The causes of shrinkage may vary from one type of fabric to another. Generally speaking, the more cotton a garment contains, the more likely it is to shrink.
How much it shrinks is dependent on a number of factors. The first is how long it’s in the hot water. If it’s only in the wash or in the dryer for a few minutes, it won’t shrink much at all. A good rule of thumb is that after ten minutes of being in the wash, it will have shrunk about 1% in each direction. If it’s in the wash for ten minutes and then ten minutes in the dryer, you’re looking at 2% shrinkage in each direction.
Another factor in shrinkage is the temperature of the water. The hotter the water, the more likely the fabric is to shrink. The reason for this is that with hot water, the fibers and dyes are washed out faster, leaving the fabric less elastic.
Fabrics that have less elasticity are more likely to shrink. Look at it this way – you have a rubber band. If you bend it and put it in the freezer, it’s not going to stay bent, is it? In the same way, if a fabric has high elasticity, like Lycra or Spandex, you don’t have to worry about it as much. So when you’re shopping, pay attention to the amount of cotton in a garment. If it’s not at least 70% cotton, it’s a good bet that it won’t shrink in the wash.
If you love a piece of clothing so much that you have to have it in every color, don’t automatically put it in the dryer. Instead, hang it up to dry. If you use a dryer, it’s going to dry at a lower temperature than if it were to dry naturally, and it will take longer to dry. The best way to tell if a piece is ready to go in the dryer is to hold it up to your cheek. If it feels slightly warm, it’s safe to put it in the dryer. Don’t put it in the dryer with very hot water, or for very long, though. That will only make it shrink more.
A couple of other factors that come into play in the cause of shrinkage are the number of times you wash a garment and the washing machine it’s in. The more often you wash the same garment, the more it’s going to shrink. This goes back to the whole matter of how often you’re using hot water in the wash. If it’s not very often, the fibers and dyes won’t be washed out as fast, and your garment will stay the same size. The other factor here is that it’s harder to wash a load in an old washing machine. The more of that load gets bunched up around the agitator, the harder it is for the water to reach all the different fibers and dyes, leaving you with less shrinking.
So that’s the scoop on the causes of shrinkage. Now that you know the facts, here’s how you can prevent it.
HOW CAN YOU PREVENT SHRINKAGE?
There are several ways to prevent shrinkage. Some are better than others, so use these as a guideline, not as gospel.
Wash it once to see if it shrinks. If it does, wash it by hand instead of putting it in the washer and dryer. If it’s a chenille shirt or something else that would be easier to care for by hand, do it. But if you just bought a wool or cashmere sweater that you’re going to be more upset about if it shrinks, use the washer and dryer.
If you think a piece is going to shrink, dry it on the clothes line. That way, you’re not putting any excess heat or water on it, and you’re letting the wind take care of any wrinkles.
If a piece has shrunk in the wash and you want to make it bigger again, don’t wash it again. When you wash it again, you’re adding hot water and putting it in the dryer, both of which will shrink it further. Instead, try using a steam iron on the back or in the nooks and crannies, as well as the collar and cuffs. These are areas that most people iron anyway, so why not do a little extra?
If you have a garment that’s shrunk to the point that you don’t even want to iron it, try dunking it in cold water and letting it sit for a few minutes. That should loosen it up, making it easier to stretch out.
If your garment is a fleece or acrylic, try washing it in cold water and drying it on low. If you’re really desperate, put it in the freezer and the cold will cause the fibers to relax and contract.
Of course, there are times when a piece has shrunk so much that you just have to throw it away. There’s no getting it back to its original size, and you have a hard time getting it on and off.
Hopefully, you’re much better informed about the causes of shrinkage and how to prevent it. This knowledge is very valuable, not just in the clothes you buy, but in sheets and curtains as well.