Everyone has had the unfortunate event of pulling their clothes out of the dryer, only to find that some of them have shrunk and others haven’t.
Needless to say, the dryer can cause certain fabrics to shrink due to the high heat and tumbling motion. But which materials will succumb to shrinkage, and which are safe?
Natural fabrics derived from animals or plants, such as cotton, wool, silk, and linen, are more prone to shrinkage. On the other hand, synthetic fibers, such as acetone, acrylic, and polyester, are typically safe to use at high temperatures without fear of shrinkage.
|Fabric||Shrink (Yes/No)||Optimal Drying Option|
|Cotton||Yes||Air-dry or low/med heat (70-150F)|
|Poly/Cotton||Maybe (Excessive exposure)||Low/medium/high heat (125-175F)|
|Triblend||Maybe (Excessive exposure)||Low or medium heat (125F-150F)|
|Linen||Yes (Clothing)||Air-dry or low heat (70-125F)|
|Spandex||Maybe (Some spandex OK)||Air-dry or low heat (70-125F)|
|Hemp||Yes||Air-dry or low heat (70-125F)|
|Denim||Yes||Air-dry or low/med heat (70-150F)|
|Rayon||Yes||Air-dry or low heat (70-125F)|
|Polyester||Maybe (Excessive exposure)||Low/medium/high heat (125-175F)|
While the easiest way to know how to wash and dry your items is to look at the directions on the label, that’s not always possible.
That said, it’s better to know which materials will shrink in the dryer and which ones will not. With this knowledge, you can reduce shrinkage and enjoy long-lasting, perfectly-fitting clothing.
What Materials Will Shrink in the Dryer?
Natural fabrics are prone to shrinking in the dryer. That’s because the high heat and tumble motion tightens, shortens, and constricts the fibers, leading to shrinkage of varying degrees. Let’s take a closer look at some of the materials that will shrink in the dryer.
Many garments are created using cotton or a cotton blend. Unfortunately, items designed with this type of natural fabric are the most prone to shrinkage when introduced to high temperatures (130F and up).
During creation, cotton fibers are applied with enough tension to create the garment and its respective size.
However, when introduced to heat, the pressure is released, causing the fibers to return to their natural size – leading to a shrunken garment.
To avoid shrinkage of cotton goods, always use cold water in the washing machine and hand wash when you can.
Avoid using the dryer. Air-drying is the better choice. If that’s not an option, the “gentle,” “low-heat,” and “delicate” options can be used.
Pay attention to cotton blends, too, as some are safe for drying and others are not.
|Poly/Cotton||Safe for medium/high heat (up to 175F)|
|Triblend||Safe for low/medium heat (up to 150F)|
Wool is highly sought after due to its immense durability and warmth. It’s great for coats, sweaters, and blankets.
Although it’s a seemingly indestructible and cozy natural fabric, that doesn’t mean it’s immune to shrinkage.
Derived from the coat of a mammal, such as a sheep or a goat, wool is a top-notch choice for structure and comfort – but it’s not a match for high temperatures (over 40F). If used in hot water or a high-heat dryer, it will shrink.
The better option? Hand Wash wool materials as often as you can, or have them dry-cleaned.
Silk is an undeniably lavish and opulent material. It’s a standard option for neglige, although it can be used for shirts, pants, pillowcases, and other items, too. Due to its delicate nature, silk should not be presented with high heat (over 130F).
Silk is a natural fabric crafted with protein fibers. They can shrink in as little as five minutes when introduced to heat.
That’s why it’s always best to handwash silk items and always air-dry. Not only will the heat cause shrinkage, but the intensity of the tumbling motion from a dryer can rip, tear, and otherwise destroy this luxurious fabric.
Linen is a natural fabric that is more commonly found on washable household items, such as sheets, tablecloths, and reusable napkins. However, it can be used for clothing and embroidered embellishments.
While linen household items are OK in the dryer, linen clothing should not be in high heat (over 105F).
Linen is created using fibers from the flax plant, and they are unable to withstand high temperatures – so much so that you should avoid using the dryer altogether for linen clothing.
It’s best to hand wash or use cold water in the washing machine to clean linen. You can also have it dry-cleaned if you’re nervous about shrinkage.
While most synthetic fibers are safe for the dryer, spandex may be the exception. While a bit of spandex is okay, clothing and other items with high percentages of spandex should avoid the dryer.
That’s because the high heat (over 150F) and tumble motion can weaken the synthetic fibers, causing them to shrink and break.
That is why spandex items, like bathing suits and leggings, tend to end up with holes or become too tight after a drying cycle.
Hand Washing in cold or lukewarm water is the better choice for spandex. Allow them to air-dry, too.
Plenty of garments are created using hemp. Many people opt for hemp clothing because it’s not only comfortable, breathable, and surprisingly durable but also better for the environment. Does this mean it won’t shrink in the dryer, though? Definitely not.
Hemp is another natural fabric that will shrink when exposed to high temperatures (over 125F), like those found in the wash or dryer.
Handwashing, again, is the recommended choice here. However, hemp items should be able to withstand a cold wash in the washing machine and a dryer cycle using the “delicate” or “low-heat” options.
Denim has had a roaring comeback in the fashion industry, and people are starting to wear more than the typical pair of denim jeans.
But regardless of what denim garment you’re washing and wearing, it’s important to note that denim will shrink in the dryer (over 90F).
Denim is made from cotton, so the same rules apply: hand wash or use the cold setting on your washing machine. Air-dry or opt for the “delicate” or “low-heat” settings to avoid shrinkage.
Cashmere is somewhat similar to wool in terms of softness and comfort, but it’s tremendously lightweight and finer, making it the optimal choice for summer garments. Another way it’s close to its wooly cousin is that it should not be placed in the dryer.
Air drying is the best option for cashmere items. The high heat (over 70F) will damage and shrink the natural fibers, leaving you with a shrunken disaster if you’re not careful.
For those that want silk but don’t want the delicateness or price tag associated with it, rayon is the next best choice.
The same is also valid for wool, linen, and cotton items. In fact, you might be surprised just how many things hanging in your closet are made with rayon.
Is rayon safe for the dryer, though? No, rayon should not be placed in the dryer as it will shrink in temperatures over 80F.
Did you Know?
Rayon is crafted using natural wood fibers. They undergo an extensive manufacturing process, allowing them to imitate crowd favorites like silk and linen.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t give the garment any added strength. They should still be washed in cold water and air-dried to avoid shrinkage.
Polyester is another man-made fabric that is relatively resistant to heat and shrinkage, but not entirely.
Although polyester (made from polymer) is somewhat safe for heat (up to 175F), you still need to be careful. If exposed for long periods to high temperatures, some shrinkage may occur.
For example, using the washing machine at the highest temp and doing two drying cycles at high heat may result in shrinkage.
The better solution for polyester is to wash using cold water and tumble dry as usual but remove the garment as soon as it’s dried.
You can also use a lower heat setting on the dryer if you’re concerned about shrinkage.
Do Clothes Need to Be Wet to Shrink in the Dryer?
Some people like to toss their clothing into the dryer for a few to “zhuzh” it up a bit – you know, to get rid of wrinkles before a big job interview or give it a little “oomph” before date night.
Plenty of people think it’s OK because the garment isn’t wet, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Clothes do not need to be wet to shrink in the dryer. So, you might think twice about tossing it into the dryer for a few minutes to add some pizazz or make it look nice.
If you’re going to throw your dried article of clothing into the dryer for the purpose of making it look better, it’s recommended to always use the lowest heat setting. That way, you get the same great results without the potential for shrinkage.
What Materials Don’t Shrink in the Dryer?
The good news is that not all materials shrink in the dryer, so you don’t always have to be on your toes.
Synthetic, manufactured fabrics are typically OK in the dryer. For instance, nylon, acrylic, and acetate are fine – even when used with the highest heat setting.
Polyester and spandex are typically OK, too. However, that doesn’t mean you should toss them into high temperatures repetitively and expect the same results.
Garments made mostly of spandex can succumb to shrinkage over time. Polyester can also shrink with excessive heat exposure.
How to Avoid Shrinkage in the Dryer
The good news is that there are ways to avoid shrinkage in the dryer. One of the best tips is to air-dry as much as possible.
If you can’t air-dry for one reason or another, using the lowest heat setting on your dryer is recommended.
Always follow the directions for care listed on the label. The label will provide the most accurate instructions for how to wash and dry your garment – without ruining or shrinking it.
There is also the option of purchasing pre-shrunk clothing or anti-shrink clothing. These are specifically designed to repel further shrink damage – and most of the time, they can be dried in high heat without issue.
Unfortunately, Not All Materials Are Shrink-Proof
Natural fabrics, like cotton, wool, and silk, are typically not safe for the dryer as they will succumb to shrinkage.
It’s better to hand wash and air-dry these fabrics as much as possible. Always check the label for proper washing and drying directions to extend the longevity of your garment and avoid issues like shrinkage.
My name is Keren Tayler. I am a stay-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. Prior to becoming a mom, I had a successful career in the accounting field, steps away from becoming a CPA. I decided to give up on my career in order to raise my own kids (as opposed to letting a nanny do it, no judgment here :)) I learned a lot and I love sharing it with other moms. Along the way, I also became a Certified Food Handler.