Blog reader, Isaac, recently contacted me about this very issue and asked for help. Here’s his comment:
“Maybe one topic for your blog could be how to clothes shop. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy and don’t clothes shop often, but it causes me real anxiety. I’ll buy a hoodie or pair of pants after having tried them on. They fit perfectly or are slightly too big. But after I wash them, they either shrink (the perfectly fitting hoodie is now too small) or they don’t (so the too big dress pants I was expecting to shrink into my size remain clown pants). It’s frustrating because I feel I’m wasting money and clothes aren’t cheap. Are there some tips to help with this? I do know that cotton shrinks and I shouldn’t put it in the dryer if it’s the size I want, but what percentage of cotton means that it will still act that way? Will 50% still shrink?”
Here are my thoughts:
1. Cotton does shrink. Regardless of the percentage of cotton in a garment, it shrinks. From ehow.com:
Cotton can shrink up to 20 percent every time it is put in the dryer. Although many believe that it is the heat of the dryer that causes the shrinkage, according to Cotton Incorporated, that is not actually the case. The tumbling of the dryer evaporates moisture from cotton clothing, causing it to shrink.
Testing by Cotton Incorporated shows that cotton clothing that is tumbled dry in a dryer at various heats (100, 150 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit) all showed the same amount of shrinkage. Clothes that were dried at higher heats shrank faster than those at the lower heat.
So the only way to be sure your cotton garments don’t shrink is not to dry them and not to wash them in HOT water.
2. If you’re not willing to keep all your cotton garments out of the dryer, you can slow the process by washing them in cold water and drying them on low heat. It’s even better if you take them out of the dryer before they’re completely dry. They’ll still shrink but the shrinkage will be less each time. It also helps if you wash them on the gentle cycle.
3. Denim, also 100% cotton, seems to be another matter entirely. My personal experience is that jeans don’t usually shrink – at least not permanently. When you pull them out of the dryer, they’re definitely tighter. But after wearing them a while, they stretch back out. If you buy a denim jacket, shirt or dress, it will shrink and it won’t stretch back out.
4. Certain brands shrink more than others. You can read reviews but you’ll probably have to figure it out the hard way.
5. Pre-washed items will still shrink but they should shrink much less – especially if you wash them in cold and dry them on low heat.
6. Shrinkage is usually in the waist and/or length.
7. The most dramatic shrinkage is usually in the first wash – then it slows way down.
8. Sometimes more expensive clothing shrinks less.
9. Using a hot iron on certain fabrics, like wool, can also cause shrinkage.
Now the truth is, I don’t buy a lot of clothes, and the clothes I buy are all very similar. I’m definitely no expert on fabrics and laundry issues. So I offered my two cents and now would love to hear yours. What’s your advice for Isaac?
A list of other cleaning articles is available in the Cleaning Index.