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How to prevent clothes from shrinking

Checking the fabric labels on your clothing, washing your clothes in cold water, drying on low heat settings and air drying are all ways to help prevent fabric from shrinking.

If you’ve ever removed your favorite shirt or pair of pants from the dryer and found out that it’s now cat-sized after a laundry cycle, you’re not alone. Learn what causes shrinking and find out how to prolong the life cycle of your family’s favorite outfits with this guide.

What causes clothes to shrink?

Agitation and high temperatures in the washing and drying cycles can distort fabric and cause clothes to shrink. Washing fabrics, such as cotton, linen, denim or wool, too vigorously can cause the fibers to tighten together and yield a shrunken garment. Hot water washing cycles and high-heat dryer settings can also damage the fabric and cause shrinkage. Learn more about washing wool or knit sweaters.

A person pulling a gray polo out of a washer. A person pulling a gray polo out of a washer.

How to keep clothes from shrinking

Incorporating the following laundry tips into your routine may help prevent your family’s favorite clothes from shrinking.

A clothing care tag.

Step 1: Check fabric care labels before you buy & before doing laundry

The first step to preventing your clothes from shrinking is to follow the laundry instructions on your garment’s care tag. Check the care tag not only before laundering, but also before purchasing new clothing so you know what to expect.


Checking the care tag for fabric type can give you an idea if the garment is prone to shrinking, such as cotton or linen, or if garments are already “pre-shrunk.” Some garments may be deemed as “dry clean only” and shouldn’t be cleaned in a washer. In addition, be mindful to pay attention to the recommended water temperature, laundry cycle and drying instructions. As a general rule, washing clothes in cold, gentle cycles with low-heat drying can help prevent your garments from shrinking. 

Colorful clothes soaking in a washer.

Step 2: Use cold water and the proper wash cycles

If you only remember one rule about how to avoid shrinking clothes, remember this: keep it cool. Clothes are much more likely to shrink when exposed to hot water or high dryer settings.


Washing clothes in cold water goes a long way toward preserving the “off-the-rack” size. Avoiding heavy duty cycles, fast spins and high-heat drying can also prevent shrinkage. Use delicate cycles instead, and place delicate clothes in a mesh laundry bag for added protection. When drying, consider a low-heat or air dry setting. When in doubt, always follow the instructions on your garment’s care tag.

A person selecting dryer settings.

Step 3: Select the tumble dry or air dry setting

Drying your clothing on a tumble dry or air dry setting can help keep clothes from shrinking by minimizing wear to the fabric fibers. Your clothing’s care tag will provide the optimal temperature and dryer settings to help avoid shrinkage.

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Laundry resting in the drum of an opened dryer.

Step 4: Avoid overdrying laundry

Overdrying and exposing your clothes to long cycles of high heat can damage the fabric and cause clothes to shrink. Instead, opt for tumble or air dry settings in shorter intervals in order to preserve your clothing.

A teal blouse air drying on a hanger.

Step 5: Try air drying your clothes

Does air drying clothes help prevent shrinking? Yes. Instead of using your dryer, consider air drying your clothes for a fresh, natural drying alternative that helps prevent your clothes from shrinking.

FAQs to prevent clothing from shrinking

Check out the following tips and FAQs to learn how to wash clothes without shrinking them.

A person folding laundry with a washer and dryer nearby. A person folding laundry with a washer and dryer nearby.

Does cold water shrink clothes?

No! Washing clothes in cold water can actually help to prevent them from shrinking. Hot water, on the other hand, is more likely to cause fabric damage and shrinkage.

Do clothes shrink in the washer or the dryer?

Clothes may shrink in the washer if they are washed in a hot water cycle with heavy agitation, as well as in a dryer in high-heat settings that may cause overdrying. As a rule of thumb, high temperatures increase the likelihood of clothes shrinking in your laundry routine.

How to reverse shrinking clothes

For some fabrics, you can reverse shrinkage by soaking garments in lukewarm water, adding a couple tablespoons of hair conditioner, stretching and air drying. Here’s what to do if clothes shrink:

  • Fill your sink with lukewarm water and two tablespoons of hair conditioner.

  • Soak the garment for about 30 minutes.

  • Remove the garment and wring out the water as much as possible.

  • Lay the garment on a towel and roll it up to remove excess water.

  • Unroll the towel and stretch the garment as far as possible.

  • Let it air dry.

Find Whirlpool® washers and dryers to handle any load with care

Whirlpool® washers and dryers help to provide the fabric care you need to preserve your family’s favorite outfits for any occasion. Take the stress out of your routine with our collection of appliances that help you keep laundry day under control. Plus, familiarize yourself with laundry tips and best practices to make laundry day simple for the whole family.

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