Why Do Clothes Shrink in the Dryer? |How to Unshrink Clothing

You bought a brand new outfit and wore it out, only to discover you came home with stains on your garments. You toss them into the washer and dryer, as usual.

When it came time to wear the outfit again, it was a size smaller. What gives? Why did the clothes shrink in the dryer?

Generally speaking, the dryer and washer can be responsible for shrinking clothes. This is because of the combination of high heat and agitation. The high heat shrinks the fabric, while the tossing motion constricts the fibers, leading to shrunken garments. Therefore, it’s best to air-dry or dry clothes in the lowest setting. 

Nobody wants their clothes to shrink. Shrunken clothes typically can’t be worn again, rendering them useless – and a waste of money. If you want to learn why your dryer (and washer) are shrinking your clothes, keep reading.

This article not only shares why this is happening but, more importantly, how to avoid shrinking clothes in the dryer in the first place. You won’t want to miss these tips.

Why Do Clothes Shrink in the Dryer?

First, let’s answer the elephant in the room – why your dryer is shrinking your clothing.

It mainly has to do with the high heat. Most fabrics that garments are made from (cotton, wool, silk, linen) can’t handle high heat. When exposed to high temperatures, the fibers shorten, causing shrinkage.

The other issue is the tumbling motion. The constant tossing motion is rough on clothing and will cause the fibers to constrict. The result? Clothes that have shrunk to some degree.

Do Clothes Shrink in the Dryer or Washer?

If you use your washing machine and air dry yet still end up with shrunken clothing, you might be thrown for a loop.

After all, many people believe their dryer is the culprit of shrinking clothing – but that’s not necessarily the case.

While the dryer typically is the leading cause of shrinkage, the washer can play a part, too – and for the same reasons.

If you wash your clothing using a high heat setting and heavy agitation, you’re dealing with the same problem – fabrics shortening and constricting due to excessively high temperatures and overwhelming motion. 

Shrunk Clothes

Does Hot Water Shrink Clothes?

Hot water can cause shrinkage in clothing, which is why the washer is sometimes responsible for clothes shrinking. 

It’s important to note that warm water can also cause your clothing to shrink. However, it’s a gradual process.

While hot water will cause shrinkage after a single wash, warm water will shrink the garments over time – still an undesirable outcome.

Does the Dryer Shrink Jeans?

Although jeans may seem rough and tough and able to handle almost anything, jeans are still prone to shrinking in the dryer (and the washer).

That’s because most jeans are made with 100% cotton or a cotton blend. Both fabrics are notorious for shrinking in high heat.

So, be extra careful and follow the instructions for washing and drying your jeans.

How to Avoid Clothes Shrinking in the Dryer

Just because most fabrics are susceptible to shrinkage in the dryer (and washer) doesn’t mean you have to resort to shrinkage.

There are many proactive ways to avoid clothes shrinking in the dryer, with the two best tips being to air-dry and purchase anti-shrinkage clothing.

1. Purchase Anti-Shrinkage Clothing

Did you know that some clothing items come with an anti-shrinkage finish? If you’re really looking to put shrunken clothes behind you, seek out clothing with these finishes. Many cotton and wool garments are now being made with this finish.

2. Air-Dry

Another great way to avoid clothes shrinking in the dryer? Lose the dryer altogether and swap for air-drying instead.

Just make sure your garments have enough room to air-dry appropriately. A clothing line and sweater drying rack will work like a charm.

3. Use the Lowest Heat Setting

Not everyone is a fan of air-drying, and that’s okay. It takes up quite a lot of space you might not have, and the constant dripping can be a nuisance.

In this situation, it’s better to use the lowest heat setting offered by your dryer. For instance, I use the “delicate” or the “tumble low heat” options.

Dryer Settings

4. Follow the Instructions on the Label

Clothing items come with labels with specific directions on how to take care of the garments, especially when it comes to washing and drying.

While some people skip over these labels, they’re there for a reason – to ensure the garment remains in peak condition and is not shrunken or ruined.

With that in mind, it’s always best to follow the instructions on the label to a tee. If it says wash in cold water and tumble dry, do it. If it says hand wash and air-dry only, do it.

5. Don’t Over-Dry Your Garments

If you pull out your clothing after a round of dryer and find that it’s still somewhat damp, it doesn’t need to go through an entire cycle – just enough to finish drying completely.

Multiple rounds of drying can cause garments to become overly dry, leading to more shrinkage. Stick to a single drying as much as possible!

6. Buy Pre-Shrunk Clothing

Wait, what? Yes, it’s true – there are pre-shrunk garments on the market. Needless to say, these garments have already shrunk as much as they possibly can, so you can use your washer and dryer without fearing the worst.

How to Unshrink Clothing

Clothing that has succumbed to shrinkage does not have to be destined for the donation bag.

There is a way to unshrink clothing. All you need is a bit of hair conditioner, lukewarm water, two towels, and a prayer. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Fill a Bowl or Clogged Sink with Lukewarm Water and Conditioner

The first step is to get a bowl (large enough to fit your shrunken clothing) and fill it with lukewarm water. You can also use a clogged sink or bathtub if desired. 

Drop a few tablespoons of hair conditioner and stir. The conditioner will have the same effects on clothing fibers as it has on hair – to moisten and smooth, allowing for stretching.

Step 2: Let Clothing Soak for 30-60 Minutes

Once your container is filled with lukewarm water and hair conditioner, it’s time to add the garments inside.

Simply place the garments inside of the mixture – there is no need for scrubbing or handling.

Allow the garments to sit undisturbed for 30 to 60 minutes. 

Step 3: Remove and Dry Using a Rolled Towel

After the 30 or 60-minute soaking period has ended, remove the garments. Do not rinse with water. You want to leave the conditioner in the clothing.

Place the garments on top of a dry towel. Roll it up with the garments inside. This will allow some of the extra moisture to escape without overly drying the garments or causing wrinkles.

Let the garment sit inside the rolled towel for about ten minutes.

Step 4: Stretch the Garment

Next, you will unroll the towel and remove the garment. Place the clothing on another clean and dry towel.

Gently using your fingers, pull on the garment to unshrink it. Be careful not to tug so harshly that you ruin the garment. A gentle pull is enough.

If you want, you can place something heavy like a paperweight or book in the area you’ve pulled. This will render the most excellent results, but not 100% necessary.

Are you having trouble stretching the garment? You can use an iron on the damp clothing to create steam, allowing more movement.

Step 5: Wash and Dry, If Necessary

If necessary, finish “saving” your shrunken garments by washing and drying them. (Some people state that their clothing feels stiff or soapy afterward, in which case washing and drying will be necessary).

Just make sure that you wash and dry correctly. Double-check the label for accurate directions on how to wash and dry the clothing to avoid shrinking it once more.

Does Fabric Softener Unshrink Clothes?

Fabric softeners can be used to unshrink clothes but not in a traditional sense. For example, you can’t add it to your wash cycle and expect your clothes not to shrink – especially if you’re using high heat for the washer and dryer.

Instead, you can use fabric softener in place of the hair conditioner listed above in the “how to unshrink clothing” tutorial.

Essentially, you will add a few tablespoons of fabric softener to a bucket of lukewarm water. Allow the clothing to soak for 30 minutes.

Roll it into a towel to get rid of some moisture, then tug on it gently to return it to its original size.

Does a Dryer Shrink New And Old Clothes?

A dryer can shrink clothes depending on the material it’s made of. This is especially true for new clothes that have not yet undergone the wash and dry cycle.

However, that doesn’t mean old clothes are immune to shrinkage. Old garments can shrink if washed and dried in high heat.

While most shrinkage occurs during the first wash and dry cycle, additional shrinkage can still happen to a lesser extent. 

Will Drying on Medium Heat Shrink Clothes?

If you want to avoid shrinkage, you might consider swapping to the “medium-heat” option on your dryer. This isn’t the easy fix you think it is, though. Clothes can still shrink in medium heat. 

That’s because most dryer settings place medium heat at around 150F – which is still far too hot for most natural fabrics.

There is also the issue of the tumbling motion, which constricts fibers and causes garments to shrink.

Best Dryers to Avoid Shrinkage

Some dryers are better suited for fending off shrinkage than others. Here are my top three picks to consider.

1. Kenmore Electric Dryer

Kenmore is a trusted brand in the laundry business, so you already know you’re purchasing a top-notch product.

However, what really sets this Kenmore dryer apart from the crowd is the options that help to fend off shrinkage.

Kenmore Dryer

For one, this washer comes with an “air dry” setting that is safe for your clothes. It also comes with “Auto Moisture Sensing,” which means the gadget will automatically shut off when the clothes are finished drying. This ensures garments don’t overdry, which is a significant cause of shrinkage.

2. Costway Compact Dryer

Are you looking for something a little smaller? This Costway compact dryer will do the trick! This slim and modern dryer is excellent for small spaces and has two settings that can reduce shrinkage: low heat and air-dry

3. Samsung Electric Dryer

For those that want the best in the industry, look at the Samsung Electric Dryer. This comes with all the latest and greatest features you could ask of your electric dryer. 

Such features include the cold temperature setting, denim, and air dry options. Not only that, but this is a two-in-one dryer that allows you to perform a “regular” high heat load in the bottom drum and a smaller load for delicates on the top portion.

This means two loads of laundry at once – and no shrinkage. You will also enjoy WiFi technology and auto-moisture sensors!

With all of these great features, it’s no wonder why the Samsung is the ultimate gateway to abiding shrinkage.

Do Your Clothes Shrink in the Dryer?

The dryer is infamous for shrinking clothes, and that’s thanks to the high heat paired with a rough tumbling motion.

The good news is that there are many ways to avoid dryer shrinkage and unshrink clothing when the unthinkable happens.

The best way to prevent future shrinkage is to follow the care instructions on your clothing’s label and opt to air-dry as much as possible. Do you struggle with clothing shrinking in the dryer?