How to Keep Shirts from Shrinking

Few things are worse than pulling a child’s t-shirt out of the dryer only to remember that you don’t have kids and the tiny tee you’re holding used to be your favorite shirt. We’ve all been there, though. So while this situation is frustrating, it’s far from uncommon. 

woman holding out tie dyed shirt

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If you have ever wondered why wardrobe staples like plain sweatshirts and t-shirts tend to shrink after a trip through the washer and dryer, the answer is more straightforward than you might think. It all comes down to fiber content, temperature and agitation. And once you understand these things, you will know how to keep your favorite shirts from shrinking.

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Fiber Content, Temperature and Agitation

While shirts are made from cotton and certain synthetic materials, the fibers are stretched and twisted. Washing and drying allow the fabric to relax and return to its original shape. With wool and other animal fibers, though, tiny hairs and felted together to create fabric. When washed too vigorously, the hairs felt together even more, causing the fabric to shrink. 

The type of fiber your shirt is made from, the temperature used during washing and drying and your washer’s agitation settings all play a huge role when it comes to shrinkage. Fortunately, with a few simple steps, you can prevent your clothes from shrinking. 

Check the Label When Shopping

When shopping for new shirts, look for garments that are labeled “pre-shrunk” or learn to avoid fabrics that tend to shrink, like wool, linen and rayon. Read the care instructions, as well. Be realistic with yourself about how much special care you’re willing to give your clothing. No matter how much you love how a shirt looks, do you have the time and energy to take it to a dry cleaner every time it needs to be washed? Sometimes, it’s better to leave high-maintenance apparel on the rack than to ruin it in the wash after one wear. 

Use Appropriate Wash and Dry Cycles

Woman's hands holding clothes label

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Whether it’s inexpensive wholesale t-shirts or costly workwear, always use the appropriate wash and dry cycles. Pay close attention to the care instructions on the label, and make sure you understand the recommended water temperature, cycle and drying instructions. If you are not sure what the symbols on the tag mean, now is an excellent time to familiarize yourself. The better you understand how to care for the fabric, the less likely you are to damage it. 

As a general rule, always wash your clothes using cool water. Clothing is much more likely to shrink in hot water, and modern detergents are formulated to work just as well in cooler water. When shrinkage is a concern, avoid the dryer. Like hot water, the heat of a dryer can cause clothing to shrink. If you need to use the dryer, use the tumble-only setting. If your dryer does not have a tumble setting, use the lowest heat setting possible. Never leave your clothes in the dryer for more than one cycle.

Be careful when choosing cycle settings, too. Heavy-duty cycles and fast spins should be avoided when washing apparel that is likely to shrink. Delicate cycles are a much better option. 

What to Do If Your Shirts Shrink

If you accidentally shrink a shirt, don’t throw it away. Sometimes, apparel can be unshrunk. Try filling up a sink or basin with lukewarm water and adding a capful of baby shampoo or a gentle laundry detergent. Soak your shrunken apparel for about 30 minutes. This will allow the fibers to loosen. 

Carefully remove the shirt and gently squeeze out the excess water. Do not rinse. Place the shirt on a towel on a flat surface and then roll the towel up with the shirt inside. Squeeze gently to remove as much water from the garment as possible. Unroll the towel and place the shirt on another dry towel. Carefully stretch your shirt back to its original size and then let air dry. 

This method doesn’t always work, but it is worth trying when the alternative is throwing the shirt away. Be patient when trying to stretch your top back to its original size for the best results. You may be able to use this method to unshrink other garments and accessories, too, including sweatshirts and wholesale baseball hats made from natural fibers

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smiling woman showing blue t shirt

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Accidentally shrinking your favorite shirt in the wash is frustrating, but it’s something just about everyone has done. With the tips above, you can avoid this annoying situation and enjoy your apparel for many years to come. 

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