speed of tumbling are some of the biggest contributing factors to why your clothes shrink every time you wash them.

The type of fabric used in making your clothes is also a contributing factor to how many times your clothes need to be washed before they stop shrinking. For instance, clothes made of cotton will be more likely to shrink with each wash and dyer clearing cycle than any other type of fabric. Therefore, when shopping for clothes, it is important to consider the type of fabric you need to avoid long-term shrinking.

Your purchasing decision may also influence how often you will be required to wash your clothes before they stop shrinking. Try to purchase synthetic and pre-treated clothes, which, although quite expensive, come with the added protection that ensures they do not shrink while washing.
The method used to wash and dry your clothes also contributes to how long it takes before they stop shrinking. Washing clothes with cold water, for instance, reduces the chances of shrinking. You can combine cold water and low temperature setting on your dryer to reduce the chances of your clothes shrinking.

For very delicate clothes, you should consider washing them with cold water, and then hanging them outside instead of using dyer. This method ensures your clothes do not shrink and prevents the wear and tear caused by tumbling in dryer machines.

You can also add pretreatments to your clothes to prevent them from shrinking while washing. This can be done by adding chemicals that prevent your fabric from expansion and contraction, making it harder for your clothes to shrink.

Does cotton shrink in the dryer?

Cotton does shrink in the dryer because the tension between the cotton strands has been released during the first wash session. Once the clothes are dry, they are smaller in size, especially with respect to length.

Cotton clothes are durable, comfortable, versatile, and are some of the most worn fabrics in the world. However, people who use washers and dryers to clean the cotton are faced with the problem of shrinking.

The good news is that cotton shrinking is a natural process that happens when the tension is applied to its yarn and fabrics during the making of the garment. This is triggered by the heat and hot water from the dyers and washers, which causes cotton to apply the tension resulting in your clothing shrinking.

There are also other factors that determine how much your cotton shrinks, including the temperature settings of your dryers and the type of detergents used while washing your cotton. For instance, some detergents are able to act as pretreatment during washing, making the clothes experience the process of shrinking without actually shrinking while washing and drying.

Setting high temperatures in your dyers is also a sure way of ensuring that your cotton fabric will shrink. Increasing the speed of tumbling also constricts and shrinks cotton fabric.

The best option to avoid shrinking is either washing your clothes in icy water and hanging them to dry or washing them by hand and leaving them outside to dry. This, however, is not an option that everybody has, therefore, it is important to know how to prevent shrinking and how much you can expect your clothes to shrink.

There are several ways that you can use to avoid your favorite cotton top or sweater from shrinking and becoming your puppy outfit.

You can start by switching from hot water to cold water on your washing machine. This will help reduce the tension applied to cotton fabrics, thereby reducing shrinking.

You should also consider flipping your cotton garments inside out to reduce the chances of fading colors and use detergents that act as pretreatments for washing machines and dryers. These detergents can prevent your clothing from shrinking.

You should also make a habit of reading the labels on your clothing to avoid picking clothes that easily shrink or are not supposed to be cleaned in a washer or a dryer.

In situations where you find your clothes are already shrunk to a size that can no longer fit you, you should consider trying to reverse the cotton shrinkage.

This can be done by dipping your clothing in water and then stretching it until you are comfortable that it is its original size. However, you should know that not all clothes can be expanded, and some cotton fabrics’ shrinking is permanent.

There are also some fabrics made of cotton that only shrink once and then remain the same size until they are ripped apart or worn out. Therefore, shrinking is not all that bad and can actually work to your advantage.

Do clothes have to be wet to shrink in the dryer?

Clothes must be wet to shrink in the dryer. Once new clothing has been washed in a washer, the tension between the fibers is relaxed allowing them to lay closely together which shrinks the garment.

So far, we have looked at the impact the dryer has on your wet clothes and the factors that determine if your clothes will shrink and by how much. However, we have not looked at whether you can shrink clothes by placing them in the dryer while dry.

There are several reasons why you may want to place your dried clothes in a dryer, including to spruce them up, and regardless of the reason, it is important to know the risk you are putting yourself into and if your clothes are likely to shrink.

The short answer to your question on whether your dried clothes will shrink when placed on a dyer is yes! However, it depends on many factors, such as the type of fabric material your clothing is made of, the temperature settings of your drier, and how long the clothes will be on the dryer.

Take Cotton, for instance, one of the main reasons why clothes made of cotton shrink is because the fabric is very hydrophilic, meaning they soak up as much water as possible within a very short time. When drying cotton in dyer, cotton materials curl up as they lose water and shrink.

When dry cotton clothes are placed on dryers, they shrink, but at a much slower rate than if they were wet. This is because the dried clothes still interact with the heat on the dyers, which applies pressure on the yarns and fabric, resulting in shrinking.

I recommend the Pre-Shrunk ToBeInStyle Waffle Thermal Long Sleeve Crewnecks. Click to see the pricing on Amazon.

However, cotton clothes are not a good representative of all types of fabrics, and you may find that some fabrics such as linen do not shrink when placed on a dryer when dry. Therefore, it is important to know what type of material your clothes are made of before deciding to put them in the dryers.

Can I Unshrink clothes?

Technically, you cannot unshrink your clothes, however, you can be able to restore your clothes to the original size and shape by treating them with water and baby shampoo for most fabrics.

You can also use products such as borax and vinegar to stretch your clothes back to their original size and shape, especially for clothes made from wool or cashmere.

Another treatment that is mostly applied when treating clothes is by putting them in hot water and then applying outward physical pressure as you stretch them. This is especially useful for clothes such as jeans, which are much “harder” than the other fabrics.

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Aron Blake

I am the lead copywriter on Homezesty and the Webmaster. I have a lot of experience in home renovations and the creation of style. I enjoy writing and sharing my tips on how to create the best living environment. My Linkedin Profile, My Twitter Account

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