Why Do Clothes Often Shrink When Washing?

Feb 27, 2023 - Guest -
Why Do Clothes Often Shrink When Washing?
It is not uncommon to toss a piece of clothing in the washer or dryer and have it come out smaller. Clothes can shrink for various reasons. In some cases, the clothes shrink so much that they are unwearable. If you are wondering why do clothes often shrink when washing? Then please continue reading to find out. Learning why that happens and what can be done to prevent it can help protect your clothes.

What Causes Clothes to Shrink?
Garment shrinkage is defined as the process in which a piece of clothing gets smaller in size. Here are four common causes of the shrinking of clothes:

When clothes pass through the dryer, the heat can cause them to lose moisture and contract. This usually happens to clothes made of natural or organic fibers such as wool and cotton, which are at higher risk of experiencing shrinkage due to contraction. Synthetic fibers do not have a high moisture content making them less prone to shrinkage.  

Similar to the scales on our hair, clothes made of delicate materials, such as mohair or wool, can contain animal hair fibers that have scales. The fibers can collapse due to excess moisture and heat in the washing machine, making the scales on the fibers mesh together and shortening the length of the clothing. This is called felting. Since synthetic fibers do not have scale-like construction, they do not experience felting during the washing process.

In the washing machine, clothes can experience mechanical strain because the machine is designed to beat and batter them when cleaning. This process causes the fibers of the fabric to compress and soften. When a garment is washed multiple times, some of the fiber can get torn, causing more compression that will lead to consolidation shrinkage.  

Clothes made of natural fibers are stretched during the weaving process, creating tension between the fibers. Once warm water and heat pass through the clothes, the fibers can relax and return to their original length leading to relaxation shrinkage. This type of shrinkage is less common in pre-washed clothes.

How Fabric Types Affect Shrinking
There are two main types of fibers used in clothing: natural and synthetic. Synthetic fibers are less prone to shrinkage since they are petroleum-based, and the water in washing machines may not be hot enough to cause them to shrink. On the other hand, natural or organic fibers are prone to get tangled and must be stretched before clothes are made using them. Due to this unnatural stretching, organic fibers can revert to their original state after being washed at high temperatures. This can result in shrinkage.

Here is how different types of fabric experience shrinkage:  

Wool: Although wool is one of the most desired types of fabric, it can be problematic when it comes to shrinkage. Wool is made of animal hair, which has scales. Even though wool can be treated with chemicals, such as chlorine, during manufacturing to lessen the risk of the scales softening and felting, it can still experience shrinkage. The most common type of shrinkage with wool is relaxation shrinking.

Linen: These fabrics cannot tolerate very high temperatures in washing machines and dryers, so that they can be subject to consolidation or relaxation shrinkage.

Polyester: Polyester is a synthetic fabric that does not shrink due to heat and mechanical energy exerted by washing machines and a dryer. However, ironing or steaming this fabric at high temperatures could lead to shrinkage.

Cotton: Since fibers in cotton fabrics are stretched during the manufacturing process, they are prone to shrinking due to consolidation, contraction, or relaxation.

Silk: Silk fabrics are made out of organic fibers from silkworms, making them prone to contraction shrinkage if the material is exposed to warm water and heat for too long.

How to Avoid Shrinking?
Typically, when an item is pre-shrunk, it is less prone to shrinkage. However, if you are dealing with delicate clothing that has not been pre-washed, you must take extra preventive measures. Most garments come with care labels that have instructions on how to wash them. Follow the instructions to keep your garments from shrinking. Generally, keeping the dryer and washer on a low temperature setting could reduce the chances of shrinkage.

Clothes made of natural fibers shrink due to heat and mechanical energy, so lowering the heat and speed of the dryer can help you prevent shrinkage. In some cases, washing clothes with cold water helps prevent shrinking. However, following the care label is the safest bet. You can also air dry your clothes to minimize shrinkage and avoid using chlorine-based detergents. Instead, stick to mild detergents to protect your clothes.

If there is a piece of clothing that needs a rigorous or deep wash, do it separately from other clothes. You can use the service of a professional cleaning company if you are concerned about shrinkage. They can also guide you on how to clean your clothes at home without shrinking them.
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