Why do clothes shrink?

Have you ever pulled your favorite shirt, sweater or pair of jeans out of the dryer, only to find that it’s small enough for your pet? If you’ve ever wondered why clothes go from human to cat sized after tumbling around in the washer or dryer, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there’s a simple answer – it’s all about fiber, temperature and agitation.

First, when cotton, linen and some synthetic fabrics are made, their fibers are pulled, stretched, twisted and stressed. Washing and drying these fabrics lets the fibers relax, returning them to their pre-shrunken state. However, wool and other animal fibers are actually hairs covered in microscopic scales that snag one another when processed into fabric.

Washing these fabrics too vigorously can cause the scales to tighten together even more, making the garment shrink or even felt into a solid piece. Luckily, learning how to avoid shrinking clothes isn’t complicated.

1) Check fabric labels before you buy

If you want to know how to prevent clothes from shrinking, it’s probably best to start with what you buy. Look for clothes labeled “pre-shrunk” or learn which fabrics are more prone to shrinking in the wash. (For example, rayon and linen tend to shrink more than nylon or polyester).

Also, take a moment to consider whether you’ll be able to care for a piece of clothing. Are you willing to take that blouse or blazer to the dry cleaner every time it needs to be washed? If not, opt for something that’s a better fit for your lifestyle.

2) Read and follow fabric care labels

If you’ve asked, “Why did my clothes shrink,” the answer may have been an incorrect wash cycle. Before you toss your clothing in the wash, take a look at the care instructions on the label. Pay close attention to the recommended water temperature, laundry cycle and drying instructions.

The laundry cycle is particularly important for natural fibers – cotton clothes may do better with a gentle cycle, while wool and silk items may do better when hand washed or dry cleaned. Even ironing can shrink some fabrics, so when in doubt, check the label out!

3) Use cold water and the proper wash/dry 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.

While cold water may not completely prevent shrinking with some fabrics, it goes a long way towards preserving the “off the rack” size. Also, try to avoid using heavy duty cycles or fast spins with fabric that’s prone to shrinkage.

Use delicate cycles instead, and put very delicate clothes in mesh laundry bags for increased protection. When it comes to drying, consider a “low heat” or “air dry” setting.

Models shown: WTW7500GC & WED7500GC

Care for your family’s clothes with Whirlpool® appliances

Life – along with stains and odors – happens. That’s why it’s important to choose appliances that help you care for your family’s clothes. Whether you prefer top load, front load or stacked washers and dryers, Whirlpool has a laundry set that works for your home. We even offer a Smart All-In-One Washer and Dryer that’s a great fit for small spaces.


Need laundry appliances that help you care for your family’s clothes? Explore our selection of washers, dryers and pedestals here.

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